App review; Pixlr

On: October 13, 2011
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About Martijn Dorresteijn
Freelance illustrator, visual artist and media enthusiast. Loves to travel, cook, draw, read, paint, photoshop and more. Interested in transformations in traditional and new media cultures.

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I am a photographer. I have an app for that.

Pixlr is a Flash-based image editing application from Autodesk. Autodesk is well known for its industry standard architectural and entertainment software such as AutoCAD and 3D Studio Max. Autodesk now also offers several free Pixlr apps for editing images in the browser; both for desktop and mobile devices. The desktop apps come in three different levels, corresponding to different purposes and users. The applications are able to run fast because they use the processing power of the local machine (not the cloud), so it’s not necessary to have a high bandwidth connection. Also, because there is no registration or login, the application is ready to use as soon as the browser finishes loading, which in my case was a matter of seconds. The created images can be stored locally or uploaded to different social networking sites, although this feature does require registration and login.

Pixlr Editor

Pixlr Editor is the most complex of the three apps and is compared mostly to the industry leader in the field of digital photographic image editing software, Adobe Photoshop. In practice, it is very much a stripped down version of Photoshop Elements, which in turn is a stripped down version of Photoshop itself. Most main features of Photoshop are present in Pixlr Editor, and most keyboard shortcuts also remain functional. The graphic user interface mimics that of Photoshop all the way. For first time users Pixlr Editor might be a bit complex, like Photoshop Elements, if you have never worked with it before. For the more experienced Photoshop users this makes it very easy to work with Pixlr, however the limitations soon become apparent.

Pixlr Editor is aimed at creating images for the web through a fast and easy to use web-based interface. Because it only concerns itself with images made for screen display it does not feature any applications for print media; no resolution settings to be changed, no channels, no conversion from RGB to CMYK (same as Photoshop Elements). This is quite understandable for any application that runs in a browser, the context of course remains the web. However, the accessible format of these applications might call for an additional Pixlr Print app, to satisfy the need for simple online creation of flyers or posters. One that does focus on resolution and color-space conversion issues for creating print images.

On the one hand, there are many aspects where Pixlr Editor fails to be Photoshop (but is it really trying?). First time users will probably not notice, average Photoshop users will. For example, a basic tool such as ‘Free Transform’ (Ctrl + T) has about a fifth of the functionality it has in Photoshop. Also, some minor differences in function keys can become quite frustrating through force of habit. When using high resolution images, or more than one image, the application start to stutter. On the other hand, for a free and easy to use app that loads within seconds into your browser, it does a remarkable job of looking and acting a lot like Photoshop (Elements). Layers, blend-modes, effects, adjustments, filters; most common functionalities are there (to a lesser extent), and they all work fine. It is a welcome alternative to heavy proprietary desktop software such as Adobe’s. For quick and easy editing of images on the fly, Pixlr delivers.

Pixlr Express

The two apps that aim for usage by the amateur/pro-am are Pixlr Express and Pixlr-o-matic. Pixlr Express is supposed to be to Pixlr Editor, what Photoshop Elements is to Photoshop. This would be true, if it weren’t for the fact that Pixlr Editor functions like Photoshop Elements already. Pixlr Express has a completely different interface and it in no way mimics that of Photoshop. It has its own look and feel that aims for a fun and playful experience. The functionalities are divided in three sections; basic, adjustments, and photo-effects. All these sections are easily accessible through scroll down menus and can be tried out before applying them to the image. Adjustments and effects can be stacked and the process is reversible, like in Pixlr Editor. While the adjustments are all named after their graphic effects and allow for the handling of certain parameters, the photo-effects are preset filters named Agatha, Bob and Melissa. This might allude to Facebook friend lists, it basically just annoys me.

Pixlr-o-matic

This is the only application Pixlr has to offer for desktop and mobile use (iOs & Android). The Pixlr-o-matic remediates the photographic dark room without the foul smells. It brings retro vintage effects to your images. The entire interface is designed with small touch screens in mind. It is a playful little app, but ultimately way too limited. The three editing sections are remediating the developing, projecting, and framing of the images. The social media platform Pixlr offers is called ‘imm.io’ and does not offer anything more than a place to share images before posting them on Flickr. The Instagram hype amongst iPhone users will certainly not be matched by Pixlr-o-matic for Android if it remains this bare-boned. What would make this application so much more interesting would be the ability to edit and exchange the filter settings.

Pixlr Express and Pixlr o-matic are both more mobile apps, in their appearrance as well as their functioning. Exchange of filters and effects, especially for these social tools, would make them more robust and attractive. Also, an important feauture that is missing is a smooth transition between the three desktop apps. Despite the connections with SNSs (Facebook, Flickr), there is no easy way to toggle between Pixlr Editor, Pixlr Express and Pixlr-o-matic. This requires the user to save the image (convert to one layer) and open it in one of the other apps. While Pixlr Express and Pixlr-o-matic only offer JPEGs as a final result, Pixlr Editor offers JPEG, PNG, BMP, TIFF and PXD (layered Pixlr document) as final output.

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