If you need to annotate images with arrows, text, callouts and other objects, here are two free vector graphics editors that can do the job. They run in a browser on any computer and OS.
Although you can use these online graphics tools on an Apple Mac, the Preview app built into macOS does a great job of annotating images with text and objects. In fact, what inspired me to seek out these vector graphics editor was the lack of a simple Preview-like app for Windows PC.
I often need to mark up images with arrows, text and boxes. I highlight things in images like screenshots and web pages. I add arrows pointing to certain features and sometimes add text to images too.
Preview on the Mac is brilliant at this task, but I am not aware of anything like it for Windows PC. I have often stopped what I was doing on the PC, booted up my Mac, annotated the image in Preview, switched off and went back to my PC to continue. That is crazy and not everyone has the luxury of both a PC and a Mac.
I could not find any suitable software for PC that provided Preview’s annotation capabilities. It was either over complicated, too expensive, or too limited. Where is Preview for PC? However, I did find a couple of free and useful online annotation tools that run in a web browser: Vectr and Markup Hero.
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Vectr vector graphics editor
Vectr is a free and useful online graphics editor that runs in a web browser. You can create an account at the website if you want to, but it is not compulsory.
Click the USE ONLINE button on the home page to open the editor without creating an account or logging in. Then load the image you want to annotate from the computer’s drive.
At the left side of the window is a column of icons: Pages, layers, elements, shapes, pen, pencil , text and a couple of others. The most useful for annotating images are text, elements and shapes.
Click the Shapes icon and a larger panel opens containing 80+ shapes and icons. There are plain shapes like rectangles and circles, and icons like clocks, calendars, music, speech bubbles and more. It is quite a good collection.
Click the Elements icon and a panel containing more complex shapes appears, like arrows, badges, doodles, festival, pop art, ribbons, nature, and more.
Click a shape or element, click in the canvas area and the item appears. It can be resized by dragging the handles on the sides and corners, and the whole object dragged to position it.
Position the mouse near the object and maybe, if you are lucky, and I often wasn’t, the mouse pointer will turn into a rotate tool. You can click and drag to rotate the item to any angle. I found it far too hard to access the rotate tool and it drove me nuts trying to use it.
Text can be added to the image and it is easy to position and size it. There is a limited number of fonts, but there is a lot of variety in the collection.
At the right-hand side of the canvas is another panel and this is for setting the properties of the object. For example, the color, border, shadow, opacity and so on. The properties vary a little with the type of object, like text or a shape.
Your finished artwork can be saved to the computer in several different file formats, including SVG, PNG, JPG and Vectr’s own format.
I like Vectr, apart from the difficulty I had rotating objects, and it has a good range of features for a free online vector graphics editor running in a browser. It is worth checking out for annotating images or creating general vector artwork.
Markup Hero annotation tool
Markup Hero is another web-based graphics editor that works in a web browser and this means that it can be used on a Windows PC, Apple Mac, Linux or Chromebook.
It can be used for free without creating an account, or for free by signing up for a free account. The advantage of signing up is that you can annotate 10 images a month instead of 5. For $4 a month the limit is removed and you can annotate all the images you want.
To annotate an image without an account, click the Markups button in the top left corner of the home page. Then click the Upload Image(s) button and select a file from the computer’s disk.
A toolbar at the top provides access to all the tools and the first button enables you to select text, arrow, callout arrow, line, pen, highlighter, rectangle, and oval. Using these tools is very easy and intuitive. Just click and drag on the image.
Adjusting the objects, like arrows, callout arrows, lines and so on, could not be easier. Click an object to select it, then click and drag the handles to make it bigger or smaller, or change where it is pointing to in the case of an arrow. Six thicknesses of line are available from the toolbar, and 11 colors are offered.
There aren’t many features to this online tool and this is strictly a markup or annotation utility. It does that quite well though. It is not a full vector graphics editor.
It’simplicity and basic features is OK for what I want, but no doubt some people might wish for more features.
The image can be copied to the clipboard and from there it can be pasted into any app that accepts images. Windows Paint, even. Alternatively, the image can be downloaded and saved to the computer as a PNG file.
I like Markup Hero and it is a simple annotation tool that is easy to use and does just enough to make it useful. As an extra bonus, images can be made public on the web if you wish. This can be useful if you want other people, such as work colleagues, to see the image.
Vectr is a more general purpose vector graphics editor than Markup Hero and it is useful for more tasks. However, I like Markup Hero’s simplicity and ease of use. You can try both for free of course, so bookmark them and use whichever is appropriate to the task you want to do.