Pixlr – Cloud-based Photo Editing

I love Photoshop (and Lightroom!) and am lucky enough to have access to this great software application, but it is not the only game in town. There are any number of good alternatives to photo-editing and have been around for awhile, but as cloud-based software and mobile phone/tablet apps have become more popular and functional, there are even more and better choices than ever before. One such tool – actually a suite of software applications – is provided for free by Pixlr.com.

The Alamo, June 2008
Photograph altered using Pixlr-o-matic  

The photo above, showing a walled cactus garden beside the Alamo in San Antonio, was edited and slightly altered using a standard set of tonality controls, color effects, funky film filters, and framing finishes with the simplest tool of the bunch, Pixlr-o-matic. Fun, fast, and free, this simple photo editing and finishing application can be used as a download on a computer, a cloud service, or as a mobile app on an iPhone or Android device. For this image, the totally-in-your-face light leak filter is probably a bit over-the-top, but with the Pixlr-o-matic app, you have little or no control to soften or modify the effects you choose. But that’s why it’s so fast and fun, and absolutely perfect for phone work, especially given the speed and efficiency of sharing and posting your finished photos directly from your phone. Compared with Instagram, the Pixlr-o-matic has a wider array of film filters, color and spectral effects, and framing finishes. You can, of course, use both together.

Try it out and see what you think: http://pixlr.com/o-matic/.

Pixlr Express

Now, if you need some more control of these effects and color correction tools, try their Pilxr Express. You can’t get this one on your phone, but it does come as a cloud service at http://pixlr.com/express. It offers the same kinds of controls, effects, filters, and finishes that can be found with Pixlr-o-matic, but there are many more of them. Most importantly, you have the ability to apply multiple effects, filters, and finishes, fading and combining them together, much as you would with transparent adjustment layers in Photoshop. Again, really fast, fun, and yes, absolutely free.

Wildflowers, October 2010
Photograph edited with Pixlr-Express

The photograph of the wildflowers above was edited with Pixlr Express and it shows the capabilities of the software to achieve both good shadow and highlight detail without sacrificing too much contrast. Because the editing is applied globally (there are no selection tools), the resulting images can suffer a bit from too much flatness. It’s a look. Although the photo above is completely straight – no flashy effects or evocative color – you can use this application to whack out your photos completely or just optimize them. Your call.

Pixlr Editor

Now, if you want the ultimate level of control, you can choose their Pixlr Editor. It works very much like Photoshop. In fact, you’ll recognize the same kinds of editing and selection tools, layer effects, and interface design, except all of the editing is done in the cloud! Check it out at this address: http://pixlr.com/editor/. Sorry, no phone version yet. And, for those of you who have never used Photoshop before, it might be a little difficult to (learn how to) use. If so, start with the Pixlr Express first and master that one. I might even use Pixlr Editor myself, when I am using my Chromebook (a cloud computing device), need to work on some photos, and don’t have any applications available, save for those in the cloud.

Putting it All Together

Angela at Cape Cod – August 2007
Photograph edited with Pixlr Express and Photoshop 

In any event, using all of these tools together is definitely the way to go. The picture above – my daughter playing in the waves at Cape Cod – was initially run through Pixlr Express to get the softness and the color of the photo right, but needed Photoshop’s shadow/highlight tool to achieve just that right level of detail and contrast throughout the image. When I made the exposure, the dim evening light was fading very fast and the sky was darkening by the minute. I underexposed the picture by a stop and a half, so I wouldn’t burn out the sky, and fired a fill flash to throw up some light on my daughter’s face. The raw image was pretty good but needed some finishing to be sure. In the final image, I wanted to be able to capture the soft warm light of that moment and keep detail in her hair and bathing suit, while not losing much in the sky and the foam of the just broken wave. I really like the way the water and the sky seem to blend as one at the horizon too. Nice job Pixlr.



  1. Thank you. I have noticed that even in the past couple of weeks these applications and services have gotten better and easier to use, especially my favorite, Pixlr Express. The chunking of the various kinds of effects and filters into fun categories is very helpful.

    I work with a lot of folks who need a good but simple-to-use photo editing tool to prep pictures and create graphics for web delivery. The Pixlr Express is perfect for them (they don’t have nor do they know how to use Photoshop), especially now with the groovy text tool added. Awesome!

    Thanks again. I am a huge fan!

  2. Great description of our apps, I think you are one of the only ones I’ve seen that get the easy to advanced approach we use.



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