Opening up Photoshop or GIMP just to crop an image is silly. Those powerful tools are great, but sometimes you just need a simple program. Here's how to do some of the most common edits with simple, free, online tools.
GIMP is our favourite Photoshop alternative, but it's also a big, clunky app if all you need is a quick crop or a light colour adjustment. Rather than pick the best overall photo editing app, we're going to go over some of the most common photo editing tasks, and pick the best free tool for each one — so if there's a simple task you need to do every day, you don't need to wait for GIMP to load to pull it off. All of the editors featured here work in the web browser, so you can use them on any platform.
Cropping a photo can be as simple as removing something at the edge of the frame, or as specific as conforming an image to an exact resolution. Fotor offers some of the most robust cropping tools you'll find in a free app. You can crop freeform, scale down with the original dimensions, or set your own resolution. It even comes with some built-in presets for dimensions like Facebook cover photos. To crop your photos, follow these steps:
- Open Fotor.
- Click "Edit A Photo".
- Choose the photo you want to crop. (If you block plugins, you may need to allow Fotor, or else it will hang while loading.)
- Select "Crop" from the left-hand menu.
- Choose a constraint from the drop-down menu. You can also set specific dimensions in the boxes below. Choose "Keep Proportions" to ensure the box stays the same shape as you adjust the crop box.
- In the main window, adjust the handles on the crop box until it contains only the portion of the image you want to keep.
- Click Apply.
- Click the floppy disk icon to save the image to disk.
Cropping isn't a difficult task, but if you need precise tools, your average image editor may not impress you. In my testing, Fotor had the best tools for any situation with the least amount of friction. It also has basic rotate and flip functionality, which is handy if you need it. At the bottom, you can use the Resize options to adjust the size of the picture without cropping it.
Colour Correction: Pixlr Editor
Sometimes the light doesn't hit your picture just right, in which case a small adjustment can make it look much better. Pixlr Editor has some of the most powerful, near-Photoshop level tools for adjusting your image. While most editors have basic brightness, contrast or hue meters, Pixlr can go much more in-depth than most apps without charging money.
To edit your photo with Pixlr, open up the app here. You'll be prompted to open the file you want to edit from your computer or a URL. Once you have it open, you can find several options under the Adjustments menu. Here are a few of them and how they work:
- Levels: Chances are good that you're familiar with brightness and contrast. Levels can actually help you accomplish the task of both in one filter. When you select Levels, you'll see a histogram of the colours in your image. Three handles along the bottom represent the black, white, and grey levels. By dragging these sliders, you can adjust how deep your blacks and how bright your whites are. As a general rule, if you drag the black and white sliders to the edge of the histogram curve (as opposed to the empty flat space), you'll fix a lot of colour balance problems. Check out this album for an example of how this adjustment works.
- Curves: Curves is one of the best colour correction tools at your disposal. It's a complex tool and we can't go over it in a single paragraph, but Digital Camera World has an excellent guide here. Unfortunately, it can't be used as an adjustment layer like in Photoshop, but it's still powerful on its own.
- Hue & Saturation: Of all the filters on this list, these are the ones you're most likely to find in other apps, but it's nice to have them here too. This adjustment can make your colours more vivid, adjust them to different hues, or bring the lightness up and down.
There are about a dozen other adjustments you can play around with. Many of them can be used to accomplish the same task in different ways, but it's worth trying them all out. The interface may be intimidating, but they're quite simple once you start playing with them.
Layering: Pixlr Editor
Another of Photoshop's most useful features is layers. Photoshop layers work much like cel animation. You can work modify one layer without affecting any of the others and move them around independently. Thankfully, Photoshop isn't the only app that has this feature: previously-mentioned Pixlr Editor has excellent layer support. To use it:
- Open an image in Pixlr.
- Along the bottom of the Layers window on the right hand side, click the New button. This will create a new transparent layer.
- Draw in the new area. Alternatively, you can copy selections from other images and paste them into your document. New layers for pasted selections will be created automatically.
- Click the slider icon in the bottom left of the Layers menu to enable opacity and transfer mode options. You can adjust the transparency to make layers partially see-through, and transfer modes to get unique effects.
Of course, just having layers doesn't necessarily mean you can do as much with them. Pixlr's selection tools leave a bit to be desired, so it may be a bit more difficult to make pictures of birds with arms than it would be in Photoshop. Then again, it's also a lot cheaper.
Text and Titles: Fotor
The internet turned words on text into something of an art form. Actually getting text on image is a bit more difficult. Fotor is one of the better apps in this case, as it allows you to preview the fonts you're choosing as you scroll through them. To add text to your images, follow these instructions:
- Open an image in Fotor.
- Select the Text icon in the left-hand sidebar.
- Select a font from the list that slides out. You can see the name of the font previewed in the font's style itself.
- Click the Add Text button to create a resizable text box.
- Enter your text into the box.
- In the box that appears on the right side of the image, you can change settings like alignment, bold and italics, transparency and spacing.
Fotor can pull fonts installed on your own machine or Fotor's collection of installed fonts. You can save certain fonts to your favourites, though you'll need to register an account to do so. The one downside is that Fotor doesn't seem to be able to add layer styles, so you're limited in how you can make the text stand out. However, by playing around with multiple text layers, you can get some neat effects.