Anyone is an artist with PicsArt

PicsArt is a photo manipulation and art app for iOS and Android from the company of the same name. The Android version has been performing well (the developers claim it is the “No. 1 photo app on Android and Kindle”) but the iOS version is a recent release which only came out at the beginning of January. As such, this review is based on the new iOS version.

PicsArt combines two main elements — photo manipulation and a social network. While this may cause one to think it is yet another in the long line of Instagram wannabes in the mobile marketplace, the truth is that PicsArt is actually a significantly more advanced, flexible and quite possibly better product than Instagram and its numerous imitators. Whether the app’s social side will live or die in the long run will depend entirely on whether the users feel inclined to stick with it — though with some users choosing to jump ship after the recent Instagram privacy policy scare stories, PicsArt is a good place for them to hang their hats, and likely to enjoy an influx of users looking for a new photography social network.

PicsArt’s photo manipulation features allow users to take a new photo using their device’s camera or import an existing image. Rather than restricting itself to images stored on the device, however, PicsArt allows users to import images from their own online PicsArt account, Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, Google or Dropbox — though in the case of Flickr, Picasa and Google, it’s only possible to view images on set themes rather than search for a specific term — it’s also not possible to sign into one’s own account on these three services.

Images may be manipulated in a variety of ways. Loading an image into the “FX” mode allows for various Instagram-style filters in various different categories to be applies. Rather than being preset, fixed effects, however, each filter has its own settings which may be customized, and the effect may also be selectively applies using a masking brush. Meanwhile, loading an image into the “Draw” mode allows for freehand drawing, shapes, text and photos to be added, and a “Collage” mode allows for several photos to be combined in a single frame. The Draw mode may also be used without loading an image.

Users wishing to edit a photo in more depth may instead load the image into the “Edit” mode, which allows access not only to the features of the simpler, more specific Draw and FX modes, but also tools allowing the image to be color-corrected, flipped/rotated, cropped (rectangular, freehand or shaped) and resized. A “Masks” function allows for various overlay images to be applied, too, including lighting effects, “bokeh” out-of-focus lights, borders and more outlandish “artistic” special effects. All of these may be customized by flipping them horizontally or vertically, adjusting their opacity and even changing the blend mode used to apply them to the original image.

Once an image has been manipulated to the user’s satisfaction, they may save it to their gallery or as a contact icon, send it via email or share it via the PicsArt social network, Facebook Twitter or Dropbox. Sharing to PicsArt requires signing up using Facebook, Twitter or the user’s email address, and this then allows users to Like and comment on images as well as follow favorite users. The PicsArt website allows all images to be viewed via the Web — each user gets their own subdomain of to exhibit their images, and users may comment and like direct from the Web as via the app.

PicsArt is a great, fully-featured app that is easy to use for photo manipulation newbies but offers enough power to keep more advanced users happy, too. The social features are well-implemented and don’t feel superfluous — Web access to users and their photos is particularly welcome — and the app is slick, polished and stable, though a few tweaks here and there such as the ability to search Google, Picasa and Flickr properly would be a good addition.

The only real issue we have with the app as a whole is the advertising banners that appear beneath the editing canvas — there does not appear to be a means of removing these via in-app purchase, as the in-app shop currently only carries free material. The ads are well out of the way of the editing canvas, but on the small screen of the iPhone they take up valuable screen real estate which many users would probably like the option to reclaim for a small fee. The app is certainly good enough to warrant paying for, so it would be in PicsArt’s interests to offer that option as soon as possible for fans to show their appreciation and have a better experience as a result.

PicsArt is currently ranked at No. 241 in Top Free Apps and No. 19 in Top Free Photography Apps on iOS. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.