In terms of photo styling, I’ve always been a purist. I have a passionate dislike of HDR (other than when it is a necessity of commercial photography), and I think Instagram‘s filters ruin every image they are applied to. In photographic terms, I believe that a great image is taken with a lens, not constructed with an app.
But that’s not to say that all styling is bad. The subtler effects of Vignette can bring out the natural tones in a beautiful landscape, and many folks add nicely designed overlays to their images to create a kind of photo-based artwork. I’m averse to neither technique.
So PicLab looks — from its Play Store description, at least – like my type of photo app. With a focus on text and image overlays, rather than filtering, it’s clear that this image styler is aimed at classy presentation. Does it have the quality to be a worthwhile download, though?
Muted colour is the current trend in interface design, yet PicLab’s fresh blues and vivid reds look up to date. This, in part, is because they saturate a nicely presented overall design, which ranks highly for usability, thanks to large controls and clear white icons.
When starting PicLab, camera mode always greets you — there’s no way of changing this — but, disappointingly, the only option available here is a toggle for the flash. However, it’s perfectly easy to browse your phone’s Gallery from within PicLab, so you might as well let the native Camera app do all the picture-taking.
It would also appear that PicLab is aimed at the committed Instagrammer, as images are automatically cropped square. Of course, for those of us who use other image sharing platforms — perhaps in addition to Instagram — this is a strangely impractical characteristic.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that whilst PicLab is free, it does watermark photos until a $0.99 upgrade is purchased, and this also unlocks the complete set of available fonts.
Text overlays are one of the niche tasks PicLab performs very well.
Snippets of text can be added — up to four — via the + in the top-left, and they can then be moved, stretched and rotated.
As mentioned earlier, the full selection of fonts is only available after an upgrade. The post-purchase choice is fairly deep and many of the fonts are quite pretty, but just looking at the fonts on offer, I would say that a good number of them are Google Web Fonts. If you’re okay with paying for some free fonts in order to use them with this app, then that’s fine — just be aware.
Frames, Textures and Graphics
PicLab’s other main area of strength is its graphic overlays, although access to all 100 plus of these requires another, separate $0.99 purchase.
The expected square and circular frames, in a number of colours, are accompanied by more unusual cut-outs, ranging from triangles, letters and numbers at the simplistic end of the scale, to a map of the world and the shape of a cloud at the other end.
Unfortunately, PicLab suffers from an irritating trait that is common amongst lightweight photo editors — rather than expand the size of the canvas on which you are working in order to fit a frame, it crops the picture instead. This is sometimes fine, such as when using a circular frame to draw attention to the centre of the image. Mostly, though, it is just annoying.
Of course, such a problem doesn’t arise with textures, and PicLab has a subtle, stylish assortment to pick from. Most introduce faux age-related scratches, although there are modernist geometric shapes and nicely designed visual ornamentations, too.
Filtering and Adjustment
The filters to be found in PicLab really aren’t bad, in a super-saturated and weirdly cross-processed kind of way. However, with only ten filters on offer, and no way of adjusting their intensity, it feels like the developer knows that filtering is a war that can’t be won, and so the focus is very much on the more niche features mentioned above.
As with the filters, PicLab’s adjustments provide a good image-editing service, whether brightness, contrast, saturation, exposure, or blur is the parameter that needs to be altered. Again, a couple more options would have been nice — particularly image straightening — but there’s enough here to perform a rudimentary tweak.
PicLab creations, once satisfactorily finished, are pleasantly easy to share with the world. Direct channels to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are provided, and images can be saved to your Gallery, or sent by email, as well.
These mostly work in the straightforward sign-in-and-post manner you might expect, but bizarrely, it is the general email app, and not Gmail, that PicLab triggers.
On a more positive note, exported images do remain at a decent resolution, and saving a photo to your phone’s Gallery is a very swift operation.
For me, PicLab is an “if only” app. If only the camera had some controls. If only frames didn’t have to encroach on the image. If only there were more filters and adjustments.
But it is undeniably the case that PicLab does provide the tools to make a great image. The addition and manipulation of text is remarkably easy, and the end result is stylish. Equally, the range of overlays is plentifully large, and these graphics also look great.
In total, then, PicLab is very much a niche app, and it sticks to its brief pretty well.