App review: TouchUp for iPad

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Photo editing on the iPad is coming along nicely with hundreds of apps offering ways of doing various things to your precious photos. Some of them are quite basic, others quite advanced. One of the most impressive ones I’ve seen however is TouchUp- which lets you apply certain effects to your photos in a way that puts even Photoshop on a PC to shame.

TouchUp is based around the idea of brushing effects onto an image. You select an effect and then use “draw” and “erase” features to mark where you want the effect applied. This is basically like adding masks in Photoshop, but much more intuitive since you use your finger. It is very fast and very accurate thanks to two simple features: (practically) unlimited zooming and finger sized brushes. The former means that you can zoom in as much as is sensible and then some- in fact you can zoom until the entire 1024 pixel wide iPad screen only displays 5 pixels of the photo width-wise. This means that you can zoom in as far as you need to get the detailed masks you need applied, whereas many photo editors only allow you to zoom in a few hundred percent.

Finger sized brushes makes it even easier to get the detail you want, as it’s simply a feature that always makes the brush the size of your finger. That means that if you want to mask the entire picture you zoom out until the photo is tiny on the screen and then your finger sized brush will be huge. If you need detail, you zoom in until your finger can safely navigate around details and whatnot to give you exactly the mask you wanted. Combined with multitouch zooming this is a system that is extremely hard to beat even with a full sized computer and Photoshop as in that case you constantly run back and fourth between zoom tools and brush sizes, even if you have shortcuts. On top of all that it’s intuitive, which brings advanced photo editing to anyone.

Of course it doesn’t matter if the selection tools are good if the effects are crap. By “effects”, I’, not talking bunny ears and photo frames and whatnot. I’m talking things like blur, greyscale, hue, saturation, brightness etc- in other words things that mess with the colors of the photo, which are some of the most useful tools you have in a photo editor. Because it’s not an “all or nothing” system you can create some pretty nice edits where part of the image is greyscale, blur out the background to create emphasis etc.

On top of effects, you have simple tools like rotate and crop, and that’s pretty much it. That means you won’t be using TouchUp to draw mustaches on people’s faces or angry little Pikachus with AK47s (my signature doodle) on landscape photos when you’re bored. This is more of a semi-professional app, with semi-professional features, and the very advanced masking system is what makes this all so much more than a toy. As for input and output support, you can import any photo from the iPad itself or from Flickr, and export to the photo album, Facebook, Twitter, email and clipboard (Dropbox support please!). The problem is that it will resize photos to 3megapixels, which is going to be a dealbreaker for many. TouchUp has actually given us a very detailed explanation of why this is though, and how they hope to get around it with the iPad 2.

Another thing to note about TouchUp is that the UI itself is very well designed. This is an app that the developer really put a lot of thought of, which was already evident from the unlimited zoom and finger brushes. The startup screen and photo selection UI all looks very good, the kind of app that you’d want to show people to demonstrate the difference between those old boring Windows toolbars and a properly designed tablet UI.

Overall TouchUp is a great app that really brings some advanced photo editing to the iPad. The app itself is $2.99 and while it says that it’s a 70% off introductory price I’m not sure if they forgot to remove that and used to sell it for $0.99 or if it normally costs $9.99. There is also a “plugin” you can buy with an in-app purchase that adds dodge and burn tools to the list of effects for $1.99. Not quite sure how I feel about adding features like that (especially if the app normally costs $9.99) but at least it gives them motivation to create new plugins. Compared to desktop software it’s dirt cheap anyways and this app gives you some very nice photo editing options, so I just hope that the iPad 2 will let them get around the photo size limitations.


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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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