Pixlr…another tool to mess with photo pixels [review]

Name: Pixlr
Cost: Free (pay membership for more features)
Type: Download (desktop) or Internet (web app) or app (iOS or Android)
Rating: 2/5

 

Pixlr logoPatience + Patience = Edited Photo. I don’t generally have the patience to do much editing with my photos. As a novice photographer, I know that all my photos can use some editing to “fix” the errors in lighting that I don’t address when taking the photo. I have a DSLR camera, so the camera can do all the work if I knew how to use it properly. (Learning to use my camera is on my to-do list since I have two books, two DVDs, and hundreds of Pinterest pins on the topic.) Since I lack patience, I have to be fair in saying that my review of photo editing tools is abbreviated in that I don’t put much time into the features that would fix a photo (e.g., contrast, brightness, spot fixing, etc.). Rather, I play around with the other cool features that can make the photos very artistic and well beyond what could have been captured in with my camera (e.g., double exposure, overlays, color palates, borders, text, etc.).

As with most of my reviews, I stick with the free version of the tools. Pixlr, like most free tools, provides a subscription version that gives you access to more features. Since I already own Photoshop Elements, I’m not inclined to subscribe to a photo editing tool.

Terminology: This tool has two versions, so I wanted to clarify the terminology used in my review. One version you download to your computer to use as you would other software on you computer. This version is referred to as desktop, which is in accordance with the terms used by Pixlr. The second version requires Internet access and a web browser. This is referred to as web app, which is also in accordance with Pixlr.

Goal: test out a photo editing tool that allows me to make “fun” changes to my photos, or get serious with editing (i.e., fixing my errors)

Pixlr internet workspace

This is the opening screen for the web app version of Pixlr

Benefits:

  • No login is needed to start editing photos (either for desktop or Internet versions)
  • There are user guides (desktop and webapp). They are available in multiple languages. There is also a design blog with further insights beyond just using the tool; I like the blog because it provides inspiration (…there are just things I don’t imagine doing with my photos, but the blog has interesting examples with information on recreating the designs).
  • There are many “free” features to use when editing a photo.
  • Although the web app version has the small, obscure icons similar to GIMP, clicking on the icon will reveal it’s function at the top of the screen.
  • The web app version shows the layers and history in side panels.
  • Saving to your computer with either the web app or desktop version is fairly quick.
  • Photos saved to the “Pixlr Library” (after login) are not displayed publicly.
Pixlr Web app workspace 2

This is the web app workspace once you start working on a photo. You can see the ad to to the far right of the screen.

Drawbacks:

  • Web app version has flashing/animated ads in right margin, which are distracting. The membership version removes the ads.
  • In the desktop version, once you click “apply” to a change, you can’t undo it. If you should cancel before applying, then it flips you back out to the main menu so you have to click back through the submenus to keep testing out other changes.
  • Similar to the point above, once you add text to the desktop version and click apply, it’s done. You can’t select and edit the text. This drawback contributed to my 2 out of 5 rating since I like editing without redoing.
  • It takes a few moments for the Filter and Adjustment changes to preview in the web app. It isn’t unreasonable, but you have to wait for the preview to catch up before sliding the adjustments further or you’ll overdo it.
  • There seems to be different login requirements for the desktop version and the web app. I was able to sign in to the desktop version after creating a login/password, but using the same combination for the web app didn’t work.
  • Does not support RAW files (e.g., from DSLR cameras); you’d have to rely on GIMP or Fotor for free RAW file editing. Also, Pixlr doesn’t edit TIFF files.

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Fotor…more fun with photos

Name: Fotor
Cost: Free (upgrade for no ads)
Type: Internet tool (app available for iOS and Android); software download for Windows and Mac
Rating: 2/5 (Internet version) 5/5 (Download version)

 

Fotor logoI recently presented my blog to coworkers in order to not only bring attention to a resource that I think they’d find helpful, but I also wanted a sense of how my peers would respond to my blog’s content. I’m very fortunate to work in a very supportive environment. Through my presentation, I realized there are many options available for those looking to use free Internet tools to jazz up their classrooms (or whatever). Fotor was brought to my attention as a photo editor similar to PicMonkey. There are a few differences between Fotor and other photo editors, though they all offer the same types of options overall. At this point, I don’t have much of a preference for Internet photo editors, especially for my purposes. If I need to do any “professional” photo editing, I’m still likely to turn to Photoshop Elements or Lightroom. But, it’s good to have these options for times when I don’t have access to a computer with my purchased software. I have found that the free versions are likely to also be suitable for student use (as long as they aren’t in a graphic design course or the like).

Goal: create graphics to include in my online classroom, combining text and graphics; I’m also looking for an easy to use tool for enhancing the graphics I use in my blog

Defining terminology: The “Internet version” is the tool that you access through an Internet browser; you obviously need an Internet connection to use the tool. The “desktop version” or “download version” refers to the tool that you need to download from one of the links above to use the software on your computer rather than through an Internet browser. (I did not test the app versions.)

Fotor desktop workspace

This is what the desktop version of the workspace looks like. Can’t complain.

Benefits:

  • No log in required to get started with either the Internet or desktop version.
  • Font colors can be changed within the same textbox. (If I want to highlight a specific word, I can change the color without changing the color of every word or needing to create a separate textbox for the highlighted word.)
  • Able to save finished graphics as .jpg or .png. (No upgrade needed in order to download the graphic to your PC.) With the desktop version, you can also save it as .bmp and .tiff.
  • The graphics you create and download show up under the Import Photos section of the workspace. You can then add the edited graphics to the next graphic you create (e.g., for when you need to edit some photos before adding them to a collage).
  • Several share options: Fotor Forum, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+, or print or URL.
  • There is a preview feature that shows the graphic in the style’s intended environment. I created a YouTube cover, so the preview shows me the graphic as it might appear on a YouTube channels screen on a laptop, computer monitor, and smart phone. This way, you can see where the graphic might be cropped when put in that environment.
  • There is a download version of the software so you don’t need an Internet connection to use it.
  • Help is available, though it isn’t extensive. There are tutorials and a blog, with further insights.
  • The desktop version supports RAW image format. For those who shoot photos with a DSLR, this is a big deal since many photo editors only support JPG photo formats. (That said, most folks who take the time to shoot in RAW format have invested in Photoshop or Lightroom already.)
  • You can “batch” changes in the desktop version, so if you want to add the same border to a bunch of photos, you can do it at once.
  • The desktop version doesn’t seem to have ads beyond one in the right hand corner.
Fotor internet version workspace 1

This is the opening screen of options for the internet version of the tool.

Drawbacks:

  • Like most photo editing tools, some options are reserved for the upgraded version.
  • There are ads at the bottom of the screen for the Internet version, which can be distracting with they’re flashing, but I found it easier to ignore them as compared to tools with the ads in the right margin (e.g., Pic Monkey).
  • Some font colors don’t appear correctly (e.g., white font on black background). I had to change it to more of a gray-white in order for it to appear; for the yellow, I needed to slide the color picker to a brighter version of yellow. I identified this issue with the Internet version.
  • The screen freezes sometimes when it’s changing to a new banner ad on the Internet version.
  • Pictures over 8 megapixels cannot be uploaded to the Internet version of Fotor.
  • When creating a collage, I can’t seem to add text in the desktop version.
  • The Internet version sometimes doesn’t load, but reloading the page worked.
  • Some of the borders in the Internet collage tool will cut into your graphic. I think this is just a result of using a template that wants the graphics to be a certain size.
  • Undo in the Internet version seems to undo all the changes I made to a photo when editing it.

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Kizoa…means “sweep” in Swahili(?)

Name: Kizoa
Cost: Free
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 3/5

Kizoa logoAlthough I’m an novice photographer, I’m not really big on using slide shows to share my photos, even though I’m quite proud of some of them. I guess I’m not sure who my audience for a digital media slide show might be since I print/frame my photos that I like, and torture friends/family by posting them individually to Facebook (I also force students to view my photos by including them in PPT slides or as my screensaver). Nonetheless, there are many many Internet tools to create these types of slide shows. Kizoa is one option, and judging from its templates, the tool is meant for those who want to share photos from a holiday or special event via a photo video. While this option is obviously better than inviting everyone to your house to watch a slide projector version (which you have to get on Ebay because they have been discontinued), I am still thinking about how educators might use this tool effectively. Perhaps it can be used for digital storytelling assignments as long as students are warned about distracting the audience with too many effects, animations, stickers, or blocks of text.

Kizoa workspace 1

This is what the workspace looks like after selecting a template and adding your photos.

Goal: find a digital media tool to create text + graphic videos with professional looking templates and transitions

Benefits:

  • It’s really easy to select the order you want to show the photos in. You just start clicking the uploaded photos one after another, in the order they should appear in the video.
  • When in “collage edit” mode, you can add clipart, animations, and the like to each slide, along with your photos.
  • You can see the website in a variety of languages.

Drawbacks:

  • It takes a minute or so to upload your photos, depending on how many you choose from your computer and the file sizes. (But, there is a progress page so you can see how things are going as you wait.)
  • Without taking the time to personalize the video, the tool will center the photos in the template’s layout, which may not be exactly what you want.
  • The edit mode isn’t always intuitive. I had to click around to figure things out. (If you’re paying attention, unlike me, then you may catch the prompts that suggest next steps.)
  • Every time you modify a collage (slide), it takes several seconds to save before you can move ahead. You have to click “validate” for every change, which adds more seconds to the process.
  • The template transitions are not always good options. The first template I worked with overlapped photos before fully revealing the first photo for the slide (so it was obscured immediately). When editing the collage, look at the timeline under the slide, click and drag the colored line that coordinates with the photo that is coming in too soon; dragging the line to the right will delay its transition.
  • The free version has some limitations: cannot remove Kizoa logo; cannot hide sharing options; cannot set the number of loops (times the video repeats); cannot download finished project. The only one that bugs me is the sharing option, but Prezi and other free tools have the same restriction.
  • The “guide” is all in the form of YouTube videos…I prefer a text version for the simple tasks.
  • The editing features are quirky in Firefox, where the audio catches and lags when reviewing one frame/slide, or the screens flashes and freezes.
  • An embed code is provided, but when I embed it in my blog, clicking on the video will take you to the Kizoa home page, not my video. I have tried editing the code to no avail.

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Fotobabble….for 60 seconds of babbling

Name: Fotobabble
Cost: Free
Type: Internet Tool (or iOS app)
Rating: 3/5

Fotobabble logoI have an addiction, which I torture my students with. I like to make supplemental video content for my online courses. Students have access to text versions of instructions and rubrics, but I like to make videos that detail the requirements. As with any addictive substance, the problem is that I overdo it. What should take 5 minutes to explain, I will continue to layer on information until I run out of things to say 10 minutes later. I don’t even willingly sit through 10 – 15 minute YouTube videos, so I’m pushing my luck expecting my students to have more time/patience/interest. Thus, my desire to find a tool that compels me to keep it simple, yet engaging.

Fotobable is one option I’ve explored. It’s a single graphic with audio narration. With only one graphic, I know that I need to be brief since there isn’t extensive visual interest to keep the audience from straying to Facebook or the like. Personally, I like to use this opportunity to show off my amateur photos, which may not be relevant to the topic, but I think they’re interesting to look at for a few seconds. As noted in the Drawbacks below, I only use this tool for non-vital information so that I don’t get dozens of emails when the site goes down for maintenance at night.

Goal: Add audio to single graphic and embed the graphic in my classroom

Benefits:

Fotobabble workspace 1

This is the initial screen as you begin the process. You need to first upload a photo.

  • Very easy to click to record after uploading graphic
  • Embed codes available, either with or without Flash.
  • FREE, online tool that allows you to upload your own photos and record or upload audio.
  • Free themes are provided, which essentially serve as frames for your photo.
  • Pretty extensive collection of tutorials and guides to help get you started.

Drawbacks:

  • The site seems to go down nightly, so students accessing the graphic at night receive an error message.
  • There is a 5MB limit on the photos you can use, which is reasonable, but it’s not unlimited.
  • I’m pretty sure the “view” counter is off, since I highly doubt I’ve had over 3000 views since the post is marked Private and I haven’t had even 100 students to view the photo I recorded.
  • There is a 60 second time limit on audio recordings.

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Random Tip #6: Pixabay

Snow Leopard photoThe snow leopard got your attention didn’t it? There is no question that graphics appeal to audiences, no matter their age. Color, layout, subject matter, tone….all are visual design qualities that engage the interest and imagination. When Microsoft Office did away with embedded clipart in their software, I had to turn to other “free” options, such as: 1) Clipart websites with popup ads; 2) Google image searches, which would require citations/attribution; or 3) Use my own photos. While #3 is fun, it’s time consuming. #2 is reasonable, but citations are cumbersome, and they don’t actually cover me legally for copyright infringement (though, citations do set a positive example for students). #1 = annoying.

I never really invested a lot of time in finding websites with free images that I didn’t have to worry about using, but when I accidentally found Pixabay through a design website I was using, it was like getting a “free pizza for life” coupon. I feel like the rest of the world knew about this website, but no one clued me in. So, if I’m not the last person to find this resource, go check it out!

Other than free and easy use of quality images, here are a few other qualities I like about Pixabay:

  • Details about the photo are provided (e.g., camera lens, shutter speed, etc.), which makes it a learning experience for photographers who want to take their own photos.
  • Three size choices are generally provided, so you can choose the file size and graphic dimensions without having to crop/edit.
  • There are three different types of media: photos, illustrations and vector graphics (think cartoons or clipart like graphics), and videos
  • License and use information are provided with each graphic. Generally, they’re CC0 Public Domain, free for commercial use, and no attribution is required. You can also modify the image, so that if you want to use Photoshop/GIMP to remove the background, then that’s fine.
  • Signing up provides an account where you can keep track of your favorite images (by clicking on the star as you roll over the image).
  • They have a Facebook page that updates daily to share a good looking photo. Since it doesn’t fill up my feed with senseless posts, I like it. Also, in December 2015, the website had some stability issues, but the site creators were on their Facebook page responding to our cries for access. So, if you’re having trouble accessing the website, check their Facebook page to see if it’s a major issue (or if it’s just you).
Caution signCaution #1….there are links to Shutterstock images, which aren’t always free or Public Domain. These are marked with the Shutterstock watermark. Look before you click.

Caution #2…..you can lose hours and hours of your life going through the website and downloading images for future presentations/projects. You have been warned.

Here are good insights about the use of the Creative Commons (Public Domain) images (Please ignore the article’s typos, as the rest of the content is worth your time.): Public Domain Image – What is allowed and what is not?

Here is the link to Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/.

I’ve included some examples below, but it’s best to just go and explore the website yourself.

Samples images from Pixabay

BeFunky….everyone can use a bit of funky

Name: BeFunky
Cost: Free for some features ($25/year for full features)
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 4/5

BeFunky logoThe first draw towards this tool was the title: BeFunky. I’m not really the funky type, though I sometimes accidentally hit on funky and claim that it was intentional. The second draw was the website’s slogan: Photo Editing and Graphic Design Made for Everyone. Since I’ve spent more time as a student than not, I’m all for gaining ground on other careers without going back to school. The photo editing aspect is like PicMonkey, though perhaps with a few other options, such as adding mustaches to your photos. The tool allows you to create collages to bring together several photos (and perhaps add text), along with a “Designer” mode that provides templates for a variety of situations (e.g., creating a menu or invitation image). I am not at a “social” point in my life, where menus, invitations, and thank you cards are needed, but I’m realizing that perhaps my blog could use a bit of help. I generally let my photos and graphics speak for themselves, but the design aspect of this tool allowed me to consider how text can enhance the photos.

BeFunky's Artsy Options

Like PicMonkey, there are themes and overlays you can add to your photos. Here are a few options.

Goal: Find an easy to use tool for creating graphic design like projects or graphics (with text) to use in the classroom.

Benefits:

  • There is a brief tour when you first get started, though the tools are fairly intuitive. As you use the tool, there are pop-up windows with further insights, so just start clicking if you need more tutoring.
  • No login or registration is required.
  • There’s an app version.
  • Really easy to use. Start with a design template. Swap out the photo for your own (even adjust the photo coloring, etc.), if you don’t like the one in the template, and then modify the text as needed. Done.
  • Your completed photo can be saved as JPG or PNG to your computer or you can upload it to various social media options. Quick and easy.

Drawbacks:

  • Slightly addictive. There are several free templates and other features to play around with, so be prepared to drop into the abyss and lose hours at a time.
  • If you are even a little experienced with graphic design (and related tools), then this tool is too simplistic for you since you don’t need to start with simple templates to edit photos and add text. (But if you’re pressed for time, then see the Benefits listed above.)
  • Related to the previous point, the infographic templates are simple, yet tedious to swap out the existing information in the template. I would not use BeFunky for these types of projects. (See Piktochart instead.)
  • If Flash crashes while designing, your work is completely lost.
  • In order to access some graphics, you need to create a login. (But, the “free” options are pretty nice if you choose Pixabay.)

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Gimp…limping along without Photoshop

Name: Gimp
Cost: Free
Type: Software (download)
Rating: 3/5

GIMP logoWho doesn’t love Photoshop? It’s a candy store of brushes, textures, tools, and features. You get lightheaded when just thinking about the amazing changes you can make to your non-impressive photos from the zoo or beach. In fact, you get so lightheaded that you fall forward and crack your skull on your desk so that you don’t even notice how much the software costs. (If you are familiar with the costs of Adobe CC, then you may need a second concussion to truly not feel that financial pain.) Personally, I didn’t want the concussion or any other form of pain, so I sought out software that had the same qualities of Photoshop, but cheaper. Like, “free” sort of cheaper. GIMP answers that need. If I were a professional photographer or graphic designer, then I don’t think GIMP would be enough. When starting out with editing my first photos, I didn’t need a “candy store,” but rather the “candy aisle” of options to crop, remove backgrounds, and adjust lighting.

Disclaimer: I need to be honest at this point. I caved recently and purchased Photoshop Elements. I can’t even give you a good reason other than it was bundled with Premiere Elements, which is the software I really wanted. While I’m still learning Photoshop Elements (and there is a lot to learn), I don’t think I’ll go back to using GIMP unless I’m on my laptop, which doesn’t have Photoshop Elements installed on it. With this in mind, GIMP does have a newer version than what the screen captures show, but it’s essentially the same features a previous versions.

GIMP Workspace view

This is what GIMP basically looks like as you start editing a photo.

Goal: find free photo editing software that goes beyond just creative textures and cropping.

Benefits:

  • Did I mention it’s FREE?
  • It is fairly intuitive, especially since all the tools can be made visible on the tool bar so that you don’t have to go digging through menus or clicking other icons. (Some tools are buried, but the useful ones are visible.)
  • You can export the file as JPG, PNG, or other common file types.

Drawbacks:

  • No in-software guidance. (Yeah, this would be asking a lot of free software that has a variety of features.) You’re left on your own to figure out the tools and what they do to a graphic, though there are plenty of free tutorials, including ones on the GIMP site.
  • It takes a few seconds to startup after you click the software icon. Not a big deal, just have to be patient.
  • It doesn’t allow for editing RAW photo files. This is a big deal for avid photographers. You can convert the file, as described by Kat, in “RAW Photos with GIMP.”

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PicMonkey…yes, good for monkeying around with photos

Name: PicMonkey
Cost: Free (mostly)
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 4/5
PicMonkey logo
I should be writing my dissertation or lecture content, but instead I want to edit my photos. I almost feel like I’m not hijacking my writing efforts if the photo edits are done quickly in an Internet browser because I technically still have Word open and active. PicMonkey was suggested by a student as a tool to quickly create a blog banner graphic. Although I didn’t want to create a banner graphic, I did play around with the Internet tool and found that it was quite easy to use. Like, really easy to use. You can quickly apply textures or touch-up portraits, or create collages with multiple photos.
My Goal: Modify personal photos without feeling the guilt associated with opening Photoshop/GIMP when I should be working on the stuff  relevant to my dissertation efforts.
Benefits
  • Tools are easy to identify with icon/text provided.
  • Pop-up guides appear when you first use a tool that has multiple features.
  • Tutorials are available.
  • No registration for free version….just upload your photo and start working in it.
Drawbacks:
  • As an Internet tool, it is unstable. I’ve had issues with Firefox freezing and crashing when trying to save/download a final version of the photo.
  • There are flashing ads on the screen, which can be distracting if working on a photo for a while. (Pay version is ad-free.)
  • The really cool options are not free (though there is a free trial). Any tool with the crown watermark in the left bottom corner is not free.
  • No mobile app. (Actually, not a big deal for me. And, they say they’re working on a mobile version.)

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