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APP REVIEW: PICLAB

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Inspiration hits us at the weirdest times... if you're like me, then you feel it right before you go to sleep. Every night you crawl into bed ecstatic about the brand new life you're going to start when the sun rises, and everyday, you sleep through the alarm and drag your feet 45 min late into work while forcing your co-workers to endure the lingering stench of your Del-Taco breakfast burrito. (Sorry Derric)

That's why people find different ways to inspire themselves throughout the day, such as leaving encouraging post-it notes lying around their cubicle, or creating a phantom Facebook account to keep tabs on all the people they hate. While these methods are fine and dandy, a more popular way to inspire yourself has begun to emerge online. If you've ever spent a sleepless night basking in the warm blue glow of your computer screen, then you've probably found yourself wandering onto a Tumblr chock-full of those corny inspirational internet pictures.

You know the kind I'm talking about. It's usually a picture of a sunset, the ocean, or a historical landmark underneath a body of text written in two or more different fonts. While these may be just a small step above any online image that reads "KEEP CALM, AND (FILL IN THE BLANK)" in terms of originality, one thing for certain is these images have developed a strong presence online, and more recently, on wood prints. That's why this week I've decided to review PicLab, the app for people who LOVE this kind of schlock, but don't have access to a pirated copy of Photoshop.

On the surface, PicLab looks like your typical run of the mill Instagram knock-off, but seems to offer additional features that are unique to this app. How different? Well after spending an entire 5 minutes whipping up a mediocre concept for my inspirational wood print, let's find out.

For this review, I'll be using a picture of myself taken by the incredibly laid back and groovy Jeff Soto when he came in for a signing last year.

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Once your image has been selected, you're whisked away to PicLab's primary user interface. You'll notice default text is placed on top of your image, as well as the icons/buttons for it's 4 tools: Text, Overlays, Photo Filters, and Brightness/Color Correction.

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It should be noted that the base version of PicLab offers about 1/5th of it's features for free, with the option of unlocking the additional Text, Overlay, and Photo Filter features for 99 cents individually, or 1.99 for all three (including the removal of watermarks). After playing with what was available for free, I felt there was enough promise to spend my hard earned $2 on the full app.

As mentioned, the first feature of the group is the Text tool. I naturally assumed that following the app's prompt spelled out in the default text was the same as clicking the Text tool icon itself. Nope. Double clicking the text allows you to change the copy and color/effects of the text. If you want to change your text's font or opacity, then you click the icon. This turned out to be problematic because I kept clicking on one to access the other like some kind of stooge until I finally remembered what did what.

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When adjusting the text, a nifty little grid appears (which I wasn't able to screenshot because I already had too many fingers on the screen to take one) to help keep your image assets aligned/centered. Unfortunately these are more visual guides because your selection doesn't snap to any lines on the grid, so just like me every time I walk into Best Buy and see the cute mexican girl with tattoos working the videogame counter... I had to eyeball it. Adding additional text elements to your image results in an ascending group of numbers on the top left of your screen, allowing you to access each body of text individually.

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Now that I've written my inspiring message "Prints On Wood? Snap a photo!" in two of the trendiest hipster fonts, do you feel inspired now? Yeah, me neither. Lets see if drowning this image in a couple of Overlays will make it feel more uplifting.

At first glance the Pattern overlays seemed coolish. This feature allows you place pre-designed shapes and patterns over your image, but a good majority of them seemed to drown out my picture, so I went with a simple hexagon.

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Much like Instagram (and 99.9% of every other image editing app), PicLab offers the typical 5-6 lighting filters that range from giving your picture a blue tint to blowing it out with a sepia tone. Other than that, there were a few more fairly untraditional filters that looked kind of artsy-fartsy.

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PicLab offers one of a kind image effects such as the JJ Abrams effect, the Girlfriend controlling the Thermostat effect, and my personal favorite... the "Johnny Five, Alive!" effect.

Finally, the Brightness/Color Correction tool was nothing fancy or different, just simple to use and worked as well as it should. So after going through each feature with a fine-tooth comb, how did my final inspirational image turn out?

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Wow, I definitely feel inspired (to shave). Even though no one asked for it, lets see how these handsome (hairy) devils look printed on wood...

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Nice! Even though every Prints On Wood print is hand sanded to be smooth to the touch, this picture turned out to be just like my beard.... thick and rugged! On second though, I'll keep it. (Hides my double chin.)

So what kind of score did PicLab inspire?

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One thing I found incredibly frustrating with PicLab was the lack of an Undo button. If you boffed-up and accidentally deleted text or moved something unknowningly, too bad, you have to start all over. Also the separation of text effects between the actual tool and double-tapping the copy written felt completely unnecessary. I know that they we're trying to follow the over simplified theme of most apps these days, but it made that particular feature feel like more of a nuisance than streamlined.

I was going to give it a solid 2, but the unique collection of beautiful fonts and uncommon overlays/filters made me feel a little guilty. At it's core, PicLab is a very decent/good app, but the theme itself seems to be a little pigeonholed. Inspirational images are fine for Tumblr, Instagram, or Facebook (if you're desperately fishing for likes), but an app solely dedicated to creating them feels a bit superfluous. Especially since you can achieve the same imagery with different (free) apps, which offer more than just creating these types of images.

Bottom line, if you want to find the shortest distance possible between you and an inspirational image, PicLab is the app for you. If you're interested in doing something a little more creative with your iPhone, keep your $2 and download PicsArt instead.

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