When you’re freelancing, working on the road, or meeting with a client, you often need to edit photos. Sometimes an online photo editor makes sense.

There are several online image editors out there now that rival the features found in Photoshop. We’re going to look at 5 of the best and noteworthy. Here’s a quick (or maybe not so quick) rundown of some of the features and the pros and cons of each editor.

Pixlr

Pixlr is pretty much what you would expect an online version of Photoshop to look like. It has the tool panel on the side and layer and navigation panels. The interfaces are so much alike that I kept having to check to make sure I hadn’t accidentally switched to Photoshop. It even lets you edit multiple images at once.

Adding and Saving Photos

Adding and saving photos works just like you’d expect—browse your computer or enter a URL. Saving is just like using Photoshop—save and the image is saved to your computer.

Interface

The interface is very clean and simple. There is no Pixlr logo to be seen, rather a slim menu along the top and tool-specific options beneath it. The panels are draggable, so you can move them to be out of your way.

The tool panel has most of the tools that Photoshop has, plus they are all accessible by the same keyboard shortcuts. The text tool includes every font that’s installed on your system, not just a small selection.

The only tool I didn’t enjoy using as much was the Crop tool. Instead of letting you make your initial box and then drag the sides around until you are happy, the Crop tool in Pixlr immediately crops the image as soon as you release the mouse button.

If you find yourself feeling crowded in your browser window, Fullscreen Mode removes all your browser’s chrome and gives you the entire screen to use.

Pros

  • No registration required
  • Photoshop-like interface with draggable, resizeable panels
  • Zero learning curve for Photoshop users
  • Edit multiple images at once
  • Add/edit multiple layers—with blending and other options
  • Keyboard shortcuts work for all but one tool (Red Eye Reduction tool)
  • Fullscreen mode lets you edit without the browser window/controls getting in the way

Cons

  • Crop tool needs a bit of work
  • Limited image formats: JPG, GIF and PNG (can’t open BMP or TIFF)
  • Can’t save the project file for later editing (layers, etc)
  • Lacks integration with online photo accounts (Flickr, Picasa, etc)

Splashup

Splashup is another great online Photoshop alternative. Splashup and Pixlr are very much neck-in-neck. Each have an interface very similar to Photoshop.

Registration is not required, but if you do sign up for a Splashup account, you can save images to it and pull images from it for use later.

With Pixlr, you can only add images from your computer or a URL, but with Splashup, you can also pull pictures from your Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, SmugMug, PhotoBucket and Splashup accounts, as well as a webcam.

Splashup lets you edit JPG, GIF, PNG and BMP images.

Splashup also allows you to edit multiple images at once and allows you to add and edit multiple layers to each image.

Splashup’s text tool only gives you some of the bare-minimum websafe fonts (13) instead of the full selection installed on your computer.

My only real gripe with Pixlr was the crop tool. Splashup’s crop tool is even worse because it doesn’t give you a tool cursor when making your selection, so making exact crops is very much trial and error.

Splashup also has a fullscreen mode to work on your images without distration.

Pros

  • Registration is optional
  • Import images from popular online photo galleries and your webcam
  • Photoshop-like interface
  • Edits most formats—JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP
  • Edit multiple images/layers at once

Cons

  • No keyboard shortcuts
  • Interface is a bit web 2.0 and doesn’t give you as much work space as Pixlr, for example
  • No magic wand selection tool (Pixlr has the magic wand)
  • No tool cursors
  • Crop tool needs work
  • Limited fonts available in text tool
  • Working with an image that’s larger than your screen is difficult with no navigation panel
  • Can’t save layer comps

Aviary

Aviary is one of the first online image editors that I ever used (back when it was in closed beta) and I’ve seen some very creative work done with this.

Aviary does, however, require registration.

Aviary is actually a suite of online tools: Peacock (image tweaking), Phoenix (image editing) and Toucan (color swatches). We’re going to focus on Phoenix since it’s the closest to Photoshop.

When you open Phoenix, you go to a blank canvas just like you do in Photoshop. You can import images in JPG, GIF or PNG from your computer, a URL, your Aviary account or a Flickr, Picasa or Facebook account.

Like Pixlr and Splashup, you can edit multiple layers. But with Phoenix, you can work on only 1 file at a time.

You have access to many of the tools you’re most likely to use in Photoshop, but you only have 11 tools to choose from in the tools panel.

The crop tool suffers from the same issues as Pixlr and Splashup, but it at least has an precise tool cursor (unlike Splashup).

The most surprising thing I found was the text tool—you only have Arial and Verdana to choose from. Not even one serif font? What the dang?

Tools are not selectable using keyboard shortcuts, but some other functions are, like zoom +/-.

One saving grace is that you can save your layer comps as files and continue editing next time, which is a welcome change from the other online editors I’ve seen.

Pros

  • Simple interface
  • Precise tool cursors
  • Import images from popular image gallery sites
  • Save layer comps for later editing
  • Keyboard shortcuts on a few options

Cons

  • More of a learning curve if coming from Photoshop
  • Panels are not resizeable or draggable
  • Terrible number of fonts available (only 2—both sans-serif)
  • Poor crop tool
  • No fullscreen mode
  • Workspace is centered and panels can get in your way when working on larger images

Adobe Photoshop Express

Of course, we couldn’t mention online Photoshop alternatives without including Adobe’s online version of Photoshop called Photoshop Express.

Photoshop Express comes with a silky-smooth inferface. But what else would you expect from Adobe.

But besides the name, there is very little about Photoshop Express that resembles the desktop version. No selection tools. No tool panel. Instead, the tool panel has been replaced with simplified tasks, such as Crop & Rotate, Resize, Sharpen and Tint.

I will say, the crop tool is great. You can adjust the borders before cropping; making exact cropping much easier than the previous 2 online editors.

Adding and Saving Pictures

Adding pictures is pretty easy to do. You can import photos from your Flickr, Picasa, Facebook and Photobucket accounts. Once you link your photo site accounts, you can browse your collections right from Photoshop Express. You can also upload photos from your harddrive.

After editing your photos, you can save them, repost them to your accounts, or keep them in a Photoshop Express gallery. You can even order prints of your editted photos through Shutterfly.

For obvious reasons, the free Photoshop Express will never be as good as its paid desktop counterpart, and ironically, doesn’t compare with the other online Photoshop alternatives.

Pros

  • Polished, easy-to-use interface
  • Nice system for previewing the effects of an action
  • Great for beginners or those who have never used Photoshop before
  • Pull photos from Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, PhotoBucket or your computer
  • Option to save edited photos to an online, shareable gallery on Photoshop Express
  • Order prints

Cons

  • Requires registration
  • Disappointing features and task-based toolset (nothing like the desktop application)
  • No selection tools of any kind
  • Using the beta upload tool requires installation of Adobe Air and another installation
  • Cannot add text to photos

Picnik

Picnik is not quite up there with some of the other online editors in terms of being a Photoshop replacement, but it’s my favorite photo editor for quick adjustments and tweaks. And it certainly beats Photoshop Express in terms of what it can do.

Picnik is free and no registration is required, which makes it great for just one-off image edits.

Instead of having tool panels, there’s a strip of tabbed options that are available for making adjustments. There are no brushes or smudge tools like some of the other editors have, but it’s nice for making adjustments to your photos.

Picnik has some of the simplest, yet most powerful controls of any online image editor I’ve seen. And yes, the crop tool actually lets you adjust the borders before commiting to the crop—much like Photoshop Express.

The choice of fonts is pretty impressive. I’ve not sure if it shows all of the fonts available on the system, but it has a huge variety to choose from, including a big selection of fonts from other designers that you don’t have to have installed on your system to use.

Picnik is an online photo editor that I would definitely recommend to any beginner or client that needs to crop, resize, tweak or adjust photos for their site or any other web project.

While the free version doesn’t seem to let you import photos from other web accounts, you can still save and share your edited photos by saving them to Flickr, Picasa, Webshots, Facebook, MySpace, PhotoBucket or Freewebs.

Pros

  • No registration required
  • Simple, easy, fun to use
  • Amazing amount of control over adjustments
  • Perfect, exact cropping
  • Huge font selection
  • Save to popular image galleries and social network sites

Cons

  • Not for complete photo-manipulation
  • Limited features
  • Can only edit 1 picture at a time
  • Some features like image import and fullscreen mode require paid upgrade

The Sum-Up

I’ve tried to showcase the best and most worthy Photoshop alternatives. I know there are loads more online photo editors out there, but it would make this post even longer and honestly, most are simply variations of Picnik—just retouching photos.

If I’ve missed a really awesome Photoshop alternative, let me know in the comments and I’ll look into it.

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