Best Online Photo Editor: 5 programs to painlessly perfect your shots

Not quite happy with the shots straight from your digital camera? You can tweak those photos for free--without even downloading anything to your computer.
By Hillary Grigonis, Last updated on: 3/18/2015

Digital cameras prompted a lot of changes—but one of the biggest is the expanse of editing options. Novice users don't have to just accept what turns out on the film anymore, digital images can be fine tuned, even without any experience. From one-click fixes to step-intensive specific edits, editing digital images isn't just for the pros.

While pros might be able to shell out a few hundred dollars or subscribe to a pay-per-month software, many don't have that luxury and have little—or zero—cash to spend on an editing programs. And while we're talking about free, why not skip the hardware-consuming download? Several free photo editors operate completely online, no download required. A quick Google search turns up an endless array of options—so which ones are truly capable and which ones fall flat?

We've tested out the most popular options using the same photo, a quick portrait that could benefit from a few minor edits:

Looking at elements from quick fixes to advanced tools as well as ease of use and flexibility, we've narrowed down the options to just five, choosing the best online photo editor for each type of user. Here's what we found.

Fotor

Best Online Photo Editor For Easy Edits and Effects

Quick Fixes - 5

Advanced Tools - 4

Ease of Use – 5

Flexibility - 4

Overall – 4.5

Fotor is a very easy to use editor, yet it still offers a wide range of tools. Right away, we noticed the clean look of the platform that makes it simple for a new user to navigate through the different options.

At the top is a quick One-Click Enhance. It didn't work to well for the first photo we tried, but seemed to work well with others, and as with any automatic fix, it's not going to get it right 100 percent of the time. Underneath the quick fix are options for crop and rotate. Clicking on the Basic option brings up edits for brightness, contrast, sharpness and saturation. Finetune allows for adjustments in the exposure, highlights and shadows. Color can be adjusted too, though we would have likes to see sliders for each of the basic colors so we could dial down the redness without affecting the remaining colors.

Outside of the tweaks to get the image looking just right, Fotor also includes a nice range of digital filters or effects, ranging from vintage looks to even a nice golden hour sun. Outside of the wide range, the best part about Fotor's filters is that you can adjust the intensity, where a lot of editors don't have this option. Users can also click the star on the effect to save it to their favorites to remember for later. We used the tilt shift effect on our sample photo because the blur worked well with the busy line of coffee products in the background.

Fotor also includes a face editor mode that worked quite well. The best tools here fix blemishes, whiten teeth, smooth skin and brighten the eyes, though you can even add makeup and change eye color if you really want to. As with any edit, there are undo and redo buttons at the top of the screen if the changes aren't quite what you had in mind.

Fotor also allows users to add clip art and frames, or create collages or cards with the images.

Overall, Fotor was very easy to use and resulted in one of our favorite edits of our test image. It seemed to operate faster than other online photo editors we tested. We couldn't get it to load images in Firefox, but we had no trouble using the program in a Chrome browser. Fotor is one of our favorites and works best for users not looking for something to rival Photoshop, but for a program that makes simple, great-looking edits.

Pixlr

Best Photo Editor For Advanced Edits and Photoshop-Like Capability

Best Online Photo Editor - Pixlr

Quick Fixes - 3

Advanced Tools - 5

Ease of Use – 3.5

Flexibility - 5

Overall – 4.1

If, on the other hand, you're looking for a program that can rival Photoshop but doesn't cost a thing, Pixlr is the first place you should look. Like Photoshop, there aren't many quick fixes and it's not as simple to use, but the tradeoff is much more flexibility over the image editing process.

Like Photoshop, you can either start with an image or open a blank canvas. The layout is even similar to photoshop, with a toolbox plus additional options in the menu at the top of the screen. The toolbox is full of a lot of tools that Photoshop users will recognize, including the spot healing tool, doge and burn. Most of the tools can be adjusted in brush size and intensity, and users can even upload additional brush shapes to use. Edits can be made in layers, with layer masks and layer transparency all still possible here.

Unlike Photoshop (you knew that was coming, right?), images tend to look over-processed much faster. For example, the sharpening filter seemed to produce much more noise than that same edit on Photoshop. There are a few adjustments that can't be controlled as well either. Despite the shortfalls, Pixlr exceeded our expectations for the cost—it's difficult to find a program that can handle so many advanced edits but doesn't cost a thing.

Overall, Pixlr has a pretty impressive range of advanced options for a free program. The trade-off, of course, is that it's harder to learn how to use and there are few “quick fixes.” When you'll be spending some time on edits, the full screen mode is a nice feature and eliminates the ads. Since it operates online with so many options, it is a little slow compared to a program that operates off the hardrive, but still worth a try for many users.

PicMonkey

Best Online Photo Editor For Auto Adjustments and Fun Filters

Quick Fixes - 5

Advanced Tools - 3

Ease of Use – 5

Flexibility - 4

Overall – 4

With a name as fun as PicMonkey, we expected image edits to be somewhat entertaining with this platform—and they were. With a variety of quick edits, options like zapping zits off a portrait aren't out of the question either.

Right away, you're prompted to choose an editing mode that determines the speed of the program and the size of your final image. Since it's running online, editing a large file will slow down the process (depending on your internet speed), so you can choose if speed or megapixels are more important.

The one-click auto adjustment worked very well on our test image, but there's a good handful of basic adjustments that can be completed individually, including color, exposure and sharpening. Each of these basic edits has a slider or an auto adjustment button that chances just that category.

PicMonkey has a ton of filters and effects from fun to the serious. Beware, though, that many of the filters require a paid upgrade. Advanced tools like Doge and Burn are also available, but again, only with an upgrade.

The most common beauty edits are available without an upgrade though (you'll have to pay for the program if you want to grow whiskers or add makeup). A blemish tool fixes acne, though we had to click a few times to get enough intensity to fix the spot completely, it did work. Teeth whitening is also available. The blush tool we actually found useful for choosing a neutral color and removing redness in the face instead of adding it.

PicMonkey also allows users to add graphics, text frames and textures. A variety of theme-based edits are also available, from adding gashes in the Zombie kit to making it snow in Winter Wonderland.

PicMonkey is a fun program to use, but all games aside, has some pretty solid editing options. It's an option for users who are looking for quick fixes and beauty touches, as well as fun effects. The fact that some of the tools and filters require an upgrade is annoying, but we're still pretty happy with how our sample image turned out without paying a dime.

Photoshop Express

Best Online Photo Editor With Both Advanced and Simple Edits

Best Online Photo Editor - Photoshop Express

Quick Fixes - 4

Advanced Tools - 4

Ease of Use – 4

Flexibility - 4

Overall – 4

Sitting somewhere in between needing advanced edits and one-click fixes? Photoshop Express is a good solution, with an excellent balance between simple and advanced edits. While it doesn't have as many advanced options as the full Photoshop program, it's balanced out with the addition of more one-click edits, making it an excellent free option.

Basic adjustments including cropping and rotating, red-eye fixes and exposure adjustments are all possible. Our favorite aspect of Photoshop Express is that even the autocorrect has adjustment options—just hoover your mouse over the image previews and choose which autocorrect works best for your shot. That both keeps the simplicity while boosting the effectiveness of a quick auto edit. Adjustments can also be made to the white balance and highlights as well as adding fill light.

While many full Photoshop elements are left out, there are still a handful of useful tools. The spot healer can tweak facial blemishes for example. The tool worked well most of the time, but there were a few instances where it left an obvious circle where the brush had been used. That's likely partially due to having just three brush size options instead of a slider to make the tool the right size to cover that particular spot. Dodge and burn tools are also available to make areas darker or lighter.

Photoshop Express doesn't have a wide range of filters, but there are still a few effects to choose from, including crystalize, pop of color, black and white and sketch. Users can also add graphics, text and frames as well.

Photoshop Express doesn't have the wide range of capable features as the full software program, but that's balanced out by both the price (free!) and the addition of simpler edits like an adjustable auto edit. The mix of both advanced tools for tweaking individual spots or adjusting the entire image make it an excellent online photo editor. The same program is also available as a free app for tablets and smartphones.

Picadilo

Best Online Photo Editor For Ease of Use With Both Advanced and Basic Tools

Quick Fixes - 4

Advanced Tools - 4

Ease of Use – 4

Flexibility - 4

Overall – 4

Picadilo sits in between a basic and an advanced photo editor, yet offers a platform that remarkably easy to use.

Picadilo offers a tool not commonly found in other free online image editors—the magic wand and free selection tools. These allow users to select just a portion of the image to apply effects and adjustments to, or even duplicate parts of an image. These tools are tossed in with the usual adjustments for brightness and contrast, hue and saturation, exposure and color temperature, to name a few. At the bottom of the toolbox is a search bar to look for different tools or effects, though the toolbox is well organized so most are easy to find.

Retouching is available along with the basic edits, including airbrushing, concealing blemishes and brightening eyes. The retouching options did tend to look a bit more over-processed than other options, but it's also the only one of our top five that offered an airbrushing effect.

The filter selection is quite excellent, with a wide range of options from lighting effects to vintage film. With so many options, the search box does come in handy for finding a specific look quickly.

Best Online Photo Editor

Picadilo operates on a nice platform that's easy to use yet offers quite a few options. The magic wand is a nice feature on an editor that's so simple to use. Like one of the other programs we tested, our image wouldn't load in Firefox but worked seamlessly in another browser. It's an excellent program for someone who wants both basic and somewhat advanced edits without an intimidating platform.

Online image editors aren't difficult to find, but many are slow, hard to use or lacking in any useful features. We found Fotor the best for easy effects, while Pixlr is the most similar to Photoshop. PicMonkey is fun for auto adjustments, while Photoshop Express has the best balance between simple and advanced options and Picadilo offers a few tools others don't while still keeping an easy interface. All five of these online photo editors produced excellent results—depending on the type of edits and the difficulty level you are looking for, one might fit your photography better than the other. Happy editing!

COMMENTS, QUESTIONS, & ANSWERS FORUM BY VIEWERS AND EDITORS

2 comments
Add Comment
  • Photo
    JOE PRETE

    Excellent job Hillary …as usual for you! … Joe Prete

    Reply over 1 year ago
    • Thumb 45 ai hillary 45x45
      Hillary Grigonis

      Thanks, Joe!

      Reply over 1 year ago