Review: PicMonkey Online Photo Editor

This post was last updated Jan 2017, since so much has changed since I first wrote this review!

I’ve already mentioned on this blog how much I love PicMonkey as a photo editor, but I wanted to sit down and do a more formal review of the product. Although this is the right tool for me, it may or may not be the best option for you. So, without further ado, let’s talk about PicMonkey!

Wait…What is PicMonkey?

For those of you who’ve never heard of PicMonkey before, this is essentially an online tool that allows you to do basic photo editing without downloading any kind of software. The best part, for many people, is the price point: free. For those of you who want more function, however, PicMonkey does have a premium version, which I happily pay to use (yes, I’m an affiliate). Unless otherwise noted, everything I’m covering in this review is included in the free version.

picmonkey home pagePicMonkey has three main functions:

  • Edit/Touch Up
  • Design
  • Collage

Edit and Touch Up are listed separately on the homepage, but they’re really the same thing: manipulating your photo. Through this menu, you can crop, resize, add text, change the colors, and more. They even have a special set of tools for touching up images of people, which allow you to make simple changes like removing blemishes and whitening teeth.

The Design function allows you to start with a blank canvas instead of uploading a picture. They’ve also added templates, which are pre-made posters, invitations, and more. Most of these are not relevant for bloggers, but templates are nice if you also want to use PicMonkey for personal projects.

Lastly, there’s the Collage function, which gives users the ability to edit several photos together to make a single larger photo. Once you’ve chosen the layout, you can also choose to go into the Edit functions, where you can further manipulated your images.

Let’s take a close look at these functions, along with some pros and cons of each:

Edit/Touch Up

picmonkey sidebarThe Edit function is split into eight categories of options (one of which is Touch Up – if you choose the Touch Up option on the home page, you’ll simply be take to this group of options first). If you pay for a premium account, you’ll have more options, but even with just a basic account, there are hundreds of ways to manipulate your photos. Here’s a quick overview of what’s available:

  • Basic Edits give you the abilities to crop, change the canvas color, rotate the image, affect the exposure, manipulate the color, sharpen, and resize.
  • Effects allows you to easy change an image, similar to the options available on Instagram. However, on PicMonkey, you have TONS of other options and a lot more control. You can fade effects to be extremely minimal and choose other options based on the effect.
  • Touch Up effects are specifically for portraits. This group of effects includes blemish fix, teeth whitening, and lip tint.
  • Text options allow you to add words to your image. There are dozens of font options, and you can change the color and size. You can also use any font installed on your computer.
  • Overlays are shapes that you can add to your images. You can also add your own here.
  • Frames are exactly what they sound like – different frames you can add to your photos, including drop shadows and simple edges.
  • Textures add entire new looks to your images. Most are premium, but there are some simple free textures to play around with as well.

There’s a tab for Themes as well. These aren’t really different options, but rather compilations of options found on other lists. For example, the “Winterland” theme collects effects like snowfall, overlays like holly, and more all in one place so if you’re editing holiday pictures, you have all the relevant options in one place.

Lastly, you can also access the Templates function from this screen. It’s the final tab on the left-hand sidebar.

Pros

What I love most about the Edit options is the sheer number available. Unless you’re doing extremely advanced photo editing, you don’t need a high-priced option like Photoshop. PicMonkey has almost everything you need! On top of that, PicMonkey is extremely easy to use. Even if you have no experience editing photos at all, PicMonkey makes it easy. Even the premium version is only $33 per year, which hardly breaks the bank.

PicMonkey has so many options, it can actually take some time to find them all. This post on the PicMonkey blog is filled with tips for some not-so-obvious ways to use the different options.

Cons

While I do LOVE PicMonkey, nothing is without its flaws. The biggest one, in my opinion, is the lack of more options for text.  PicMonkey has begun to remedy this. If you are a pro user, you can create simple drop shadows and other effects. This feature alone is worth the price of premium.

The other major flaw is that some of the pre-built overlays do not give you the option to choose colors easily. Instead of being able to simply pick the colors you want, you have a slider, which only allows you to pick a color theme. I like having complete control.

Design

The design function allows you to start with a blank slate instead of starting with a photograph of your own. After that, all of the options are exactly the same, so no need to go through them again!

One additional “pro” that I’ll add here, though, is that when you hover on the design button, it brings up a few of the most commonly used options, like the size you need for a Facebook cover photo.

The design function now also gives you several pre-built template options, which are great if you are designing a poster, invitation, business card, etc. I especially love that they have some templates for digital graphics, like Facebook covers. Most of the templates are only available for premium users, but there are a few free options as well.

Collage

Lastly, Collage is for mashing pictures together, which is extremely useful. You don’t have to worry about getting the spacing right, and PicMonkey has tons of options for pre-made collage templates. You can also choose to edit a template as you go by adding more photos or playing with the sizing.

When you go into Collage, it will automatically ask you to upload some photos. If you just want to play with the function, they have some test photos to use as well. You can always add more photos later. You’ll see a basic template to start, but you can easily change that by choosing one of the other templates, which are organized into categories. Here’s where I’ve found that having a premium account comes in really handy, since there are lots more templates available. PicMonkey also has “swatches” (i.e. background patterns) you can use if you don’t want to use a picture in every spot.

Want to change the dimensions of any of the template’s spots for pictures? Simply position along the border until you get the little arrows and then drag left, right, up, or down. The template will change (and your pictures with it).

Lastly, you can choose the spacing and color for the background. If you change the overall size of your collage to be bigger or smaller, you may want to change this spacing, since these won’t change relatively. You can also move the spacing to zero, which puts the images directly next to one another, or you can choose a transparent background.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the Collage feature:

Pros

I love, love, love that this is a simple drag and drop. It’s so freaking easy! You can also make basic edits to each individual photo (resizing, rotating, exposure) without leaving Collage mode. The ability to zoom (which is effectively resizing the image) directly within Collage mode with the images exactly how you want them, is especially helpful!

Cons

Actually…there’s not much I can say here as a con. I do think they could stand to add a few more template options, especially to the jigsaw category, because if you’re not skilled and making your own layouts, the choices are limited. But really, I’m nit-picking. I think it’s much more urgent for them to add better functionality to the text feature than it is to worry about adding more collage templates.

The Hub

PicMonkey recently introduced a feature called “the hub” which is AH-MAZ-ING. The Hub is only available to premium users, but it allows you to save your images within the PicMonkey application so you can work on them again later. This was one of the MAJOR complaints I used to have with PicMonkey. Once you save a file to your computer, it is a flat image, which  means that you can’t edit the layers anymore. There is no “PicMonkey” file format, like there is with Photoshop.

But, if you save in the Hub, you can come back to it later, and your layers will be there as though you never left. This feature is AWESOME. I’m not sure how much space you get with the Hub, but I haven’t run out of space yet.

Mobile App

PicMonkey recently released a mobile app, which is free. If you have a premium PicMonkey account, you can log into your Hub from the mobile app. The mobile app does not have all of the options you get with the browser version (not even close), but it does give you pretty much everything you need to edit a photo on the go for posting to Instagram, Facebook, etc.

From the mobile app, you can access:

  • Crop
  • Adjust (brightness, contrast, clarity, levels, saturation, temp, and blur)
  • Effects (there are 17 options)
  • Draw
  • Stickers
  • Text

Stickers are fun little graphics you can add, and they switch them out all the time. As of writing this review, there are a bunch of winter stickers, for example. The text option allows you to choose from one of their 24 most popular fonts, and you can also justify the text, change the color, and add a drop shadow if you want.

All in all, the mobile app is bare bones compared to the desktop version, but it has everything most people need when on the go. They didn’t have a mobile app at all for a LONG time, so developing one was a huge step forward.

If you are only going to use the mobile app, I still recommend premium so you can save things to your hub and access your hub. That way, you can save work and come back to it later, instead of being forced to do all your image editing in one sitting.

Conclusion

If you aren’t using PicMonkey already, you don’t know what you’re missing. This is hands down the tool I use most often. I would give up just about any other online tool to continue having access to PicMonkey. Adding images to my blog posts isn’t my favorite task (understatement of the year), but PicMonkey makes it 100 times more pleasurable. And if you’re tech-challenged, it is amazingly easy to learn how to use.

While free PicMonkey is awesome, I highly recommend upgrading. Seriously, I would gladly pay twice as much…even three times as much…for an annual subscription. Shhh…don’t tell the PicMonkey people! 🙂 My point it, I get so much value out of my premium account that it is, to me, worth much more. And while I am an affiliate, I would promote PicMonkey even if they didn’t have an affiliate program.

Here’s the link to sign up for an account – either free or paid. I hope you check it out and leave a comment below with your thoughts!

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Ebook Tips: What You Need to Know to Write an Ebook People Will Love

I cringe to think about the first ebook I ever wrote.

I was in college at the time, writing articles for an SEO company, and my manager came to me with a question: Could I write something longer? She had a client who was willing to pay twice my per-page rate if I would put together a 50-page ebook for him.

I jumped at the change, but I wish certain ebook tips have been in my memory bank at the time, because that draft sucked. I mean, really sucked. Luckily, my manager was patient and all to happy to give me feedback and allow for revisions. Still, I’m pretty such the final copy I sent in was pretty embarrassing, at least by my standards today!

Writing an ebook is no small feat, but this is still, in my opinion, the number one way to build your email list. In fact, I’m working on my own ebook right now for this very purpose (sign up for my email list on the sidebar now and you’ll get a copy when it’s finished!). The problem? Lots of people create ebooks that are unsuccessful, either because they don’t help collect many leads, the leads are low-quality, or there are too many unsubscribes. Let’s look at a few ebook tips that can help you avoid these problems.

Ebook Tips for More Leads

You poured your blood, sweat, and tears into your baby, and she’s finally ready to unleash on the world. You upload your ebook, proudly put a sign-up box on your blog, and sit back to watch the leads roll in.

Crickets.

Is there anything more disheartening than working hard on something that is ignored? Here are my best email tips for getting more people to download your ebook, and, thus, give you their information.

  • Ask for less information. You want my name and email? No problem. My Twitter handle. Well…okay. My phone number? Meh, I don’t really want your ebook that badly. The more information you force someone to give you, the fewer signups you’ll get, no matter how great your ebook is.
  • Work on the title. Just like a catchier blog post title will get more clicks, a catchier ebook title will get more signups.
  • Give people something totally new…and needed. What kind of insider information can you offer that they can’t get anywhere else? That should be the subject of your ebook.
  • Pay for cover art. Unless you are a designer yourself, pay to have someone create a beautiful cover for your book.
  • Prominently display the sign up form. I’ll probably never find your ebook if it is hidden on a page of your blog or you need a special URL to get to it. Stick it at the top of your sidebar.
  • Share the news! It astounds me that people don’t use social media to remind new followers to sign up for their ebook. You don’t need to be annoyingly promoting every day, but every so often, mention it. Your new followers will thank you!
  • Ask others to share. When I wrote about link building and guest posting, I talked about the importance of building relationships when others. When you have a new, awesome resource, like an ebooks, it’s time to call in some favors and ask people to share.

Ebook Tips for Better Quality Leads

Another common problem people have when giving away an ebook is not collecting quality leads. In other words, you get a huge number of people signing up for your ebook, but few of those people actually convert into sales. Here are a few ebook tips that can help you squash this problem:

  • Do research before writing. Your free ebook shouldn’t be about what your think people want. It should be about what they actually want. And by they, I mean your target market.
  • Keep your ultimate goal in mind. A free ebook is just part of a sales funnel. If your ultimate goal is to sell more widgets, your ebook needs to be about widgets. If it’s about gizmos, your audience won’t be primed to take that next step and buy a widget.
  • Make sure your target audience can make the purchase. If you sell used cars, writing a driving guide for teens might seem like a good idea. One problem – most teens can’t afford to buy a car! So even though the topic is related, something more attractive to the actual decision makers – mom and dad – would probably get better results.
  • Start email people right away. Don’t let people linger on your list with no follow up! Set up an autoresponder campaign to keep them engaged – strike when the iron is hot. And anyone who was really in it for the freebie will get annoyed at the constant communication about unwanted topics and unsubscribe quickly. Get ’em off your list as fast as possible!

Ebook Tips for Fewer Unsubscribes

Lastly, I hear a complaint from people that their ebook was downloaded hundreds or thousands of times, but everyone unsubscribed really quickly. As noted in the previous section, one of my best ebook tips is to start communicating with people right away so the freebie hunted unsubscribe quickly instead of taking up space on your list. But if it seems like everyone is unsubscribing, something is definitely wrong!

  • Hire an editor. The majority of the ebooks I download are hot messes. An editor is well worth the money, because they’ll make sure your book is organized well and that the fat is cut, not to mention they’ll find typos and grammatical errors.
  • Care about design. If your ebooks is a wall of text, I’m probably not going to read it, no matter how interesting the topic sounds. And I’m probably going to unsubscribe because I’ll assume that I won’t have time to read your emails either. Send a little time make sure your ebook is well designed, filled with snackable content bites that I can easily consume.
  • WRITE BETTER CONTENT. I don’t mean to all-caps-yell, but some people think that because they’re giving away the ebook, the content doesn’t have to be that good. It’s just a freebie, right? You couldn’t be more wrong. This is your foot in the door. It’s like a sample at the grocery store. It has to be the BEST you have. Otherwise, no one will want to buy because they’ll assume everything you do is crappy quality.

Some Final Ebook Tips for Lead Generation

Before closing, I wanted to give you a few final ebook tips that will help you overall, not just in one of the above categories.

First, keep in mind that not every lead is going to be qualified. In other words, this is a numbers game. Just because someone downloads your free ebook doesn’t mean they are interested in ever buying anything from you. That’s okay. What matters is that you keep your conversion rate as high as possible, and that you track it. That way, if conversion dips, you’ll know that something is wrong and you need to figure out what happened.

Second, split test everything. This blog post about a/b testing is a great place to start if you’re wondering what to split test. You can’t know what works and what doesn’t work until you try it. Trust me, you will be surprised at what has absolutely no effect, even though it is a big change, and what has a huge effect, even though it is a seemingly meaningless change. Once, I changed the my sign-up box to be thirty pixels wider on a niche site and it increased sign ups by 5%. Five percent is pretty significant. Another time, I made the box red and really stand out from the background when it had previously blended in, and sign ups didn’t change at all.

People are weird and act different across every single website.

Third and lastly, sign up for others’ ebooks and experience the processes. What did you like about it? What did you find annoying? What made you want to unsubscribe right away? Use your experiences to help build out your own download process and autoresponders.

I’ll now turn it over to you to answer these questions: What makes you download some ebooks and not others? Once you download, what makes you love some ebooks and hate others? What about autoresponders: are there some you love and others that make you unsubscribe right away? If so, why? Give us your best ebook tips in a comment below!

Image credit: “TXTR lecteur ebook low cost” by ActualLitte, modified

3 Ways to Create Better Images for Your Blog Posts

A version of this post was originally published on the NMX blog. It is reposted here with permission.

Without a doubt, creating images for blog posts ranks pretty low on my list of favorite tasks. Yet, I’ve found that having compelling images, not just stock photography, is important for getting social shares and keeping my readers interested, especially with longer posts. Pinterest shares (pins) are especially dependent on having a good image. (Check out other Pinterest miskakes here.)

I’m not a very good photographer, though. It certainly isn’t a passion of mine, and I don’t own a DSLR (yet!). However, I’ve still come up with a few ways to add compelling images to my blog posts. Here are my three best methods:

1. The Title Image

One of my favorite types of images to create is what I call the “title image.” I like this type of image for my blog posts because they look professional and are readily shared on Facebook and Pinterest. They’re also easy to make using stock photography. Here’s how to make a title image:

  • STEP ONE: Find some stock photography with licensing that allows you to edit it.

The image should be related to your post, but since you’re going to be adding text, the relationship can be looser than if you were only going to use the image. It’s very important that you look not just for Creative Commons images, but also images where the owner stated that it’s okay to alter, because you will be adding text to it. For this example, I’m going to use a picture my sister took during a visit to Disney World:

disney example pic

It’s great if you can find an image, like this one, that has a big blank spot. If you can’t, however, not to worry! Focus on finding a nice shot that fits your post topic rather than an image that is so-so image with a blank spot. I’ll show you in the next step what to do if there’s not a big blank spot.

  • STEP TWO: In your favorite photo-editing program, add your title.

I’m going to show you using PicMonkey, which is free and easy to use (I’m an affiliate, but would recommend them even if I wasn’t). You don’t even have to download anything; it’s an online editing program and the basic version is free. You could also use Photoshop or whatever other program you have that allows you to add text.

Select a font you like and add the text. It usually works to either center the text, adding breaks so it fits nicely, or to justify the text left or right depending where it is located on the image. Let’s go with centering the text for now:

Disney Example 4

 

This is a nice font for our silly made-up title, but the clouds in the background are a little distracting. So, a bolder font would probably work better. I’m also going to add a shadow in a contrasting white color to make the words really pop:

Disney Example 3

That looks pretty nice, and it only took me a few minutes. You can also play around with using different fonts and sizes to make certain words stand out. Remember to create something that represents your brand and your niche well. Here’s an example of a more playful look:

Disney example 5

This one took a little longer, but gives you a completely different look. There’s no formula for choosing the right font, size, and colors; you just have to play around with it until you get a look that you like.

But let’s say that your image didn’t have a nice open spot like this picture of Cinderella’s Castle. Let’s say instead you have this picture of the Tree of Life:

Disney Example 7

In this case, any place you add the text, the busy background will distract you and make it hard to read. So, I suggestion added a faded block of color behind the text. I usually use either black or white and fade to between 30% and 50% depending on how distracting the background is. Here’s how that looks:

Disney Example 6

This technique works best if your text fits on one line. If you’re using a more advanced program, like Photoshop, you can also use type layers to add a more pronounced drop shadow, highlights, or stroke (outline) to make the words stand out even if the background is busy.

2. The Collage

Another option you have if you want to make a highly-sharable image is to do a collage. I most commonly add the title of my post to these as well, but how you use a college is really up to you. This method is great for list posts or when you’re talking about several tips/products/etc. throughout the course of your post. It allows you to highly several images at once this way.

  • STEP ONE: Find images to illustrate all of your points.

In this case, I’m going to create a collage of my boyfriend wearing silly hats on vacation (this is my life…). As always, remember to use images under the Creative Commons license where the owner allows you to alter if you don’t have your own pictures.

  • STEP TWO: Open PicMonkey in collage mode.

Again, you can definitely use other image editing programs as well, but PicMonkey is hands down my favorite tool in this case because it has a mode specifically for collages.

  • STEP THREE: Choose a layout that will allow you to highlight your text (if you want) and add images.

There’s no one right way to do this. You could, for example, choose to have a large box for the text (to add later) or you could create a college where you’ll later add the text over top of the images, like with the title slide.

Here’s the image without text:

jeffrey silly hats

Here’s a version with the text in a larger box:

silly hats example 1

Here’s a version with the text layered over the images:

silly hats example 2

3. The Quote Image

Lastly, a really easy type of image that is usually shared a lot is what I call the quote image. I’m taking a page from print design for this one! When you’re reading a story, especially in a magazine, there are often pull quotes – quotes from the actual text that have been pulled out and made into larger images because they are interesting or important.

This is so easy I’m not even going to break it down into steps for you. All you do is paste a line from your post into a photo editing program. You can use an image or texture for a background or use a simple colored background that coordinates with your blog’s theme.

Here’s an example of a quote I used for an image in a post featuring Walk Disney, to go with the theme of the other samples I used:

Walt Disney quote

Even better, you can connect an image like that to Click to Tweet and tell your readers via the caption to click on the quote to share it. A good quote is irresistible to share!

So there you have it, my three favorite ways to create images for my blog posts even though I’m not a photographer and don’t know much about editing images. How do you add images to your blog posts? If you have a great method to share or have tried any of the above methods, leave a comment!