The best Android photo filtering and creative editing apps

Want to go above and beyond simple photo touchup? These apps will put powerful editing tools right on your smartphone or tablet.

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Credit: Florence Ion
Do more than just shoot pictures

We’re awash with great cameras on phones. The Galaxy S7 line, Note7, LG V20, and many others vastly outperform what phones could do even just a couple of generations back.

But more complex and creative editing has usually been relegated to the desktop where you can get your hands on more advanced tools. That’s no longer necessary. Not only are there good editing apps, but there are many that let you get creative and really go for some out-of-the-box designs. 

That’s why I landed on these five options, as they allow you to really turn an image into something more artful. Check them out and see what you think, and be sure to let us know if there’s another gem worth trying.

snapseed
Snapseed

You can't go wrong with all of the possibliities from Google's Snapseed. The free app offers a number of specific controls that you usually have to pay for in more advanced editing applications and easy-to-use options that even amateurs (such as myself) can learn to use. With just a little bit of practice you'll be making granular adjustments to the brightness, contrast, warmth, shadows, and other components of pictures. 

The app makes clever use of the touch interface. You slide up and down to change parameters and then left or right to adjust it. Then a button at the top lets you quickly view the original image for a comparison. Google has kept a fairly strong development pace to it's getting better all the time.

Snapseed

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Snapseed - Make objects disappear

One of the magic tricks you normally perform with a desktop-style editing application is making people or other objects disappear. You can do that right from your smartphone with Snapseed. As you can see from the image, I used such a command to make the bear disappear (this wasn’t available in real-life, though fortunately I was inside a bus when the fuzzy friend appeared).

Try this out in different images to see how well it does, as you might be able to finally re-use some of those pictures with that annoying relative that likes to photobomb every time you take a picture.

Snapseed

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Snapseed - Filters

Filters are a dime a dozen, but you still beat a great black and white image. I find that Snapseed does this exceptionally well, turning this shot looking out from Ghiradelli Square into a more atmospheric image. You have various options from the black and white collection to let you change up the look. Once you do that, you’re able to tweak the brightness further to achieve just the right look. Look for the other filters if there’s a different look that you want to try out.

Snapseed

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Polarr

I first discovered Polarr when I was looking for a desktop alternative to investing time into learning Photoshop. But my laziness is your gain, as Polarr also offers an excellent photo-editing app for Android. This view shown here is where you can play with the radial, gradial, color, and brush mask. These can add in some nice details to this photo of the adorable toddler. The brush mask adds a fresh coat of paint and helps the portrait really pop against the background.

Polarr

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Polarr - Temperature, tint, and more

This is one of the Polarr sample photos, but I opted to use it here because the diversity of colors in the picture illustrate well how you can adjust the temperature, tint, vibrance, and many other different parameters with Polarr. 

You'll notice on the left of the screen a nearly complete circle with a number - that's to let you go back to the three different edits I've made. The scale on the right makes it easy to make very fine adjustments and observe right away how they turn out.

Polarr

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Polarr - Fixing or adding distortion

Polarr goes deep into a number of different areas, including distortion techniques and other more enhanced effects. Some of the options are going to be behind the paywall; for $10 per year you get the full package of features . 

This space scene is ripe for distortion as it's the right canvas to start something that can turn into a good abstract. The annual fee doesn't include the desktop software, but it's a pretty cheap price for a solid set of editing tools.

Polarr

lightroom
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Adobe's Lightroom is the top name when it comes to photo editing. The app has progressively gotten better over time, making it an excellent option for someone who wants to do most or even all of their editing on a mobile device. For phones that even shoot in RAW, you can import images in that format to go deeper with your editing.

For this example, you can get a general sense of the layout and the tools you have to enhance any great picture. You can move the dial to enhance a particular feature of this image, in this case the clarity to help amplify the focus on the Aurora Borealis. You can go really deep with Lightroom, though definitely take some time to get to know it better.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

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Adobe Photoshop Lightroom - Fine tuning

Another element that I really like about Lightroom is that I can pick a black and white filter but easily make a number of other adjustments. It's better than just grabbing a filter and posting it to Instagram. Here you can tweak the temperature, tint, and other effects. You're also able to select the image as it was shot or after some automatic enhancement was performed. 

To get the full impact of Lightroom, you'll need a Creative Cloud subscription after the trial period. So try out the full feature set to see if it's going to be worth it for you.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

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Adobe Photoshop Lightroom - Taking pictures

Another good aspect of Lightroom is that it includes a separate camera app. You have a lot more customization options than what probably comes with your smartphone (perhaps the exception being the current Galaxy lineup, which has rather good camera settings).

You can shoot in Adobe's DNG format or JPG, control the white balance, set a timer, and do a lot of other more advanced options. If you use Lightroom for your editing and have a Creative Cloud subscription, it's an option worth looking at. Be sure to put the Lightroom camera widget on your homescreen so you can jump into it right away.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

pixlr
Pixlr

Pixlr is well suited if you want to take some of your photos and get really creative. Turn buildings pink. Add in splashes of color that don't belong. It's one of the easiest ways to turn your picture into a canvas and get artistic with the filter and touch-up choices.

This photo was made with just a simple filter and then some brushing away of the color to make a contrast between the real and imagined color. 

Pixlr

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Pixlr - Frames

You can't scroll that far through Instagram without seeing a ton of different frames that can really jazz up a photo. I went for a ragged one here that would probably be suitable for some Halloween pictures, but you can take your time and scroll through the choices to find the right one for your photo. 

A frame is a quick and easy way to jazz up a picture, particularly if you want to share it with others.

Pixlr

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Pixlr - Stickers, Icons, and more

Maybe you want to really get crazy and throw some extra effects onto your photo. Pixlr definitely has you covered there, as there are a lot of different stickers, icons, and color schemes you can use to turn your photo into more of a fingerpainting. 

The app may not have as many deep editing tools as others, but it excels in those areas where you may want to turn your picture into something fun. 

Pixlr 

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PicsArt Photo Studio

Sometimes you need some inspiration. PicsArt, which is geared for the types of creative and colorful photos that you may be looking for, has a huge gallery of images you can use for experimenting before you unleash your digital brush on your own pictures. This allows you to try out some different edits and see what's possible with the app before you dive into adding and changing around your own pictures.

PicsArt Photo Studio

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PicsArt Photo Studio - Stickers, Frames, objects

Want to add in some extra goodies to your pictures? Some are all about drawings, stickers, frames, and other objects to make their images more art than photo.

There are plenty of those in PicsArt. This picture gives you a taste of what you can do here by adding in shapes, text, and turning the entire image into a more abstract smear of blurriness.

PicsArt is more of a social app than the other apps included here. The company offers a number of different tutorials to make creative pictures that you might want to share with the community. 

PicsArt Photo Studio

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PicsArt - Selective filter

Filters are nice and all, but sometimes even they need some adjustments. PicsArt does a good job here by letting you erase or otherwise tweak parts of the photo after you've added a filter.

In this case, I've brushed the background so it reveals the natural color while the foreground is still filtered. It's not necessarily an award-winning work of art with this modest amount of work, but it demonstrates the types of things you can do.

PicsArt Photo Studio