Smackdown: Picnik, FotoFlexer and Photoshop Express

Photoshop Express is now free online. FotoFlexer is another newcomer in the online photo editing space. Picnik has been in the online image editing world for a while. They all claim to be the “easiest” and the “best.”

Time to check them out, kick the tires, and see which one I think is the easiest and best.


I’ve been using Picnik for a while. I use Flickr, and Picnik is integrated with Flickr. I sometimes upload photos to Flickr in a hurry, without any type of pre-upload primping in iPhoto or one of my locally installed image apps such as Photoshop and Fireworks. Once the photo is on Flickr, it’s easy to edit it in Picnik. Here’s a photo from Flickr, opened with a single click in Picnik, with the Picnik editing tools arrayed above it.

Using Picnik's editing tools

The tools include Auto-fix, Rotate, Crop, Resize, Exposure, Colors, Sharpen and Red-Eye. These tools are all available in the free version. The paid version includes other tools as well.

I don’t want to give the impression that Picnik only works with Flickr. You can also edit photos from your own computer, from a web site, from a Yahoo search, Web cam photos, MySpace, and more.

Is Picnik easy? Definitely. Is it good? It does any basics that I might want to do in iPhoto before I upload. It doesn’t do advanced Photoshop tricks like layers and masks, but I don’t need that in an online photo editor.


I’m brand new to FotoFlexer. It’s simple to get started. You can choose to work on a photo from an array of places (Flickr among them) as you see in this image.

FotoFlexer interface

As soon as I had a photo up to edit I realized that there were many more editing options, some very sophisticated, compared with those on Picnik.

There are multiple toolbars range from the Basic choices you see in the following image, plus tool bars for Effects (Blur Edges, Blueprint, Greyscale, Invert, etc.), Decorate (stickers, font choices, color fills, thought bubbles, etc) Animations (animated stickers, etc), Beautify (sharpen and smooth), Distort (bulge, pinch, etc), Layers (opacity, grouping, merging, etc.), and Geek (smart scissors, morph, etc.). I’m thinking, this is really nice.

The FotoFlexer menu bar

I tried a few of the tools in the menus. Easy to use. Then I decided to save. At this point I started to lose my enthusiasm. The only place to save was online, in a folder at their site. (Maybe this was because I was editing a photo from my computer.) Once the photo was saved online, I couldn’t find any way to export it to another site. That’s when I realized that the interface is using Flash–I tried to use a Ctrl-click (right click) to copy the photo to my computer and saw an “About Flash Player” message instead of the desired “Save this image” message.

To test my idea about the Save only at FotoFlexer problem being caused by my choice to edit a photo from my hard drive, I tried another one, this time from Flickr. I had to tell Firefox to allow popups from FotoFlexer, or I couldn’t log in to Flickr, which happens in a popup. That small hurdle crossed, I edited a Flickr photo and saved. Again, saved on their site, and no option I could find to export the photo to any other location.

I’m thinking, what good are all these cool tools if you can’t use the photo anywhere? There’s a question mark icon—ah, Help.

Nope, it isn’t Help, it’s for feedback. So I leave this message as feedback.

Why can’t the photos I edit on FotoFlexer be taken to another location? You need to provide some code or link of some sort so the photos can be used elsewhere. Answer fast, I’m reviewing the site on soon.

We’ll see if they answer. Maybe the way to do what I want is on the site already, but I can’t find it.

Photoshop Express

Photoshop Express has Flash on the opening page. Well, okay, it’s a Adobe thing, right? Nevertheless, I’m on the alert because of the issues with Flash from FotoFlexer. This is a brand new online offering from Adobe, I’m trying it out today for the first time with a lot of other people.

I click the “Join Now” button to get started. There’s a long wait looking at a blank page. The status bar says something is downloading from Macromedia. Eventually, the status bar says “Done” but the screen is still a blank, empty charcoal gray. I back up, click the “Test Drive” button instead with the same results. Finally, I try “Browse Galleries” and still get a blank gray screen. Then I notice in the title bar that I’ve gone to a Flash Player Installation page, not an editing page. I look at View Source and see all sorts of scripts checking for Flash.

This is getting ridiculous. I close Firefox, thinking maybe some new version of Flash was just installed and I need to reopen the browser. Okay, try again. Same lovely charcoal nothing. All right, I can’t just give up, I’m writing a damn review here!

I launch Safari. Guess what? It works. Is Safari hot or what? I enter all my registration info, including a personal URL name at, which sounds like another “you can only publish here” sort of deal. Next, I wait for mail from Adobe to confirm my email.

I’m finally in. Here’s the opening screen.

Photoshop Express Opening Screen

I start by uploading a photo. It goes straight to my hard drive. No chance of any other options. I can choose to upload it to an album (I don’t have any yet) or my default library. Once the photo is in my library, I merely double click it to edit.

Here’s the editing interface. The menu is on the left, and includes Basics (crop, red-eye, rotate, etc.), Tuning (sharpen, fill, balance, etc.), and Effects (pop color, tint, sketch, distort, etc.).

The Photoshop express editing interface

I change a few things, including pop color–wanted to know what it did–and click Save. It saves in my library (no other option is offered) and replaces the original with the edited image. Back in the library, I click a pulldown menu and see a number of options.

Photoshop Express photo options

I pick “embed” and am told that the embed code has been copied. I paste it right here:

w00t! I can edit AND use the edited photo where I want. After all that agony getting started in Firefox, I’m happy with Photoshop Express at last.

I click a “My Gallery” button and find that this is why they asked for the when I registered. I can create an album in my library and share it at this public URL. Good feature that incorporates both editing and sharing in one spot.

Some conclusions

Picnik I already liked for ease of use and convenience. Comparing it with FotoFlexer and Photoshop Express hasn’t done anything to change my opinion on that. It may not be fair to say that it has fewer bugs, since FotoFlexer and Photoshop Express are relatively new and haven’t had time to work things out yet, but I’m going to say it anyway.

FotoFlexer has very impressive editing tools, but unless I hear from them about my feedback and find a way to make use of the edited images on my own blogs and sites, I don’t have much use for their services. If this is fixed, there are some super nice effects available among their editing tools.

Photoshop Express should work in Firefox. That it doesn’t is not acceptable. That Adobe launched today without making sure it worked in Firefox is unbelievable. Just because I love Adobe and am an AdobeQuerque community expert, I’m going to assume that this will be fixed. If it is, Photoshop Express will be a valuable online editing tool and photosharing site for many people.

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5 thoughts on “Smackdown: Picnik, FotoFlexer and Photoshop Express”

  1. Thanks, Virginia, for these reviews. For me, Photoshop Express is out of the question due to that awful light text on dark background. (Don’t professional interface designers understand usability anymore?)

    The other two look good except, for example, when I’m traveling on trains or planes as I’ll be doing later this week.

    Maybe one day I’ll find them useful, but probably not until wireless is universal. Where I live, I regularly get knocked offline when the power goes down for a couple of hours and I rely on batteries and my hard drive to get work done. (Yes, life can be primitive in Maine 😉

  2. It looks to me that with FotoFlexer you can save your images to either their site or Photobucket, Facebook, MySpace, Picasa, Flickr, Phanfare, Smugmug, or Yahhoo. I hit the save button and was given these options. From those accounts I guess you can link to them etc but i must admit I found the interface confusing on this

  3. SharonB, I went back to FotoFlexer and see the changes you described. Today I was able to edit photos from several places, including Flickr, and I was able to save the photo back to Flickr. It did not overwrite the original image. You can see it here Hugh as blueprint is the new one. It uses the FotoFlexer blueprint effect.

  4. Another solution to the FotoFlexer saving problem is to download Jing or some other free screen capture software and just copy and save the photo from your scree.

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