Review of Aviary Image Editor

Review of Free Photo and Image Editors

Aviary is a robust, free online digital editor. Solid features, but not so easy for beginners.
Aviary is a robust, free online digital editor. Solid features, but not so easy to use for beginners.

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What is Aviary?

Aviary's mission statement is to "Make the world's creation accessible." Although their mission is a little vague, their free image editing application is surprisingly robust for tools you can access completely for free.

Aviary is a free, online digital editing software application to manipulate photos and images or create your own.

This tool is best suited for people who already have some knowledge of digital image manipulation.

If you are a novice or cannot afford to purchase high-end software - the tools are great and worth mastering but expect a fairly intense learning curve.

Aviary's Main Free Features

Aviary currently offers the following free features and tools (in Beta release):

  • Phoenix: layer-based image editor
  • Peacock: visual laboratory for creating amazing effects and visualizations
  • Toucan: color palette coordinator
  • Raven: vector editor
  • Talon: Firefox extension that allows users to perform screen capturing and other features.
  • Myna: audio editor.

Aviary now offers a Firefox extension called Talon that allows users full and partial screen capturing of web pages, one-click editing and saving of any image on the Internet, quick launch of Aviary tools and library, and will also allow users to add pressure sensitivity access to brushes.

You can select how you want your images licensed (i.e., "All Rights Reserved," or Creative Commons Attribution either commercial or non-commercial, etc.) There are licensing limitations in the free version (see, "Drawbacks, below.)

Added Features and Perks

Aviary's written tutorials can be summed up in one word: Wow! They offer a ton of user-friendly, plain-English tutorials with generous use of graphics to illustrate what they are talking about. If you prefer video tutorials, Aviary offers those, too (see, "Drawbacks, below.") Unfortunately, to access all their tutorials you do need to be a paid subscriber.

You can upgrade to Aviary Pro to access additional features for $24.95 per year (yes, that's per year, not month.)

Aviary Pro (a "Blue" membership) gives you unlimited storage, allows you to create private works (see "Drawbacks," below), remove the Aviary watermark from images, access all tutorials, and allows you to more fully participate in online communities and promotional features.

Ease of Use / Aviary's User Interface

Here is where I deducted star points for Aviary. Their interface is not all the user-friendly and can be time-consuming. Their button tools launch independently rather than being able to access a complete set of tools all at once. Once you are using a tool, you can import into other tools. The end result is just as good as with some other high-end editors - but getting there can take you longer.

The load time of tools (each time you perform a new function) would drive some users with slow connection speeds crazy.

The tools have a lot of features (for example, their effects editor has a lot more filters and effects than any other free digital editor I have seen to date) but how to use these tools is far from intuitive.

If you are already a high-end digital editor by profession, you will not have any trouble using Aviary - but you also probably already have your own software application.

Therefore, I lowered Aviary's ratings based on the idea that most people looking for free applications are probably either just starting out, or looking for faster, easier ways to manipulate and create digital art.


  • Tutorials: Aviary's video tutorials that show how their examples were created are fun and hip - but will not really help a beginner understand what to do. They videos are fast, without explanation, and depending upon your taste in music, either have annoying or catchy background music.

    Another complaint I have is that you have to pay to access all their tutorials even though the main features for the free version and paid version use the same tools.

  • Watermarks: Aviary watermarks your images with their name. To remove the watermark and add your own to your creations you need to have a paid membership.
  • Copyright Issues: You own the full rights to all works you create using Aviary, however, Aviary retains the right to use "any works you make viewable to the public within Aviary and in any external publication provided it's in a way that promotes Aviary." To get around licensing your creations to Aviary, you need to use the "private" feature and have to be a paid subscriber.

  • File Ownership: You can export a flat version of your files (like jpg and gif) to your personal computer. But all unflattened work will remain on Aviary's servers. Aviary is promising a paid subscription service (soon) that will allow users to export unflattened work files, but for now, you are unable to take full possession of works in progress / raw files.

  • Pet Peeve: Although this is not really a tangible drawback I did not like being labeled a "fledgling" when I created an account. Identifying users based on their creation experience with Aviary seems counter-intuitive from a marketing standpoint.

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