Pixlr Express: Magnificent Mobile Photo Editing

How can you not love Pixlr? I’m certainly a fan of the series of photo-editing apps. Originally, I was impressed by the desktop version of Pixlr-o-matic, and then by Pixlr’s free online Editor. Nowadays, however, Pixlr has moved with the times, and has added its own app, Pixlr Express, to the massed ranks of mobile editors available for download on both Android and iOS.

Pixlr Express is free in the Play Store, which is surprising, given its apparent wealth of features and editing competence. At the time of writing, well over ten million folks have installed this freebie, so the assumption is that Autodesk, the developer, is doing something right. Does Pixlr Express provide genuine competition to Adobe’s paid-for Photoshop Touch, or is the lack of price-tag attached to Pixlr Express indicative of a lack of quality? Time to find out…

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First Impressions

It is instantly noticeable, upon starting up the app, that Pixlr Express has a need for speed. Even images loaded from your Dropbox or Google+ photo locker arrive in the editing suite with minimal delay.

Copying other apps in this genre, perhaps, Autodesk has gone with a darkroom-style grey interface, with icons and text highlighted in white. This colour scheme is somewhat uninspiring, but as a choice of background to avoid distraction from the image being edited, it works okay.

Pixlr is quick to start, and though the interface is grey, the layout is neat

Pixlr is quick to start, and though the interface is grey, the layout is neat

Manual Adjustments

Looking at the five main menu options initially visible in Pixlr Express, it would be easy to assume that this editor is rather simplistic. Dig into the various options, though, and you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed, than uncatered for.

The Adjustment menu holds fourteen different options, which all pop up together in a grid. The order in which these options appear is illogical, but when you actually find the adjustment you’re looking for, it is almost invariably worth the hassle.

As to be expected, Pixlr Express features a number of basic adjustments, which offer control over the amount to which they are applied – Blur, Contrast and Denoise being examples. Other adjustments, however, provide extra sliders to play with; the Focal Blur effect – in essence a tilt-shift lens emulator – for example, can be made circular or linear, and it comes with adjustable blur amount, colour boost, and glow. Equally, the Sharpen adjustment includes control over both amount and radius, and the Color tool includes hue, saturation and lightness in its array of modifications.

The grid of adjustments is well populated, and it includes a tilt-shift-like tool

The grid of adjustments is well populated, and it includes a tilt-shift-like tool

Other adjustments include Rotate, Crop, Vibrance, Red Eye, and Whiten for unsightly smiles.

My favourite tool, though, has to be Touch Up. Clearly designed with blemish healing in mind, it zaps unwanted elements from your photo, leaving behind virtually no visible trace.

Filter Fun

When you’re done making serious manual adjustments, it is time for some playful creativity.

Between the Effect, Overlay and Border menus, you have a ridiculously large selection of options with which you can be creative. So large, in fact, that you’ll need to download packs of filters, one by one, when you first come to use them. The various filters are sorted into a plethora of sub-menus, and, unavoidably, it does make navigation a little difficult.

The menus and sub-menus of filters are somewhat maze-like

The menus and sub-menus of filters are somewhat maze-like

The Effect sub-menus range from the tasteful Subtle section, to the colourful Creative collection. I’m glad to report that most of the Effect filters are of high quality, and they are genuinely worth applying to your image. The massive choice of filters available in Pixlr Express, though, means that the quality of individual filters is not a concern – there is little chance of any photo-taker feeling dissatisfied.

I recognize many of the Overlay options from the desktop Pixlr-o-matic, and this is by far the weakest area of Pixlr Express. I mean, if you’re into adding a whacky chemical leak or a tie-dye effect to your photos, then the Overlay options will suit you perfectly. The rest of us can just move on…

The Border collection brings us back to a bit of photographic class, and, once again, you’ve got a tremendous editing choice available at your disposal. If Grunge is your style, there is plenty for you here, and the Film options will appease traditionalists, and those who like a bit of retro.

The choice of frames in Pixlr Express is impressive and stylish

The choice of frames in Pixlr Express is impressive and stylish

Adding further to the already vast scope for creativity which is possible with Pixlr Express, any Effect, Overlay, or Border filter can be faded, or flipped vertically and horizontally.

Texting

They say a picture is as good as a thousand words, but sometimes, a few words don’t go amiss. Hence, Pixlr Express also offers the Text group of editing options. Once again, the range of creative possibilities is simply staggering. Pixlr Express allows the addition of up to 340 characters to an image, displayed in whichever colour takes your fancy. Text can be dragged anywhere within the boundaries of your image, and the range of fonts is huge.

Conclusion

As a package, the editing suite in Pixlr Express is exceptional. The Adjustment options provide high quality editing, with no slow-down, and the various flavours of filters look great, and are hugely customizable.

Thinking about areas for improvement, the Overlay options are disappointing, but this is a near-irrelevance, given the huge number of other options available. Additionally, the serious manual adjustments in Pixlr Express are not quite up to the same standard as those in Photoshop Touch.

These are minor grievances, though, and when you take into account that Pixlr Express is free, this photo editor is, quite simply, an essential download.


Summary

Well made, stuffed full of high quality options, and free – what's not to like?

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