Cloudinary Review – Image Management and Manipulation in the Cloud

Today we review a plugin that acts as an interface to an online service. We're seeing many plugins of this type in the repository. Cloudinary is the image management service/plugin combo we're going to take a deeper look at in this post.
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Today we review a plugin that acts as an interface to an online service. We’re seeing many plugins of this type in the repository.

Cloudinary is the image management service/plugin combo we’re going to take a deeper look at in this post.

What is Cloudinary?

Cloudinary is an end-to-end image management solution for your website and mobile apps. Cloudinary covers everything from image uploads, storage, manipulations, optimizations to delivery.

You can easily upload images to the cloud, automatically perform smart image manipulations without installing any complex software. All your images are then seamlessly delivered through a fast CDN, optimized and using industry best practices.

Cloudinary offers comprehensive APIs and administration capabilities and is easy to integrate with new and existing web and mobile applications.

Features

Cloudinary is a really extensive service, it’s hard to describe all the things it can do, so I’m just going to go ahead and give you the specs of this plugin from it’s repository page:

Overview

  • Vast array of image manipulation capabilities.
  • Virtually limitless scale.
  • Lightning-fast image delivery.
  • Highly improved user experience & website performance.
  • Useful from small websites and blogs to large enterprise solutions.
  • Simple to integrate.

Image Uploads

  • Upload any image type: JPG, PNG, GIF, animated GIF, BMP, ICO, TIFF, PSD, WebP and even PDFs.
  • Upload directly from your desktop.
  • Upload a single image or multiple images with ease.
  • Remote fetching from public URLs

Image Manipulations

You can apply one or more transformations and manipulations on every image:

  • Image formats – easily convert image formats and modify image quality.
  • Apply effects & filters – sharpen, sepia, saturation, grayscale, black & white, hue, brightness, oil paint, pixelate, vignette, add borders.
  • Overlays & Text – add watermarks, add image overlay and underlay, add text to the image.
  • Face detection – face detection based cropping, thumbnail, multiple faces detection, pixelate faces.
  • Rotates & flips – Image rotation (90 degrees), arbitrary rotation, exif-based automatic rotation, vertical & horizontal flips,
  • Shape alteration – add rounded corners, crop to ellipses and circles.
  • Resize & crop – scale, fill, fit, pad, crop, limit, custom coordinates.
  • PDF Processing – extract pages, convert to images.

Image Storage

  • All your images are stored in a cloud-based persistent storage.
  • Scales to Terabytes and more.
  • Highly available redundant storage.
  • All your photos are automatically backed-up, including revision tracking.

Image Delivery

  • All your images are automatically delivered via a lightning-fast world-wide Content Delivery Network (CDN).
  • Images are smartly cached for performance optimization, using every best practice in the book.
  • Multiple CDN sub-domains (Domain Sharding).

Image Optimization

  • Your images are automatically optimized. Their file size is reduced and they are delivered faster to your visitors.
  • Stripping meta data.
  • Converting formats.
  • Optimizing compression.

Insights and Reports

  • Cloudinary offers a powerful online management console.
  • Browse all your images and transformations.
  • View comprehensive statistics and usage reports.
  • You can even automate your content management using a RESTful API.

Usage

To start uploading photos to Cloudinary you’ll need to sign up for your own private Cloudinary account.

Cloudinary   Sign up

The free plan gives you 500MB storage, 50,000 images and 1GB monthly bandwidth. These figures are great for small to medium sized blogs, depending of course on your use of images. Image intensive sites will need to sign up for the premium plans soon enough.

Once you sign up you will get a license key which you need to paste back into the Cloudinary settings screen in your WordPress installation.

Cloudinary settings

With that settled, you are ready to go. Cloudinary adds a new menu item to your dashboard, and on accessing that page you will see the interface shown below.

cloudinary interface

Basically here you can upload the files (it works similar to the WP image uploader) or search images which you uploaded earlier.

Click on any of the images and you’ll be taken to the image editor.

Cloudinary editing an iamge

If you’ve been reading my plugin reviews, you know that I’m a stickler for plugins abiding by the WordPress UI standards. As you might have noticed, Cloudinary has a custom interface, which I would normally frown upon. However, this plugin is a good example for showing when it is a good idea to go for a totally custom interface. It makes sense in this case because it is quite a complex plugin, and thus needs to break out of the limiting constraints of the WordPress standard UI.

In doing so, however, the Cloudinary guys have kept in line with the spirit of the WordPress UI, giving us a clean, non-obstrusive interface that just lets us get on with the job of editing and publishing our images. So kudos to them for a good interface! One final thing about UI. Cloudinary can be quite a complex plugin if you make use of its more advanced features. This has been taken care with help sprinkled throughout the interface. Next to each option you will see a question mark icon. Click it and you’ll get a popup giving you a quick brief about that piece of functionality. Very nicely done.

pop up help

From the features listed above, I think you get the idea about what a feature-rich plugin/service Cloudinary is, but I’d like to reiterate what an immense feature set you are getting when installing this plugin. Check out the screenshot below showing the full option set in expanded view.

more options

You’ll find really interesting and useful features such as the face crop, one of my favourites. This is very useful for creating thumbnails. With it you can upload an image of a person or a group of people, then crop to a smaller size and instruct Cloudinary to crop around the faces, as in the example below:

face crop cloudinary

If this isn’t enough you can take a look at the API in the documentation section, lots of things you can do simply by changing the format of the requesting URL. Amazing stuff!

Here’s a little video I recorded for you, showing how easy it is to manipulate images with Cloudinary:

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVwPSoTe0Uo[/youtube]

Documentation & Support

Cloudinary’s documentation is both comprehensive and easy to understand. There is a lot of material covered, including specific integration instructions for Ruby on Rails, Django, PHP and other languages.

Pricing

Pricing for Cloudinary begins with the free plan and goes all the way up to Enterprise / Custom plans. The free plan will be outgrown by most blogs having a decent amount of traffic, but the Basic plan at $39/Month is quite generous. For the higher priced plans, needing that amount of storage means that you are probably making decent returns from your blog and can thus justify the cost of the Cloudinary plan.

Cloudinary   Pricing

Considering the usefulness of Cloudinary’s service, I think the pricing is very intelligently structured, and also fair on its users.

Want to promote Cloudinary to your peers? You have an extra incentive for doing so, as you can benefit from upgrades to your account when doing so.

Cloudinary Management Console   Dashboard

For example, if you share Cloudinary on Facebook, you’ll immediately get +250MB extra storage, plus 500MB extra bandwidth. I’m sure many users will take advantage of this offer.

Why use Cloudinary?

This kind of service might be somewhat of a novelty to WordPress users, we’re used to upload images via the WordPress uploader and not think twice about that, right?

So what are the real benefits of Cloudinary for WordPress users?

First up, storage. I invite you to use your FTP client and check your uploads folder. See how many version of an image WordPress creates upon upload. And see how many MBs images are occupying on your server. On a decent sized blog or website, there will be a lot of images, each having different size variations, and they will consume a lot of server space. Therefore, using Cloudinary will free up all that space on your server.

Secondly, processing speed. Whenever you are uploading an image and applying transformations (such as resizing), you are using the server’s processor to perform those tasks. When using Cloudinary, you free your server from such operations, leaving it to do what should be its main focus, ie serving web pages as fast as possible to your site visitors.

What about the wealth of transformations that Cloudinary offers? With the native WordPress image uploader, you can only scale images. However, with Cloudinary there are loads of effects you can apply (Sepia, B/W, Brightness etc.) plus you can of course resize, rotate and do a whole bunch of stuff. And remember, all this is processed on Cloudinary’s server. You can thus change your website design and have all your image sizes changed without having to regenerate them on your WordPress site.

Serving images from Cloudinary’s CDN will also probably speed up your website, and free it from the bandwidth-munching image resources. This is a very important consideration especially for those of you who are on limited shared servers.

This is an excellent plugin that should be on the priority list for most people starting new WordPress blogs.

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5 Responses

  1. Hi Jean. Thank you so much for spreading the word about Cloudinary! I wanted to let your readers know that for our WordPress users, Cloudinary’s premium plans start at just $10/month. If you need extra quota, just click on your Cloudinary’s add-on “upgrade” link to register to our $10/month plan. Itai (Cloudinary)

  2. I was wondering if Cloudinary can be used in conjunction with Amazon Cloudfront. Also, is there a way to configure it to upload to the cloudinary server if the images are uploaded via the front end with tools such as Gravity Forms or Cred from wp-types?

  3. Hi Jean

    I tried Cloudinary out a few weeks ago but it caused a major spike in CPU usage on my shared hosting account and got my account restricted for a time.

    It was a real pain to transfer all of my images back from Cloudinary because the process kept giving me error messages.

    I suspect it was a plugin conflict but I’m not going to try it out again any time soon because of it. I don’t think my hosting company would be too pleased in any case!

  4. Nice review but you forgot to mention that this service ils far from mature and lacks major ans basic features as file management. Nothing happened since this review. Paid promotion is good but at least give it some in depth experiment.

  5. Cannot access Cloudinary (error couldn’t connect to host) – Verify your CLOUDINARY_URL???

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