Aviary, Photoshop Express and other image editors compared

Editor's Note: with the launch of Adobe Photoshop Express, came a flurry of concerned emails from friends and family asking "Have you seen this? Are you concerned for Aviary?" My response each time was 'no - they cater to different markets.' They serve red-eye reducer consumers. We serve more advanced hobbyist creators.

But pictures are worth one thousand words, so we asked Aviary superstar Meowza to do an actual comparison against some of the more well known Flash web apps (Photoshop Express, Picnik, Splashup, Fotoflexer and Aviary) to see whether or not he could recreate one of his fantastic Aviary creations.

Although this is obviously biased in that it was written by an Aviary employee, we asked Meowza to do a comparison from the point of view of an unaffiliated artist. The opinions expressed in this post are entirely his own. Now please stop mailing us, Mom. /Note

By now, I'm sure you've heard enough how much Aviary rocks. And if you haven't... Aviary rocks! But I'll bet you're asking how it holds up against some of the other online photo editors out there.

It's funny you should ask. Why, just today we decided to put some of these programs through a rigorous gauntlet of image editing challenges for a direct comparison: Tests that would let us compare some simple, but key, elements in photo manipulation: simple copy and pasting, masking, cloning, and blending to see what was really possible to do in each.

So naturally, the first image that came to mind was a tooth-filled cherry facing off against a bee in an epic showdown.

I used the following sources:

First, here's the image I created in Aviary's image editor, Phoenix, relying heavily on the Disortion Tool and layer masking.

As you can see, the end result is pretty seamless.

Next, I tried to create the same image in Fotoflexer.

The first thing I noticed was the lack of a layer menu, so it would be difficult to work on an image using multiple sources and keeping them all managed within the program's invisible layer structure.

Their brush and eraser also seems to be missing an option to adjust hardness levels making it very difficult to blend two images together without leaving a noticeable edge around the elements.

This is as close as I got to creating the same image in Fotoflexer:

But the meat of the program runs in its quick and easy-to-use automated features.

A user could run a photo through the program and quickly crop for web, or add a number of effects to their image with the numerous effect filters included (ie. one-click blemish/wrinkle removal).

My favorite of these features are the simple to use distortion tools.

An example is the "Bulge" tool. I was impressed with how quickly I was able to run a photo of a person through the program and within seconds, with just a few clicks, "fatten" them up for fun (or shed a few pounds using the "Pinch" tool!), as in the example below with Tara Reid.

For comparison, I decided to try the same effect in Phoenix. Because Phoenix doesn't incorporate an automated "fattening" feature, we needed to go the manual route. First, by copy and pasting segments of the figure's body onto new layers, then using a combination of the Distortion and Free Transform tools to skew and enlarge her body parts.

Then finishing it off by finely tuning each segment with the Liquify tool, I was able to come pretty close to the one created in fotoflexer.

Despite this particular effect taking a more involved approach in Phoenix, for the in-depth, intensive user, the features within will allow much greater control over every aspect of their image.

But for the casual user who needs a quick and painless way to spruce up a photo, if you can click a mouse, fotoflexer is an extremely easy way to go.

Next up, Splashup.

Upon first impression, it's an impressive looking program with an interface very similar to Photoshop. I was able to recreate the example image very close to the one I put together in Phoenix with just a little smudging apparent, due to the familiarity of the layout and tools.

After using programs like Photoshop, you tend to take for granted all the features that some other graphics programs don't incorporate. Simple things like the ability to sort layers by drag and drop, keyboard shortcuts, and a few of the handy features such as layer masking and the clone stamp also seem to be absent.

For the spoiled artist, the one who lacks any sense of patience (Hey, that's me!), who is too used to the conveniences of the high end image editors out there, the absence of a number of features greatly slows down the working process.

For an online image editor, Splashup is quite impressive and a user should be able to create a wide range of images within it.

A simple, but essential, part of most photo manipulating is the ability to blend multiple images. And the necessary tools included in Slashup makes key image editing elements such as background removal, object swapping, or more importantly, putting Colin Farrell on Tara Reid's body, a simple job.

Comparing off of Splashup's strengths, I needed to see how the same effect could be pulled off in Phoenix.

Because of basic similarities between the two, the process of creating the image in both programs was the same, using the transform tool to adjust and situate the face, then simply softening up the edges and color adjusting to blend with Tara Reid's body. Therefore, the final image created in Phoenix is nearly identical.

The most noticeable difference didn't strike me until I screwed up. And I do that a lot.

Whereas in Splashup, I restarted the image about three times after I'd pull a bonehead move, like cutting off too much of Colin's chin. Admittedly, my own fault and not the fault of Splashup.

Not learning my lesson the first time around, I pulled off the same mistakes when attempting the image in Phoenix. But unlike Splashup, Phoenix' Layer Mask feature allowed me to "draw" back in the areas I had foolishly erased earlier, since layer masks never completely eliminate areas that are masked.

Though absent of a number of convenient features, Splashup seems to have the potential to boast some serious editing power. As it stands compared to it's desktop predecessors, Splashup is still a good, free, online alternative for layer-based image editing duty.

Then, I gave the cherry test a shot in Picnik.

This is as far as I could go:

It's not a fair comparison, as Picnik is not intended for this kind of use. It does not have a layer system and the ability to edit multiple images at once.

But like Fotoflexer, Picnik is an excellent editor for quick, single image editing. The best feature in Picnik is the conveniently integrated system where one can upload their images to a number of photo sharing and online community sites such as Flickr, Facebook, Picasa, etc. instantaneously.

And with 40+ automated effects that range from simple red-eye removal, to more of the fun effects such as mimicking a photograph from the 1960s, it makes fixing up that old family photo, cross-processing your favorite portrait, or more importantly, putting Tara Reid amidst a snowstorm, a breeze.

And, of course, I just had to see if I could mimic some of these same effects in our friend, Phoenix, as well. Taking this image of snow falling:

I simply placed it on a new layer over the image of Tara Reid and applied the "Screen" layer blend mode, then bumped up the contrast. And this is what I got:

As in the comparison with Fotoflexer, the simplicity and automation in Picnik allows any user to pull off any of the number of effects featured within in seconds. But again, the features in Phoenix allow for much greater control and potential in the creation of images. It's a tradeoff of simplicity versus control that defines the market each tool caters to.

Finally, I checked out Adobe's newly beta released online editor, Photoshop Express.

As a Photoshop enthusiast, I was very excited at the prospect of Adobe's first foray into the online digital image editing world. Upon first impression, I was very disappointed in the lack of layer system and the inability to merge multiple pictures for composites at once.

So, just as in Picnik, we weren't able to recreate the cherry photo in Photoshop Express as we did earlier. Again, I ended up stuck here:

Of course, it wasn't Adobe's intent to introduce an online application with all the features of Photoshop but rather an alternate solution for quick photo correcting. And in that regard, Photoshop Express does get the job done.

With simple photo correcting features such as White Balance, Exposure, and more, we were able to easily take a photo of, you guessed it, Tara Reid and with a single click of the mouse, remove her unslightly red-eye blemishes.

Again, we were able to do the same adjustments in Phoenix, albeit with a more involved approach playing around with the Hue/Saturation level of the selected pupil areas.

But, red eye removal? Why not, eye removal!

Of course with Phoenix' layering system, the user is able to merge and edit a multitude of photos together to build basically anything within the realm of their imagination.

The biggest difference between Phoenix and the other online editors I tried was that Phoenix was created with the serious artist in mind whereas the others seemed to be geared more towards the casual user, the user who needs a quick image crop/photo processing for web.

And in that regard, applications such as Fotoflexer and Picnik, do excel.

Of course, Phoenix still allows for minor image enhancement features and cropping as in the other programs, but the depth of the features in Phoenix and potential to create in-depth composite art puts it in a separate class more akin to desktop software. Aviary's unparalleled collaboration system, rights management and built-in storage gives the user added incentive to use the program over its desktop predecessors.

But don't take my word for it. Actually, yes. Yes, you may.]]