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15 online photo editors compared

We take a look at more than a dozen different online photo editing tools to let you know what each is capable of.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
4 min read

Tools that let you edit photos in the Web browser have come a long way in the last few years. We wanted to take a moment to do a feature comparison with a grouping of editors--big and small, to see what each one is capable of.

Most of the services on this list take advantage of Adobe's ever-developing Flash platform, which in its latest iteration got a huge boost with support for the large images coming out of today's high-megapixel cameras. On the flip side of that, several of the non-Flash-based editors use AJAX to make the changes happen without reloading the page. The benefit here is that you can run these on machines without the latest versions of Flash installed.

While not an exhaustive list of features, we wanted to focus on some of the ones that really mattered, like how much each service costs to use, how large of a photo you can upload, and what makes each one special. Here are the results:

Service Flash/HTML Max. size Max. resolution Cost Layers Effects Killer feature
Flauntr Flash 10MB 2850x1599 Free No Yes Part of a larger suite of editing products. You can take your file to another tool without losing changes.
Fotoflexer Flash No limit 4500x4500 Free Yes Yes Handles multiple layers with grace. Includes advanced features like curve tweaks and intelligent lassoing for free.
Lunapic HTML 4MB 1330x1330 Free No Yes Can run on machines without Flash installed. Really inventive special effects--especially reflective water that ripples.
Phixr HTML No limit 1440x1080 Free No Yes Can run on machines without Flash installed. Does not save your photos on its servers for very long, so you can edit sensitive images and nobody will see them.
Phoenix Flash No limit 2800x2800 Free Yes Yes Great layer masking, community support, and tutorials. Work from Phoenix can be sent to another editing tool in the Aviary Web suite.
Photoshop.com Flash 10MB 6000x6000 Free No Yes Editing features get previewed in real time. Also runs on Adobe's latest and greatest Flash technology.
Picnik free Flash 16MB 4000x4000 Free Yes Yes Default photo editor for Flickr, very slick interface.
Picnik premium Flash 16MB 4000x4000 $24.95/year Yes Yes Bigger uploads and more effects filters. App also remembers what you were doing the last time you were using it.
Picture2Life HTML 5MB 1600x1600 Free Yes Yes Can run on machines without Flash installed. Floating windows workspace, similar to desktop apps.
Pixenate HTML 10MB 1600x1200 Free No Yes Can run on machines without Flash installed. Tooth whitening tool perfects yellow smiles with two clicks.
Pixer.us Flash 10MB 6000x6000 Free No Yes Remembers the last photo you were working on and has a wide range of filters and effects.
Pixlr Flash No limit 2880x2880 (Flash 9 users) 4096x4096 (Flash 10 users) Free Yes Yes Feels a lot like a desktop application, complete with a workspace which you can rearrange and customize to your liking.
Snipshot HTML 10MB 5000x5000 Free No Yes Can run on machines without Flash installed. Can import the first page of a PDF file for editing.
Snipshot Pro HTML 10MB 5000x5000 $7/month No Yes Effects filters, face detection, support for RAW camera files.
Splashup Flash ~6.25MB 1250x1250 Free Yes Yes Really great handling of layers. Photoshop users will feel right at home with some of the user interface.

Two small caveats about size: In most cases, any difference in the maximum photo resolution is a result of which version of Flash the tool--or the user--is running. In Aviary's case, its Phoenix photo editor uses the Flash 9 spec, thus only supporting images up to 2800x2800 in size. Its next release, due later this year, will nearly double that resolution.

Also, the maximum resolution doesn't necessarily mean if your original photo is bigger, it won't take it. Instead, what many of these services will do is simply scale it down to something that's more manageable both for your machine and its servers. Photos with odd aspect ratios are often constrained within the proportion of pixels any given editing app can render within its available workspace.

So which one is the best?

That's a difficult question. It depends on what you're trying to do. If you want to add glitter graphics to a picture to put on your MySpace profile, you should go with Lunapic. If you're trying to edit the RAW photos you just took on your new SLR, you're only going to be able to do it on Snipshot's paid pro service.

Nearly all of the services have API plug-ins with various photo-hosting services and social networks, so when you're done with a shot you can send it out elsewhere. Those that don't still let you save a local copy to your computer in one of many popular formats--and most importantly, without any kind of branding or watermarking on the original.

Ultimately what should win you over is the feel and needed utility of the site. Two of my personal recommendations are Picnik and Fotoflexer, both of which strike a good balance between serious editing tools and things that tweenagers would go ga-ga for, like zany fonts and heart stamps. You can use either set of tools without feeling like they're in your face.

Another office favorite is Photoshop online. It certainly has its faults, but for newbies who don't want to shell out for Adobe's pricey Lightroom or Photoshop software, it's incredibly simple to use, and renders editing previews with amazing speed.

Did we miss one? Let us know, or leave your personal favorites in the TalkBack.

Images: Zooming in on photo editing tools

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