Just a few years ago I would have had to answer this question with a, “Sorry you can’t, stick with Paint or spend hundreds of dollars on Photoshop.” Fortunately for you my friend, things have changed substantially. There are now a wide variety of websites out there that allow you to do all sorts of image editing. Some just do the basics extremely well, such as cropping, resizing, red-eye removal etc. Others are attempting to replace commercial image editing software like Photoshop for the semi-serious image manipulating hobbyist.

I’ll focus on two excellent sites, one that does the basics well, and another that does offers a lot of high end features. Thankfully, both of these websites are free.

Basic image editing is what most users are really looking for, and loading up GIMP or Photoshop will just scare them. The majority of people just want to remove red-eye or resize the picture. The developers of Picnik realized this, and created a great tool for doing just that. Picnik has a free edition that you don’t even have to register for, and it does a great job at all the basic image editing functions most people need. The interface is clean, with a very “Web 2.0” look.

When you first load up the (web) application you will see 5 large tabs at the top of the screen. Home is just a generic area where they try to sell you on Picnik Premium, which I’ll explain later. The Library tab is where you can upload pictures from your computer or from other websites, and save them onto the Picnik website. Where the work really happens is on the next two tabs, Edit and Create. The Edit tab allows you to do the basics to photos, such as resize, crop or remove red-eye. Clicking on the Create tab let’s you do all sorts of nifty things to your image, like apply a “Effect” (Filter in Photoshop jargon) or add shapes or text. This is also where you can whiten your teeth or remove that nasty pimple from the 5th grade class photo!

The Tabs in Picnik

Our next and final tab, Save & Share, is fairly self explanatory. But I’ll explain anyways, as it does have some nice features that aren’t found elsewhere. Under the Save & Share tab there are all sorts of options for saving to various photo sharing and social networking sites. You can save that 5th grade class picture to Flickr, Facebook, Myspace, Photobucket or Picasa. Alternatively, you can just save it to your computer if the picture is too embarrassing to share.

Picnik does offer a pay version of the software, which costs $24.95 a year. With the premium version you can upload 100 photos at a time, and upload your edited photos to multiple photo sites and social networks at the same time. You also get access to some cool effects and unlimited photo storage.

The target market for Picnik is anyone that has basic image editing needs, and wants to easily share them with friends online. If you are in that market, read no further, but if you need more in your image editor read on my friend!

Our next contender is really focusing on an entirely different market, so I really wouldn’t call it a competitor to Picnik. It is called Aviary, and it is an entire product suite for image editing and graphic design. Let me get this out of the way first, this is the most impressive web application that I have ever seen. The amount of features is simply amazing, it is sometimes hard for me to remember that I am using this application inside of Firefox.

An image created in Aviary\'s Phoenix Application

The Aviary suite is grouped into 3 applications: Phoenix for image editing, Peacock for creating custom filters and effects, and Toucan for generating color palettes. To be honest I only really messed around with Phoenix, but what I saw was amazing. Phoenix really could replace Photoshop for a lot of hobbyists. It has layers, filters, smudge, paint bucket… the majority of things that I use in Photoshop or GIMP.

The layers menu in Phoenix

The pay version of Aviary ($10 per month) gives you unlimited storage, the ability to collaborate with others, access to a vector editor and a Firefox plugin that lets you easily take screenshots and upload them to Aviary. It also allows you to remove the small watermark that is put on all images created with the free version.

It seems to me that the target market for Aviary is for budding graphic designers that simply don’t have the cash for Photoshop. The community based around Aviary is also excellent, the forums and how-to’s are great at explaining on how to get the most out of the software.

I had a lot of fun researching this article and both sites are excellent for the users they are targeting. In conclusion, if you just need to do simple photo editing and sharing, Picnik is the tool to use. If you like a little more fire power and want to create complex images from scratch with a great designer community, then try out Aviary.

About the author: Rob Steenwyk is a network technician in West Michigan and writes the blog Bud Boy Tech which is all about computers and technology. He’d love it if you would subscribe to the Bud Boy Tech RSS feed!