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Top Free Photo Editors
By: Thelonius Funk
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     This software highlight takes a look at some of the top free photo editors.

    Since the advent of the smartphone put a camera at everyone’s fingertip, the world of photo manipulation has taken a quantum leap. Almost overnight, people went from the occasional shutterbug to documenting nearly every aspect of their daily lives. That combined with the ubiquitous and instant gratification of social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, the world was also given a forum to display and showcase their photos.  It was only the natural progression of things that people would begin to explore many different ways to play around with those photos.

    Once upon a time, not too long ago in fact, exploring those options were a privilege of those in possession of such photo manipulation software like the mighty Photoshop. Nowadays that’s simply not the case; there is a plethora of apps and programs available to the public, both paid and free. How do you thin the herd you may ask? Well look no further; I am about give you a quick rundown of some of the better free photo-processing apps available for both iPhone and iPads.

    First up on the list is a clever little for the iPhone and iPad, called Pixlr-o-matic. A user-friendly yet surprisingly multi-functional app that allows you such effects like faded and warm film filters to light leaks, sparkles, and rainbows. Once you launch the program, you’ll be given the option to take a snapshot with your camera or upload a photo of your own from your computer. Once you have done this then you’ll be able to apply a filter, add an effect, and a frame; and then save or share the photo. I would also like to let it be known that Pixlr-o-matic does not have the option share photos on Twitter and the filters are one-shot and unadjustable, so what you see is what you get.

    The interface is set-up as a ruler with five buttons from left to right; return to home screen, film filters, lighting effects, frames, and save/share. The options are broken down into three basic categories; filters, lighting effects and frames. There are 25 film filters, 30 lighting effects, and 31 frames to choose from, however you can only apply one type of filter or effect at a time but you do see the changes to your photo changes almost instantly. The main drawbacks to this app are as follows; you’re occasionally prevented from sharing large or medium-size files and there’s no crop feature. Aside from that Pixlr-o-matic's, is a fun and simple app with numerous effects available.

    Adobe Photoshop Express

    Adobe and Macintosh. In a partnership that goes as well together as PB&J; it’s not hard imagine that Adobe would eventually put out an image editor for the iPhone and iPad that would set a standard among an already impressive array of photo editing apps. The Adobe Photoshop Express is the Robin to the CS Photoshop’s Batman. Meaning that it can do a bunch of cool stuff but as one might guess, it’s not as beefy or skilled as the desktop version. However it is easy, fast and furious with what it can do and above all its free! 

    Images can be cropped, rotated, or flipped. Users can also change the exposure, saturation, tint, or convert a color picture to black and white; turn a photo into a sketch or soften the focus; and add effects, such as Vibrant, Vignette Blur, Rainbow, Border, Warm Vintage, White Glow or Black and White.  The touch screen interfaces bring new meaning to ‘tip of your fingers’ allowing you to adjust the strength of the edits by how far across the screen you swipe. Most edits are achieved in either portrait or landscape mode.

    The interface is simple enough to master the first time you use the app. You’ll have your choice of these toolbar options; Crop / Brightness / Filters / Effects. One distinct departure from other versions of Photoshop is that if ever you change your mind about an edit you can always cancel or undo it, because the edited version of your image is always saved separately from the original, so the process is natively non-destructive. So while it may not have the bang of its older siblings, Photoshop Express has just the right amount of goodies to give your images that on-the-go pizzazz.


    First and foremost, do not be thrown off by the name which stands for (GNU Image Manipulation Program), GNU refers to the type of licence, being free.). It does most of the things that the other programs do, and at a professional quality. A few of the more sophisticated techniques may not be present, but lest we forget all the apps are free and considering the axiom, that you get what you pay for, GIMP boasts some impressive functionality. So forgive the oddly misleading appellation, it is quite a versatile program.

    Of all the photo editing apps I reviewed, GIMP is actually the one that was the most comprehensive in terms of utility. Unlike Photoshop Express which is essentially just a stripped down version of Photoshop Creative Suite, GIMP offers everything from a simple paint program, a photo retouching program, an image renderer, or an image format converter. GIMP even supports layered designs that you can build from scratch, gradients and a bevy of other incredible functions. The primary drawback, I encountered was the interface which has different architecture than other commercial level software packages and can take some getting used whether you’re an industry professional or not.

    Photo editing apps that provide full high-caliber professional functionality are rapidly becoming the norm nowadays. Giving users the best that commercial software can provide while not having to pay a dime for them. Many of which give us constant improvements and updates in addition to that.  So while some of you out there may find Adobe Photoshop Express much easier to use and not to mention learn.  Do not be so quick to dismiss GIMP, which is quite a good alternative to Photoshop in its own right.

    Fotoflexer is far from its self-proclaimed ‘world’s most advanced online image editor’ but it certainly gets an ‘A’ for effort. What this dandy app lacks in overall slick professional aesthetics it more than makes up in fun and quick no-brainer effects. Whereas, some image editors have a severe learning curve, most users could walk through the interface on Fotoflexer with their eyes closed. Users can dabble in everything from the usual blemish fixing and effects such as watercolors and sepia tones to more fun things such as adding shapes to your photos, doodling on them and using various fonts in several colors to brighten your photo.

    You can even distort photos, warping them to create various hilarious effects.
    More than anything, my only bone of contention with FotoFlexer is that it maybe tries a little too hard to be everything to everyone. Those of you out there looking for a lean and mean program with a straightforward interface, may want to bypass this app all-together. FotoFlexer has a bit more of the ‘kitchen sink’ approach to its photo editing. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some advanced tools on par with desktop class photo editing software but the app’s strength focuses mainly on one-click tweaks and like many other online editing programs, it integrates directly with major services like Flickr, MySpace, Picasa, and Facebook to pull your photos down for editing. Most of which processes in real-time.

    Fotoflexer has a nifty tool for cutting out images called, what else Smart Cutout, which can help you cut out various pieces of a photo, or recolor them to match the tone of your choice. The cutout is the more useful of the two, and lets you cut people or objects out from a shot without having to trace their outline. Once you've got a cutout, you can add it into another photo, or bring another shot in to the workspace. FotoFlexer is one of the few Web apps for photo editing that offers contextual menus. All in all, it is a really well put together app that could make a solid piece of standalone software.

    DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Developer Shed, Inc. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. As such it is incumbent upon the reader to employ real-world tactics for security and implementation of best practices. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. If this is a hardware review, it is not recommended to open and/or modify your hardware.

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