7 really useful free online image editors

Brilliant browser-based apps to improve your pictures

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There are dozens of online picture editing sites offering everything from rudimentary shrink and crop for website use right up to professional level tools. Even the worst are useful when you don't have access to your favourite image software.

Most of these image editing apps will run on even low-powered netbooks. That's because the majority of heavy lifting is done on the server side, so the speed of your connection may be as important as the power of your processor.

Another strength is their integration with photo sharing and social networking sites. So they're ideal holiday companions when you can use an internet cafe or laptop in a hotspot to quickly clean up, crop and autofix your snaps. A well lit photo is so much better for inducing envy in the folks back home.

All the editors we've looked at here offer the majority of their features for free, but there is still a price to pay. As you edit your snaps you will be confronted by adverts, requests to upgrade or offers to display your creations on decorative mugs and the like. Fortunately none are too obtrusive.

You may also consider whether you'd be better served by one of the excellent free desktop image editing packages such as paint.NET or Gimp. For anyone with a reasonably high-end computer and broadband it's a very nice case of being spoilt for choice. Here are our seven favourites...

Best all-rounder
Picnik is not quite the most feature-rich online editor, but it has the strongest combination of ease of use, speed and a superb interface. Unusually, you can print directly from the application as well as being able to download, save or export to picture sharing sites such as Flickr and Photobucket. And it has a great Firefox add-on. The only annoyance is that some of the most useful features such as its version of layers Picnik Baskets are only available to users willing to pay the $25 a year subscription.

Best collection of features
FotoFlexer offers a range of functions that most desktop image-editing software struggles to match. It also provides them all for free, even layers. The reason it loses out to Picnik is its interface which just isn't as smooth. fast or intuitive. Even so. it's not far behind and a number of its advanced features and one-touch effects are not implemented anywhere else.

Best parentage
Photoshop may be so well-known that it's become a verb, but the online editor, Photoshop Express, bears little resemblance beyond a shared name. The site is clearly designed to promote Adobe's products and that means it can't offer too much otherwise there'd be no point in paying for its software. That said, the limited functionality does help to make the site easy to use and it's more than adequate for simple improvements to your snaps.

Best Photoshop substitute
Splashup's interface will be familiar to anybody who has used Adobe's flagship image editor. Unfortunately Photoshop is not the most intuitive program ever invented. But for those familiar with its foibles Splashup offers a powerful online alternative. Even if it doesn't have Photoshop's quantity of plug-ins and filters it does offer similar detail and a layers option. There's also very good integration with photo-sharing and social media sites. Overall it's possibly a little too powerful for most users.

Best for creative professionals
Aviary offers a fast-growing and impressive suite of tools intended as an online replacement for desktop software used by designers. It includes a sophisticated photo editor, multi-layer image editor, visual effects editor and colour picking tool with more services on the way. Enough is provided free to make it worthwhile checking out if you want to go beyond simply cleaning up your holiday snaps. Aviary also has an impressive set of tutorials so it's a pretty good place to learn about image editing in general. Note that although you can save and use your edited pictures they'll include a small watermark unless you pay a subscription which is currently on special offer at $10 a month.

Best for your own website
Pixenate is a fairly basic editor, although it covers all the bases: crop, zoom. rotate, resize, enhance, fill flash, autofix and manual colour adjustment. What sets it apart from the competition is its business model. The reason it's free is to users is to entice companies to buy the service for their own websites.

Best for Friday afternoon
Pikipimp is part of a collection of sites including a fairly standard online image editor Pikifx and a comic-strip creator Pikistrips. A sort of online Mr Potato Head, Pikipimp allows you to alter an uploaded image by dragging and dropping onto it an almost endless variety of hats, moustaches, bikinis and other pieces of virtual grafitti. The results aren't exactly art, but they're fun. And there's nothing wrong with that, provided the boss doesn't catch you.

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