If you haven't yet heard the news, allow me to bring you some sad tidings: Google is shuttering Picnik, the superb free online photo editor that Google had acquired back in 2010 and that I've recommended in the past.
You have until April 19 to get your fill of Picnik--that's when the site crops its last pixels. If you've used Picnik and have some photos there that you'd like to preserve when the site goes offline, that's easy to do. Picnik Takeout is a one-click tool that collects all of your online photos and zips them up for download.
There is some good news in all of this. While you previously had to pay for the advanced features found in Picnik Premium, Google has shut down the cash registers and made the premium edition free for all from now until the doors close in April. So you have another 6 weeks or so of full-strength Picnik goodness at no cost.
I'll be sad to see Picnik go--it was an elegant online photo editor. But after we pay our respects, what are the alternatives? Here are a few other sites you can use to satisfy your need for online photo editing.
You could do the lion's share of your photo editing in Pixlr and never need to open a desktop photo editing program at all. Pixlr is a family of photo editing tools provided for free by Autodesk. You can visit the Pixlr home page and choose the service you want, or go directly to your favorite editor.
Pixlr Editor, for example, is a full-featured photo editor that looks the part--like Adobe Photoshop or Corel Paint Shop Pro, it has a vertical toolbar packed with selection and editing tools, support for multiple layers, and even an array of filters like blur, unsharp mask, and simulated HDR. It's really a complete photo editor that runs in your Web browser.
When you don't need the power or overhead of a complete editor, check out my favorite online photo tweaker, Pixlr Express. Express has a streamlined interface, just a handful of buttons at the bottom of the browser window for photo adjustments, special effects, overlays, borders, and entering text. Each one of those buttons unleashes a bevy of options, though, giving you a surprising amount of power and flexibility to edit and improve your photo.
Phoenix, from Aviary, is not unlike Pixlr Editor--it's an impressively advanced photo editing program that lives in your Web browser. Although it does not offer specialty features such as HDR processing and panoramic stitching, you'll be hard pressed to think of a standard photo editing feature that Phoenix does not include. The Flash-based interface is smooth and elegant, if perhaps a little sluggish at times (it's significantly slower to upload a photo from your PC than Pixlr, for example). I love the flyouts on the program's vertical toolbar--they're attractive, easy to use, and clearly identify all of your editing options. Aviary includes a slew of tutorials (77, in fact), arranged by difficult from beginner through expert, to help you master the program. That said, I'd still give the edge to Pixlr if you use Microsoft Internet Explorer, as Phoenix seems to be more compatible with Mozilla Firefox and generates some errors in IE.
The Best of the Rest
These are far from your only choices. There are a slew of other photo editors out there, including FotoFlexer, SplashUp, and Photoshop Express Editor. You can read more about them in "Edit Your Photos Online for Free."
Hot Pic of the Week
Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.
Great news! For a limited time (from March 1 till August 31, 2012), Hot Pic of the Week winners will receive one free downloadable copy of Corel PaintShop Pro X4.
Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 800 by 600 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.
This week's Hot Pic: "Peace" by Melissa Carrington, Parma, Ohio
Melissa says that she took this photo on the North Shore of Oahu with her iPhone 4.
This week's runner-up: "Busy Bee" by Ryan Murtagh, Hobart, Australia
Ryan writes: "I took this photo with my Nikon Coolpix S8000 in my backyard. I used Macro mode at a distance of roughly 1cm from the bee. I added a little sharpening to add some definition to the bee's hairs."