PicsArt: Photoshop for Phones, Instagram for Digital Artists

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PicsArt is the digital artist’s Swiss Army knife.

Some ideas seem unfathomable until the moment they actually exist. Take the fabled peanut butter and banana sandwich for example — on paper, it has no business existing… but when put into practice the results are delectable. In many ways, PicsArt (PA) fits into this cluster of ideas. In the not-so-recent past, it was believed that photo editing required immense precision, complex tools, and high quality hardware to be effective. PA takes the core concepts of Photoshop and crams them into a phone app, an environment poorly suited for all three of the requirements listed above. The scariest part? It works — it works very well. Despite not being as robust as the photo editor it’s based on, PicsArt delivers a simple, elegant, and (mostly) intuitive solution for aspiring digital artists.

PA may serve the same purpose as Photoshop, but takes a different fundamental approach to the editing process. Filters (or “Effects” in the app’s vocabulary) are the name of the game. These built in functions allow the user to apply an effect to the photo with the touch of a button. Let’s take Pixelize as an example. A single click, and voilĂ ! You now have an 8-bit mess on your hands, congratulations. Some filters simply “pull an Instagram” and make shots more moody by changing colors; others warp the composition of the pictures entirely. A seasoned Photoshop vet may see this approach as overly simplistic at best (amateur at worst), but PicsArt offers a variety of modifiers which can be applied in conjunction with these filters, giving the creation process a learning curve of its own.

Filters are highly customizable. Most of them allow the artist to toggle the intensity of the effect, set its opacity (transparency), and determine how it blends into the base picture. Parts of the filter can even be erased — allowing the user to mask specific regions of the photo if they so choose. Basic editing tools like crop and clone are available as well, but take a back seat to the other utensils. It doesn’t take much time at all to learn the ins and outs of the editor; in the first handful of hours, I was capable of producing edits I was proud of. The whole experience was a lot of fun too. Nearly everything works as you’d expect it to, and results come quick.

Bird Photo Combined
A little clip art goes a long way.

Adept artists use filters in unison with basic tools and image layers to produce their works. Many nice looking clip art packs and font sets are free to use right out the gate, with more available to purchase at very reasonable prices. The learning curve is low, but the skill ceiling is high. I’ve found myself watching tutorial videos for more advanced techniques and they require the same time & dedication other forms of art do. The more complex effects require layering images on top of each other and piecing them together with different blending modes. In your best moments, you will feel like the Bob Ross of digital art. PicsArt’s greatest accomplishment is abstracting the complexity away from the tools and redirecting all focus into the creation process.

It’d be one thing if PA was just a clone, but the app goes one step further by transforming photo editing into a social experience. The main feed borrows from the best parts of Instagram; featured photos from friends and the community are placed at the forefront of the screen when you log in. Art can be tagged and searched for through the interface; looking at skills and concepts other artists employ gives me hundreds of ideas for edits I can do to my own photos. Perhaps the most ingenious idea in PicsArt is the #freetoedit feature. Any image marked with this hashtag can be edited by any user. This gives photography scrubs like me a repertoire of shots to pick from at any time. Some may find it creepy to be editing photos of strangers, but it’s actually a really good way to engage with other people on the network. PA pushes artists to explore, create, and share art with the rest of the user base. Good work is rewarded with followers, likes, and shares. The authors of some of the #freetoedit photos I’ve used have congratulated me on a job well done — that reaching out makes the experience rewarding beyond words.

Steffi Photo Combined
Even selfies can become art in the right hands.

Every good idea has its fair share of compromises. PA occasionally encounters some stability issues. I’ve had it crash on me a couple of times when navigating the notifications panel on the main page. Luckily, these bugs rarely extend to the editor. Only once has it died on me there, and it allows the user to save drafts. Some of the editing controls can be obtuse, making it difficult to do exactly what you want at times. In some situations, the undo feature is restricted and makes mistakes more costly than you’d hope. The layering tool is a little basic at the moment — hopefully it will be beefed up in future releases. Ads are unobtrusive for the most part, but the lack of a paid (premium) version of the app is disappointing.

PicsArt provides a fully featured photo editor for your mobile device. Having that power in your pocket is such a great feeling. No longer do I need to wait until I get home to put my ideas into practice. The community aspects keep users engaged and indulged. It’s simple enough for a neophyte, but robust enough for experts as well. If you have any interest in digital art, PicsArt will fulfill your portable needs.

[Shameless Plug Alert] Here are a few before and after shots that I’ve worked on. I plan to do more art updates (and possibly tutorials) in the future.

More of my work can be found at dante_must_vie.picsart.com

Girl on Pier Combined

Denisa Moise Selfie Combined

Yadira Orduno Selfie Combined

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