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online photo editorGone are the days when you needed something like Photoshop or GIMP GIMP Paint Studio: A Great Addition To Make GIMP A Digital Artist's Playground GIMP Paint Studio: A Great Addition To Make GIMP A Digital Artist's Playground Read More to make basic photo edits. Today, there are several interesting free Web-based choices. These won’t rival Photoshop or GIMP for professional users, but if you’re just a regular Joe trying to make some subtle edits to a photo, they may actually be a better fit than Photoshop. Let’s look at two of the most popular ones and try to see which online photo editor is better.

Photoshop Express

The Photoshop brand needs no introduction, and Express is the Web-based version. It sits on the absolutely killer domain, but is it really that good?

To test it, I’ve uploaded an unedited base photo (I will be using the same one with Picnik as well). The editing interface looks like this:

online photo editor

Kind of tiny in the screenshot, but you get the layout. Your photo sits at the center, and there’s a large vertical toolbar along the left side of the screen, with some extra buttons sprinkled around the frame. Let’s look at the toolbar first:

free photo editor

So the toolbar has two tabs, “Edit” and “Decorate“. All of the functions are clearly labeled, and there are no cryptic icon-only buttons. So in terms of learning curve, it’s very easy to get started.

Now let’s try out some of the functions. For example, let’s play with the white balance:

free photo editor

As you can see, once you pick a tool, you get several thumbnails showing previews of the tool’s different settings. The tooltips are also very helpful – just hover over one of the settings, and you can instantly see what it’s for. Since my photo was taken in sunlit settings, I went with this white balance option.

Not all tools have tooltips, though. The Auto Correct option, for example, merely shows thumbnails. As you hover over a thumbnail, the main image is instantly updated with the effect, so you don’t have to squint and imagine what it would look like.

Photoshop Express also lets you apply some basic filters to the entire image:

free photo editor

So it seems to get all the basic editing tools right; now let’s have a look at some of the extras filed under the Decorate tab.

photo editor

Specifically, let’s try picking a nice frame for my horse photo:


This is what happens when you click the Frames button. My first disappointment with Photoshop Express; these frames seem to be aimed at kids, rather than people looking for a basic photo editor. And when you apply one of them, it looks pretty bad, too.

photo editor

Poor horsey… Let’s undo that frame. The other decorations seem to be equally silly; these are basically just stamps you can slap on your photo. For example, here’s the Miscellaneous category:


Had this been a photo of a unicorn, I might have gone with the rainbow and hearts. Since this is a horse, we’ll be moving on.

Bottom Line For Photoshop Express

Photoshop Express is a solid free offering. I would keep away from the Decorate tab, but the editing tools are solid, useful, and well-crafted. The instant previews are impressive and easy to use.


Now let’s take our horse over to the competitor, Picnik. Again, let’s start with an overview of the interface:

photo editor

Once more, we see a vertical toolbar with labeled buttons, but Picnik has a bit more going on at the top of the screen:


There are more tabs along the top of the screen. The Auto-Fix functionality gets center-stage here, with a huge button sprinkled with some stars for good measure. In Photoshop Express, this is called “Auto-correct” and gets a simple button alongside the rest. They obviously really want me to use it, so I’ll just go ahead and click. Unlike Photoshop Express, the Auto-Fix button is a single-click affair; click, and the photo changes whichever way Picnik wants to change it (Photoshop Express shows thumbnails and lets you pick between them).


One thing Picnik has over Photoshop Express is an enormous amount of filters and effects. Let’s look at the effects tab:


There are lots of effects you can apply to your photo; however, notice the subtle “premium” label overlayed over some of the buttons. This mean you can’t use them unless you pay up for the full version (around $3/month or so).

Now, since we’ve looked at frames in Photoshop Express, let’s take a quick look at the frames Picnik offers:

online photo editor

Okay, these are far less silly than Photoshop’s.

Bottom Line for Picnik

Picnik’s interface is richer than the Photoshop Express one, but individual functions are not always as detailed (see the Auto-Correct comparison above, for example). The plugs for the paid version may be necessary, but they don’t add to the user experience (it’s no fun to keep looking at functions you can’t use).

Final Verdict – Which is The Better Editor?

If you’re looking for basic edits such as color and contrast corrections, the Photoshop Express may be the right choice for you, thanks to the amount of choices you can make about each basic fix. On the other hand, if you’re looking to apply funky filters or get more creative with your photo, you should probably go with the Picnik online photo editor.

Image Credit: ShutterStock

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  1. Nachol
    December 12, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Uff! There seems to be a bunch of online/offline "simple" editors. I also know of SumoPaint. You can both work online or download and install on your system. It's a lot of fun, because it's got many special brushes that have symmetry, gravity (seems to make your paint drizzle), and so on. Also, you can do basic edting, you have layers, etc. I like it a lot, although I don't have any examples worth showing here hehe

  2. Mehul
    November 22, 2011 at 8:32 am

    i am newbie in the world of photo editing, thank you all for sharing such good stuff i had a question, where can i learn basics and advance of photo editing and mixing ?

    • Erez Zukerman
      November 23, 2011 at 10:06 pm

      You may want to ask that in MakUseOf Answers, our thriving Q&A community. Check it out here:

      • Charity
        January 25, 2012 at 7:40 pm

        Now that picnik is closing down, I'm forced to look around for a new fun photo editing program. I loved picnik so much that I am struggling to find something else. Got any ideas? 

        • Tina
          January 25, 2012 at 9:41 pm

          Charity, check out Aviary
          And if you like it, please let us know!

        • Erez Zukerman
          January 26, 2012 at 11:56 am

          I second Tina's recommendation for Aviary.

  3. Erez Zukerman
    November 20, 2011 at 5:44 pm rocks, but it's offline. I mean, it's an installable download. But yes, I agree, I really like it too. (More than the GIMP, anyway)

  4. Erez Zukerman
    November 20, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Wow! Third time's a charm. Okay, turns out we did review it, three years ago. Would you say it changed significantly? Should I take another look?

    • Danni
      May 8, 2012 at 6:54 am

      PicMonkey! March 21, 2012 By Sarah Leave a Comment I was introduced to a REALLY nice pragrom called PicMonkey once upon a time when I was all sad about Picnik closing this coming April 19th. You can find that posta0here.

  5. Erez Zukerman
    November 20, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Interesting -- second recommendation for Did you try any of these two? 

  6. Sam
    November 19, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    I've been a Picnik subscriber for years and by using it in conjunction with the highly underrated free editor PhotoScape, I can produce effects and edits that startle the PhotoShop purists. 

    Sam in Portland, OR

    • Erez Zukerman
      November 20, 2011 at 5:40 pm

      Wow, never heard of PhotoScape! Can you link to some examples of your work with this combo?

  7. Neminix
    November 19, 2011 at 6:53 pm is a real on line photo editor. It supports layers and masks with several blending modes, advanced selections and all the editing tools the average user will nedd (levels, curves, channel editing, usm, filters, effects....)
    Try it!

    • Erez Zukerman
      November 20, 2011 at 5:40 pm

      Would you say it's better than any of these? Does it have wizards and quick effects (like "make eyes shiny" etc)?