I have decided to start reviewing photo editing and artistic photography apps this week. This is a big category, especially for me. On my iPad alone, I have about 100 apps that could fit into this category. To start us off on strong ground, I have decided to review apps by the developer Jixi Pix because of the consistently high quality of their photography art apps. Between my iPad and iPhone, I have 10 of Jixi’s apps. They have a couple more that I do not have, but I believe all of their main apps are represented by what I am about to review. All of Jixi’s apps are available for the iPad and the iPhone, but unfortunately, they are not universal apps. So, if you like an app and want it on both devices, you will have to buy it twice. However, the unusually high quality of their apps (all of which save in full resolution) more than make up for this inconvenience.
To display what each app can do, I chose one photo (of my gorgeous niece, Katie Anderson) as a way of showing the sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic quality of Jixi apps.
PhotoArtistaHD Oil for iPad (click here for the iPhone version) is where we’ll begin. The PhotoArtista app can contain three apps in one. Oil, Haiku, and Sketch. You can buy one app and then purchase the rest with in-app purchases to save space, if you choose, or you can buy them all separately. The Oil painting app takes your photo and turns it into a beautiful oil painting. There are many choices to be had in any Jixi app.
The types of oil paintings to choose from are portrait, landscape, realism, impressionism, expressionism, tone painting, and abstract. I said that Jixi makes it easy to make photos into art, but they don’t make it too easy. To get a fantastic result, you will have to put a little work into the job. Some of the things that you control are the texture, brush size, stroke variation, color shift, color tone, lighting effects, canvas texture, and canvas color. Most of these are controlled by a slider that is very sensitive. The slightest move of the slider can change the entire effect of the result. Another thing that you control specific to the Oil painting app is the “artistic edges” or border that can frame the result. The photo at right has artistic edges turned off.
Saving photos in Jixi Pix is always full resolution and gives you the choice of small, medium, or large for image size. You can also email the artistic finish from within the app. And some of the newer apps let you post to Facebook and Twitter.
The next paint style in the PhotoArtistaHD series is Haiku (the iPhone version is here). It is also my personal favorite. It is a very playful combination of watercolor (traditional and otherwise), vintage papers, and India ink outlining. The result, when you get the fine-tuning just right, is incomparable to any other photo art app in the App Store. This is where you really get the full point that this is not simply a filter that you are applying by pushing a button, but an artistic endeavor that takes time and finesse to get just right.
Haiku lets you choose between abstract watercolor and stylized watercolor, with a number of presets within each category. It should be noted that if you find a combination of fine-tuning that you are particularly attached to, you can add it to the presets so that you can apply it in the same way to any other photo. This feature is actually available in many of the Jixi Pix apps.
The fine-tuning encompasses the strength of the image, wet edges, paint area, paint variation, paint color shift, ink outline, ink outline detail, ink fill, and ink color. You can work on any of these fine-tunes in the shadows, mid-tones, highlights, or in the full spectrum of light and color of the photo. The last area that you control in haiku is the choice of papers. And, there are quite a number of choices. For a paper addict like myself, this particular app is pure delight. For awhile, every photo I took got turned into a Haiku. While this app may not be for everyone (I’ve been told that it’s an acquired taste), you should play with it and try to appreciate the full beauty that can result when you get the fine-tuning just right. As a user tip, I have found that once I get all of the other categories to my liking, just slightly adjusting the paint variation really changes the whole image and you can slightly adjust all day long for endless results.
The last PhotoArtistaHD style is Sketch. (the iPhone version of Sketch is here). I have about a dozen different photo turned sketch apps from the App Store, but Jixi’s Sketch is like no other. You control the pencil outline, outline accuracy, outline strength, shade variation, shadow strength, and pencil color. And, like Haiku, you also get to pick the paper that your sketch is drawn upon.
Jixi’s Sketch really comes as close as you can to a hand-drawn look from using an app. There really is no comparison to other sketch apps that simply give one result for each photo or that turn a photo black and white and add some sketching around the frame (I won’t name that app, but it is really quite pitiful). PhotoArtista Sketch captures the essence of what hand-drawn sketches are really about.
Although it may seem easier (and cheaper) to get a button-pushing filter app to do the things that the PhotoArtista apps do, you will not regret your purchase of any of these three apps. Not only are the results far superior to anything a simple filter can do, you will grow to love the process involved and the control you have using Jixi apps.
Outside the PhotoArtista line by Jixi, another popular app by the developer is Grungetastic. Grungetastic HD for iPad and Grungetastic for iPhone breaks down into three categories: Classic Grunge, Bleached Grunge, and Pop Grunge. There are presets in each category. Four other grunge styles are available through in-app purchase: Distressed, Worn Pop, Gritty, and Worn. To fine-tune your images, you can adjust the tones used, the threshold, colors, and the smoothness of the image. You can further fine-tune by choosing the types of grunge used: grainy, scratches, textures, blotches, abstract, extreme, and stylized. Finally, you can adjust the borders that frame the final image.
If the choices overwhelm you, you can always just randomize the results by pressing the pair of dice in the upper right-hand corner. This gives you a combination effect made up of the available choices. If you get a random result that is very close to what you want, you can always fine-tune from there. You are never locked into anything with Jixi apps. Fine-tuning is your very best friend in a Jixi app.
If you like the look of HDR (high dynamic range) photos but you don’t have an HDR camera or you forgot to use it, you can achieve a similaar look with Simply HDR HD for iPad or Simply HDR for iPhone. True HDR photos are made up of several photos taken with different exposure levels that are then merged together to give you an image that shows the highlights and lowlights and everything in-between in amazing detail. Simply HDR simulates HDR photos using just one photo. Presets are broken down into five categories: HDR, Black and White, Contrasted HDR, Contrasted Light, and Shadows and Lights. You are able to adjust the radius, strength, and smoothing of an image, control vignette fading and strength, add and adjust the strength of grain, and add and adjust the strength of any tint.
Just like in Grungetastic, the dice make an appearance, so you can hit them to randomize the effects and get a unique artistic result. Unlike the PhotoArtista apps, Simply HDR has an undo and redo button that takes you backward and forward a step to compare your results.
All Jixi Pix apps have an Original button that allows you to peek at the photo as it looked prior to your adjustments.
If you desire an aged feel to your photos, Vintage Scene may be more what you are looking for. Vintage Scene HD for iPad and Vintage Scene for iPhone (also available as Vintage Scene-Video) allows you to get old-world charm with cutting edge technology. Presets are divided into VintageScene, Antique Photo, and Faded Time. Fine-tuning breaks down into color, adjust, overlays, and borders. Under color, you can choose normal or textured, and you age the photo with colors for image age and paper age, with the degree determined with a slider. Adjust lets you fade out, and affect image strength and texture strength, also on sliders. You can choose to use an overlay, including several types of vignettes, or you can choose no overlay. Under borders, you choose a background color and then choose, if you want, a border for the photo.
The randomization dice and undo/redo buttons make an appearance in Vintage Scene. If you’re looking to achieve a retro image, the sepia tones, grains, and faded colors in Vintage Scene should make you very happy.
Another avenue for achieving a retro look, or for getting a striking artistic feel, can be found through using Dramatic Black & White. Dramatic Black & White HD for iPad and Dramatic Black & White for iPhone uses presets in three categories (Black and White, Infared, and Dramatic Black & White) to express things lost back when darkrooms were replaced with digital.
The app allows you to adjust a tone that you can set using a full-spectrum color picker, soften or sharpen the photo, adjust brightness and contrast, add a filter by adding parts of red, green, and blue, set B&W strength, and add a spotlight, and set the grain for the photo. Together, these tools give you as the photographer the ability to also be a true artist.
Randomize all of the settings by using the dice button, and undo/redo any effects.
This is a much simpler app than many of the others by Jixi, but don’t be fooled. Black and white photography may look simple, but that is because without color, you must use light and composition tell the story. It is like strengthening a muscle that you do not use often.
Romantic Photo HD for iPad and Romantic Photo for iPhone combine filters that use lighting and highlights of soft color to create a mood that is warm and romantic. A host of presets take center stage in this Jixi app. They are grouped under Heavenly Photo, Heavenly Detail, Romantic Colors, Dreamy Photo, Romantic Scene, Morning Light, Captured Moments, Golden Memories, Warm Glow, Day Dream, and Soft Touch.
The only adjustments in this app are to adjust the strength of the preset and to add and adjust the strength of one or two overlays. This app is as close as Jixi Pix gets to one-button filtering for creating photo art. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get well-crafted pictures that can be elevated to art. It just means that you have to think more about the original shooting of the photo to ensure that the composition is strong.
Randomization of the presets and overlays is still in play in this app. Look for the dice in the upper right-hand corner.
Moku Hanga HD for iPad and Moku Hanga for iPhone is one of the newer Jixi Pix offerings. Moku is the word “wood” in Japanese, while Hanga is the word for “print.” This app lets you create artistic wood-block prints from your pictures. Put away your carving knife though. Sliders allow you to adjust the saturation, image strength, image colors, and the outline smoothing, width, and strength. You can leave the outline normal or make it black and robust, as well.
To color your image, you can choose from two printing styles: Multi-color or Multi-block. Multi-color uses all the color in your original photo, but allows you to adjust the color by reducting some or the original color or adding color not in the photo already. The Multi-block style uses five blocks of color from your original photo and then divides the colors across the image that you create. Also, you can randomize the color throughout your image or replace any or all the colors using a full-spectrum color-picker. The usual randomizer is available, as well. The last way to customize your piece of art is to pick the style of “paper” (it looks like wood) and add a border.
This is a really fun new app with a lot of potential to create great pieces of art.
Rounding out the 10 apps reviewed here is NIR Color (HD for iPad here, and for iPhone here), another newer app by Jixi Pix. NIR stands for Near Infared. Infared photography captures “invisible light.” Along with infared technology, NIR uses violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red (and combinations of these colors) to create color filters that make “otherworldly” and mysterious atmospheres. There are a few grains that you may add, as well.
There are only two presets: NIR Color and Extreme NIR. The adjustments are minimal: “blowout” and detail filters, and two colors. You can also adjust the contrast and the dreamy color aspects of an image. Both the filter and the colors can be randomized. For that matter, the dice appear again to allow you to randomize the whole image. Jixi Pix says on their website that NIR Color works best with landscape photography by making the color in images “pop.” Blue skies may turn dark and greenery may turn light. This app has the ability to create extremely surreal images.
A handful of Jixi Pix apps not covered here are Hand Tint, Kyoobik Photo (which looks very interesting and will probably be my next purchase), Rainy Daze, and Snow Daze. All of the Jixi apps are not inexpensive, as far as the app world goes, but in my experience, the results pay for themselves. I love Haiku so much, and use Simply HDR so much, that I have them both for my iPad and my iPhone.
I hope this review of Jixi Pix apps is enough to convince the photography lovers out there to try one or two out. Once you do, you will have to have them all. For more information, visit Jixi Pix’s very informative website at http://jixipix.com/index.html
On Tuesday, I will continue my review of photography apps. Are there any that you feel need to be reviewed? Or any that you just hate? Leave a comment below or email me by clicking on my profile picture.