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.

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:

ServiceFlash/HTMLMax. sizeMax. resolution CostLayersEffectsKiller feature
FlauntrFlash10MB2850x1599FreeNoYesPart of a larger suite of editing products. You can take your file to another tool without losing changes.
FotoflexerFlashNo limit4500x4500FreeYesYesHandles multiple layers with grace. Includes advanced features like curve tweaks and intelligent lassoing for free.
LunapicHTML4MB1330x1330FreeNoYesCan run on machines without Flash installed. Really inventive special effects--especially reflective water that ripples.
PhixrHTMLNo limit1440x1080FreeNoYesCan 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.
PhoenixFlashNo limit2800x2800FreeYesYesGreat layer masking, community support, and tutorials. Work from Phoenix can be sent to another editing tool in the Aviary Web suite.
Photoshop.comFlash10MB6000x6000FreeNoYesEditing features get previewed in real time. Also runs on Adobe's latest and greatest Flash technology.
Picnik freeFlash16MB4000x4000FreeYesYesDefault photo editor for Flickr, very slick interface.
Picnik premiumFlash16MB4000x4000$24.95/yearYesYesBigger uploads and more effects filters. App also remembers what you were doing the last time you were using it.
Picture2LifeHTML5MB1600x1600FreeYesYesCan run on machines without Flash installed. Floating windows workspace, similar to desktop apps.
PixenateHTML10MB1600x1200FreeNoYesCan run on machines without Flash installed. Tooth whitening tool perfects yellow smiles with two clicks.
Pixer.usFlash10MB6000x6000FreeNoYesRemembers the last photo you were working on and has a wide range of filters and effects.
PixlrFlashNo limit2880x2880 (Flash 9 users) 4096x4096 (Flash 10 users)FreeYesYesFeels a lot like a desktop application, complete with a workspace which you can rearrange and customize to your liking.
SnipshotHTML10MB5000x5000FreeNoYesCan run on machines without Flash installed. Can import the first page of a PDF file for editing.
Snipshot ProHTML10MB5000x5000$7/monthNoYesEffects filters, face detection, support for RAW camera files.
SplashupFlash~6.25MB1250x1250FreeYesYesReally 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.

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