Brain Pickings

7 Image Search Tools That Will Change Your Life

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What martinis have to do with reverse art lookup and obscure German calendars from the 1990’s.

Although Google has been playing with some fun image search toys in its lab and the official Google Image Search has recently significantly upped its game, some of its most hyped features — color search, instant scrolling, hover preview — are but mere shadows of sleeker, better versions that geekier, more sophisticated image search tools offer. Here are seven of our favorites.

OSKOPE

oSkope is a visual search assistant that lets you browse images and products from popular sites like Amazon, eBay, YouTube and Flickr in a highly intuitive way. You can skim thumbnails related to your search keywords and save search results from different services to a visual bookmark bar at the bottom of your browser screen.

Thanks, Amrit!

COMPFIGHT

CompFight is a Flickr search tool tremendously useful for all your comp stock image needs but also doubling as a visual inspiration ignition engine. It lets you search based on tag or text, spitting out a pleasant wall of thumbnails. Particularly useful: The CreativeCommons search option, which filters results by image rights license type.

CompFight was featured in the Experimental category of this year’s Communication Arts annual.

FLICKR RELATED TAG BROWSER

You may recall Flickr Related Tag Browser from pickings past — a sleek web app retrieves Flickr images tagged with your search keyword in a neat grid, surrounded by a radial display of related tags. Clicking each related tag produces the same grid of images tagged with it, semantically leading you down the endless image tagging rabbit hole.

FRTB is the work of interactive designer Felix Turner, a Flash whiz who helped build the now-ubiquitous Brightcove video players.

TINEYE

TinEye is reverse image search — feed it any image, either by uploading or by pasting the image URL, and it’ll tell you where it came from. We were able to use it on a scan of an obscure German calendar from our childhood and TinyEye proceeded to promptly produce a

TinEye can be particularly useful for identifying the artist or original source of photographs and artwork that you happen to stumble upon on Tumblr or another all-too-often unreferenced photo bookmarking service.

COOLIRIS

We first featured Cooliris nearly three years ago, when it was still called PicLens. This fantastic free browser plugin offers an image search interface like no other. It works on the expected image search platforms — Google, Flickr, etc. — but we particularly like its use on Facebook, where the native image browsing is lacking at best.

Cooliris is available for Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Internet Explorer. Unfortunately for us, Chrome for Mac — our browsing weapon combo of choice — is not supported yet, but is said to be coming soon.

RETRIEVR

Another blast from pickings past, retrievr is an experimental image search tool that uses color recognition to retrieve Flickr images that reflect the spatial color arrangement of a digital sketch you draw on a canvas.

It’s important to keep in mind that the algorithm doesn’t recognize shapes, but does color and space relationships — so if you doodle the outline of a martini glass in black, you’re more likely to get a lamp post, but if you go with an inverted triangle in blue, you may just get that Cosmo.

MULTICOLR SEARCH LAB

Easily the most useful color-based search tool yet, and also a throwback to our deep archives, Multicolr Search Lab offers a simple yet sophisticated way of finding images based on a color or color combination you’re looking for. Images are pulled from more than 10 million of Flickr’s most interesting photos and you can add up to 10 colors as your search criteria, including multiple swatches of the same color to indicate ratio — say you want an image that’s almost entirely yellow with a bit of blue, you may select yellow four times and blue once.

Developed by Toronto-based Idée Labs, the tool uses their proprietary Piximilar software which we’re utterly surprised Google hasn’t acquired yet.

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