Photo editing is fun again with PicMonkey

Image editing used to be a challenge for home users – whether you need to remove a blemish from a person’s face, add a little character to a street scene or boost the colors on your vacation photos before printing – but apps like Picasa, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Pixelmator and even those bundled with cameras have helped a great deal.

However, as something of a shutterbug I’ve used a large number of these and couldn’t find anything that hit the sweet spot of usability, features, quality editing tools and effects, and fun (yes, apps can be fun if they’re built well) – until I came across PicMonkey. This great new app allows you to work on your photos using a ton of tools, has enough effects to make Instagram regulars drool, and is dead-simple to use. Is this your next photo editing suite? Let’s try it to find out.


PicMonkey is a web-based photo editing app that’s suitable for casual users and is compatible with most modern browsers capable of running Flash. It allows you to perform basic editing tasks, apply creative effects, make cosmetic adjustments, and even add your own quirky touches with overlays, text and frames. The app is currently free and ad-supported but may see an introduction of paid plans in the near future.

The PicMonkey interface is easy to get used to

The PicMonkey interface is easy to get used to

The interface

You don’t need to sign up to use PicMonkey – just drag and drop an image into your browser to get started. PicMonkey is ridiculously fast and features a simple UI for editing images, consisting of a pane on the left with tools and their options, and your image on the right, which can be zoomed into and panned around with your mouse

The tools are divided into six sections:

  • Basic Edits – the usual suspects: crop, rotate, exposure, colors, sharpen and resize
  • Effects – more than you can shake a stick at, grouped into Tried and True, Basic, Camera Look, Paintbox, Area, Artsy and Advanced (Dodge, burn, adjust curves and clone).
  • Touch Up – cosmetic adjustment tools for everything from adding makeup to reshaping features, grouped into Skin, Mouth, Eyes and The Rest.
  • Text – allows you to add and resize text, with a variety of fonts grouped into Sans Serif, Serif, Handwriting, Script and Display categories.
  • Overlays – add vector graphic elements to your images (choose from the app’s library of shapes, hearts, stars, arrows, comic bubbles, push pins and more) or upload your own. You can even fun ones to faces like mustaches, hats and sunglasses.
  • Frames – showcase your image with simple, ornate or sketched frames, and even a Polaroid-style frame.
  • Textures – apply a texture to enhance your photos, choosing from PicMonkey’s collections titled Papyrus, Smudge, Edifice, Weave, Metal and Paint or your own.
PicMonkey's basic tools are simple to use

PicMonkey’s basic tools are simple to use

Basic editing

With PicMonkey, you can quickly crop, rotate and resize images with ease, and even adjust the exposure (with controls for brightness, shadows, highlights and contrast), colors and sharpness. I like how these tools are simple enough for those who haven’t used an editing app before, yet comfortable for advanced users and everyone in between. You can also use the Auto Adjust feature in some of these tools, which usually work well enough.

PicMonkey offers tons of effects to apply on your photos

PicMonkey offers tons of effects to apply on your photos

Instagramming your photos

If you’re a fan of retro effects in photos, you’re going to love PicMonkey. There are over 30 effects to play with here, including variations in a few of them. The other great thing about these effects is that you control how much they affect your photos with the Fade slider – which is wonderful if you’re like me and enjoy subtle tonal effects.

The Basic set here includes black-and-white, sepia and soft focus effects, a boost effect, and black and white vignettes. These also allow you to paint over areas on your photo that you don’t want affected as much (or at all) as the rest. The Tried and True set contains some neat toning effects too, my favorites being Intrepid and Urbane.

For Instagram and Lomography fans, there’s the Camera Look set, which includes to recreate results from vintage cameras and films, as well as photo aging. There’s also a HDR effect that you’ll want to apply very sparingly, if at all. These are fun to play with and can be layered on top of each other for even more interesting results.

The Paintbox set allows you to play around with colors, with a Warhol effect that requires you to choose two colors to recreate the famous artist’s iconic imaging style. The Area set allows you to emphasize a part of your photo by defining an area within a circle (you can set the radius) to keep in focus while blurring, pixelating, softening, zooming or even desaturating the rest.

The Artsy set has a paintbrush you can go crazy with, film grain to grit up your photos and a Posterize effect to make your images look like vector art. The Advanced set contains tools rather than effects – there’s a Curves palette that allows you to adjust tones in various channels (try the great presets for some more lovely effects), dodge and burn tools and a clone stamp (almost like the copy-paste of imaging, in paintbrush form).

A portrait touched up with mascara, spray tan, lip tint and some airbrushing

A portrait touched up with mascara, spray tan, lip tint and some airbrushing

Of greasepaint, hairspray and Botox

PicMonkey comes with a full suite of cosmetic adjustment tools to help you improve portraits and faces in people shots. The Touch Up section includes several tools, grouped into sections – here are some of the notable ones:

  • Skin: treat pimples and spots with the Blemish Fix adjustable brush; Airbrush wrinkles and lines away with ease (but be gentle or it’ll look unnatural); add a touch of color with the Blush Boost brush or tone your subjects’ complexion with the Spray Tan tool.
  • Mouth: whiten teeth and add lipstick (even lip liner, if you’re skilled enough) with ease.
  • Eyes: fix red eyes, brighten and color eyes, or add a touch of drama with Mascara (this works really well, and doesn’t even require you to be very careful with the brush).
  • The Rest: shape your subject’s facial features with the Nip Tuck tool (again, be gentle), and even add highlights to hair (you’ll have to be patient to get this to work just right).

In the image above, I changed the model’s lip tint, eye color, added a tan, gave her hair a color boost, airbrushed some spots below the eyes and added a touch of mascara. It’s worth noting that these tools are not just simple, but are also of high quality, by which I mean that you don’t lose much detail when using them.

Adding text to an image is easy too

Adding text to an image is easy too

Dressing up your photos

I won’t get into the finer details of the Text, Overlays, Frames and Textures, but I will tell you that they work very well. There’s a healthy selection of fonts to choose from, and plenty of shapes in the Overlays section to play with. With these tools you can easily watermark your photos or even mark up designs if you need to.

Adding and editing overlays is a snap

Adding and editing overlays is a snap

If you want to make your photos look a bit more artistic, try adding a texture. You can play with the various blend modes and the Fade slider to achieve your desired effect, and even import your own texture if you have one. Once you’re done with all this, you can add a border or an elegant frame, choosing from several options available, to finish your piece before showing off your creativity.

Creating a collage is a breeze with preset (yet flexible) templates

Creating a collage is a breeze with preset (yet flexible) templates


I actually don’t know of any easy way to make photo collages, and I wish I had this tool years ago. PicMonkey offers a variety of templates to choose from for your collage, including a handy Facebook cover photo template. Simply upload a bunch of images and drop them into the template placeholders – these are flexible and allow you to remove placeholders, allowing others to increase in size. The simple workflow ensures you’ll be done in no time.


PicMonkey is, hands down, the best web-based image editing app I’ve come across. The app is very well built, is easy to get used to and has enough features to suit most home users’ needs. I hope that we’ll soon see PicMonkey on tablets with a touch-optimized experience and be able to share images from within the app. It’s presently free to use, but I’ll happily pay to use this once paid plans are launched. Until then, give PicMonkey a try – your photos will thank you.


PicMonkey makes photo editing a snap with a variety of tools for basic editing, a host of effects and lots more, all in your web browser.