Photoshop Touch vs. Pixlr Express

Through the years, digital image creation and enhancement has seen some pretty significant advancements in the technology of not only the cameras themselves, but also the software that allows us to create whatever we like from those images. Capturing high quality images is now quite simple to do, with the advent of high resolution cameras on most cell phones, and also the ever growing use of tablets or iPads. As the use of these mobile devices grows more and more with each advancement in image quality, it seems that the apps that are available to do any kind of image manipulation are growing in number, as well. When searching for mobile applications for photo editing, one can be flooded with apps from many different developers, and many of them will make claims to greatness while simply falling short. If photo editing is something that you take seriously, then you really want to make sure that you are going with apps that not only come from a reputable source, but that will give you all of the tools that you need to get the job done. In this article, we will narrow the searching down to a comparison of two good applications, Adobe's PhotoShop Touch, and Pixlr Express. Comparisons have been done with these apps on a 9“ Android tablet.

It can seem, when wandering through the app stores, looking for just the right app for your needs, many of the apps that you come across are obviously thrown together in a minute, and put out there on the market to see how much they can make in advertisements. Many apps are very basic, and offer no more than the camera itself does for editing, such as auto-fix, white balance, contrast, etc. There are often times where you just need an app that has teeth, something that will actually get the job done. It is entirely frustrating to download some of these apps with their promises of good things, only to find out that it is worthless to you. You just want to get to the 'one', you know, the one app that will do exactly what you need it to do. For image editing and manipulation, I believe that I have finally found not just one, but two great apps!

If you wish to go above and beyond, and let the creative artist in you out to play, then you will need something much more comprehensive than most of what you see out there in the markets. I also offer to you that you can start by trying a few first, as most of these apps are either free, or offer free trials before charging a nominal fee to purchase the app. This way, you can find exactly what you are looking for without putting out too much money, and quite possibly wasting money on inferior apps. For purposes of this comparison, we will look at two leaders in the mobile image editing arena, PhotoShop Touch (PST), and Pixlr Express, as these apps are available for Android devices. The comparisons have been made using a 9” Android tablet, and as a personal note, both apps will be a mainstay on this device, as both have much to offer.

Photoshop Touch

Adobe's PhotoShop software has been a staple product for image editing and manipulation for many years now. Professionals have been using it with ease the entire time, as they quickly became accustomed to everything this piece of software has to offer. There are workshops out there that are created to teach the ins and outs, tips and tricks, and just general navigation of the PhotoShop software. For the beginners, however, it has been known to be a bit frustrating to figure out all of the ins and outs of navigation, not to mention even discovering all of the options. The desktop staple software has always been known to be quite pricey, as well, making it a less desirable expense for the amateur editor. To get the entire package for the desktop can run several hundred dollars, which is likely a key reason that it has thrived among image editing professionals, and perhaps not so much for the amateurs.

Adobe's PhotoShop Touch application, created from the ground up for use in cell phones and tablets, is extremely comprehensive in the tools offered, and functions available. If you are already familiar with using PhotoShop on your desktop computer, then you will find that the mobile version is not exactly like the desktop version, but it truly is pretty darn close. There are so many times where you run across an app of any particular kind in the app stores, and just when you think that you have found the mobile version of a good piece of desktop software, you realize that the mobile version is simply a bare bones minimum of the original. This PST app is not a chopped up, dumbed-down version of the desktop software. It offers most of the same editing tools as the desktop version, including layering, which is something that I have not yet found in any other mobile app. The layering option, and all of the tools that go with layering, are truly what sets this app apart from the rest of the apps out there, as this is what allows you to combine images, or trim a piece out of one image, and set it into a whole new image or background. The other incredibly important piece of info associated with this app is its price tag, which is just a few dollars, rather than the hundreds of dollars one can spend on the desktop version. This keeps its pricing well within range of most tablet or phone apps, while giving you very nearly the same experience as the desktop version.

For the beginner, PhotoShop can be a daunting task to learn, but the Android version has impressed me with its easy to grasp tutorials, and user friendly interface. Make sure that you do not turn off the screen tips for a while, they really do come in quite handy. There can be many useful little tricks found online, as well, in text or on video. While this app is trimmed down some from the desktop version, the differences are minimal. For instance, when layering, one can only use up to 16 layers. There are other peeks of the desktop version that did not transfer to the app, but really…not much is sacrificed here. This, to me, is not a huge problem for the amount of editing I do personally. I am truly not seeing that there is too much sacrifice given up by using this app. In fact, I prefer it, as most of what I do is from my tablet or phone. I also find it easier to make selections with a touch screen, as opposed to a mouse and keyboard.

I can't stress this enough, that it can be helpful when you first begin using PhotoShop Touch to run through those tutorials a few times first. It can often happen that you can start a project, and if you are anything like me, you might just think that you can figure it out as you go along. You can certainly do this, however in an app like this, there are many features available to you that you may never know about or see. It also can become very easy to get frustrated with the process and give it up altogether, when just taking a little bit of time in the beginning to learn how to use it will save you the stress. Yes, I have been stubborn like that. It just doesn't pay off here to be stubborn like me, or you will certainly be missing out on something good.

You can start a project by taking a new picture, selecting one you've already shot or using one that you've stored in Adobe's Creative Cloud Web service. To make adjustments to your images, there are twelve adjustment options that can be found through the Adjustments icon on the menu bar. These options are well varied, and allow you to do anything from the most basic autofix and contrast, to the much more extensive Levels and Curves adjustments. One wonderful bit of continuity between the PST app and its desktop counterpart is that in the Curves adjustments, the controls allow you to touch and drag curves into whatever shape you need from many multiple points. All you need to do is make your adjustments, and then tap on the cross to confirm your changes. There are also no less than 36 different effects available within the Fx icon. Under the Fx tab, you can sharpen, add blur in a specific direction and add drop shadows. You can also apply so-called artistic effects such as making your photo appear as if viewed through an old piece of rippled glass. Just select the desired effect, and then you are simply touching and dragging the controls that pop up to set your desired intensity levels, and much more. Truly simple and easy.

PST also offers a nice little collection of tools and controls available for making the actual selections. These tools include a rounded and rectangular marquee, a lasso, a magic wand, and perhaps the easiest one to navigate is the scribble tool. The scribble option is the best one for making selections from more complex objects within the image. In order to select these selection tools, you just touch the active tool, which can be found at the top edge of the selection tool box, and drag your finger down to the icon that has the cross and tick. It is possible that it could be hidden by either the Brush selection tool, or the magic wand. If you just hold for a moment over these tools, you will find what you are looking for. Make sure that the 'Keep' tick is the one that is selected in the tool bar. You will know that this is active if it is surrounded in white. Then you simply paint inside the lines of the object that you wish to keep. This paint shows on the object in green. You can adjust the brush size with a touch, for more intricate selections. Once that is done, then select 'Remove' from the toolbox, and paint outside the lines of the object that you are keeping. This paint will show on the image in red. Once you have done these things, then the app will make the selection for you automatically. If the edges of the object look a little rough after this selection has been made, then you can simply tap the selections icon again in the menu bar, and select Refine Edge. Once you have the refine edge tool selected, you just paint around the objects edge, just like you do in the desktop version. Don't forget that you can change the brush size, and even use the eraser if you need to. When everything looks good to you, and all edge adjustments have been made, then just touch the tick to 'confirm' your changes.

You can create a 'live' background when you shoot any scene around you as a new layer in your project, and use it as the background for another picture. Do this by starting a new project and opening a photo you'd like as the foreground. Cut out the part you want by using the Scribble tool to select the object you want to keep and the background you want to remove. Select “extract” from the main drop-down menu. Make sure that you go back into this menu and choose “Deselect” before moving onto the next step. Add a new empty layer and drag it under your photo layer. Choose 'camera fill' from the menu under the '&' tab to activate your camera. Shoot a photo and it will appear as the new background. This is the neat little way that people can put two pictures together, for instance, cutting yourself out of one picture with a background in your living room, and replacing the background with an image of a lake. Now you were at the lake!

Layering is the process of taking an object that has been cut out of one image, and placing it into another image. This is a fantastic option that few other mobile image editing apps can offer. In fact, I have not found another good layering tool in any of the other qpps that I have searched out. This all truly sets PST apart from any of the other apps floating around out there, in my opinion. To add a layer to whatever image you are working on, you simply touch the plus sign at the bottom of the layers panel, and then you select what kind of layer you would like to create. This is where you can select from a number of options to give your previously cut image a new background. You can choose from the preset layers within the app itself, or you can select another photo to place your first image into. If you choose to use another photo for the second layer, you will be given the option to either select from your devices image gallery, or to capture a new image. You have the ability to create multiple layers in this way, and you can even change the order of the layers by simply dragging them to their new placement within the layers panel. To work on any given layer, tap it once in the layer panel, which will highlight it with a white border so that you will know it is the active layer. If you tap the circle in the upper left hand corner of the thumbnail, it will toggle that layer from visible to invisible, and back again. You also have the ability to choose from different blend modes for these layers so that, for instance, you are able to change the active layers opacity and other blending options. This feature allows for an awful lot of creativity when putting these layers together, and it seems that many don't even know that they can do this, just like in the desktop version. There is much more involved in using the PST app, and it will remain a staple of my own on my tablet. While I do love it, I also do run across times where I simply don't need all of this apps options. This is when I like my other go-to app, Pixlr Express.

Pixlr Express

Pixlr Express does not offer the same kind of layering tools as PST, but it does have its own perks and options. Pixlr has been around for a while for free image editing online. This is great for the desktop, however as I say, I prefer to do most of my creative work from my tablet or phone. The Pixlr Express app is another good way to go for nice, clean, high quality image editing and manipulation. Whether you are creating memes for a social media page, or wish to create much more high definition digital artwork, this app has plenty to offer in an easy, user friendly format.

While Pixlr will do much the same things as other apps out there as far as autofix, white balance, or contrast changes, it goes well above and beyond simple image correction. As corrections go though, this app makes these corrections without severely pixilating the image, as I have found many others to do. Once you have an idea in mind of what you wish to create, you are able to open images right from your device’s image gallery, and you can then save your finished work to your gallery, as well. I actually prefer saving to my gallery, as opposed to saving in the virtual cloud. When you have selected an image for editing, you will find many options will pop up across the bottom of the screen. The first button is to make standard adjustments, like the simple color corrections and fixes, red eye adjustment, blurring or sharpening, and even color splashing.

In the adjustment menu, you will also find an icon to add another image on top of the original. This is a more bare bones layering technique than what the PST app offers, as it will not allow you to trim out or shape an image for layering. It only allows you to basically resize the added image, and change the opacity to that the two images will blend. This is actually a favorite option for me with this app, and some really beginnings things can come from combining images in this way, and then enhancing the images.

The next button is dedicated to effects. This menu allows you to change the overall 'feel' of any given image, by creating new color schemes, making the image look old or vintage, or adding any other enhancements by way of the presets. It also has a 'Creative' option, which is a nice way to go if you are creating brochures, pamphlets, and other such things. Playing around in this option will spark a lot of other ideas, as well.

Next up on the main menu is the Overlays button. This is where you can really have some fun! There are quite a few categories of overlays, and each category has many overlay types to choose from. You have a wide variety of overlays to wander through and try out, such as fire, nature, fireworks, neon writing, light paint, paper, and many more. For instance, if you touch the 'Space' icon, you will find loads of outer space scenes to try on one by one, until you find the one you like. You can change the opacity, or rotate it, and when you have it just the way you like it, touch the 'Apply' button. I have found that this is one of my favorite places to visit on this app when I am feeling creative.

There is also a button on the menu to create borders. Once tapping 'Borders' in the menu options, it opens up quite a few subcategories, and each category has many nice borders to choose from, like ripped paper, grunge, nature, inked, film, and more. You also have the option to change the opacity on these borders to tweak them to taste. I must say that I love how to add text in this app. Although the character allowance is just a bit short for my taste, I can forgive that for the very nice font selection. You are able to type in your desired text, and then you can pinch, zoom, rotate, and move it anywhere you like on the image quite smoothly with just a touch. When you have it just right, then touch apply. The last thing that the Pixlr Express app offers on its menu is stickers. Plenty of fun stickers that can also be made larger or smaller, or moved by a touch. The opacity can also be changed for the stickers, making them more versatile than most other apps.

Something else that I like about this app is that when saving the finished image to your gallery, it offers several file sizes to choose from for saving it. If you need it in its original high definition, that's offered, as well as one or two lower definition save options, to save your drive space if you are only going to use the image on a site that compresses the images anyway.


Both Adobe's PhotoShop Touch and Pixlr Express for mobile are mighty fine apps that can be used for any number of purposes. Your edited photos and other creations can be shared easily right from the apps to social media sites such as Facebook, twitter, or pinterest. Friends, family, and coworkers will love your sharing. They both have very different abilities in the same venue, so they can complement each other well when you are possibly wanting to begin a project on one app, and finish it off on the other. While PST is not going to give you the same kind of quick 'edit then share' ability, Pixlr does. When Pixlr does not allow you to cut and layer images, PST does. More complex work can be well covered by PST, and if your thing just happens to be creating memes for social media sites, then Pixlr is for you. When you begin to unlock all of the wide variety of features with both products, I admit to you, they can become a bit addictive. I spend a lot of personal time creating memes and other such things on Pixlr, and with the layering techniques on PST, this can truly create some spectacular digital artwork for resale. When you take into account that you can grab them both for just under ten dollars, then you know that you can't go wrong.


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