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Here's how the best AI art generators compare

We already know that AI art generators are not created equal. Some free AI art generators produce surreal-looking blurry results that look like accidental shots from an early camera phone (which isn't to say they don't have their uses, as we'll see later). Meanwhile, more powerful tools can create convincing photorealistic images and recreate specific artistic styles. So which AI art generator is best for different purposes?

A creative who uses the tools has made a direct comparison of three of the best AI art generators available, and the results are fascinating. The experiment shows very different results from each, offering an insight into how each one interprets prompts. If we didn't know better, we'd almost think each AI art generator has its own personality and style like a human artist. 

What's clear is that each tool has its strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes even a recognisable look, based on its algorithms and the database of images it's been fed, and this is something that artists may be able to take advantage of (see our guide to how to use DALL-E 2 if you want some tips).

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Berlin-based Fabian Stelzer (opens in new tab), who describes himself on Twitter as a 'prompt intern' working on three AI-based projects, carried out the image comparison experiment using the text-to-image AI art generators Midjourney, DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion. He entered the same prompts on each tool and used a 1:1 aspect ratio for the resulting images. 

With prompts ranging from "low poly game asset, Cthulhu monster, 2000 video game, isometric view" to "1990s clip art of a laughing crazy fax machine, windows 3.1, MS-DOS, early computer clip art", the results that Stelzer shared in his Twitter thread allow us to compare how the tools handle different types of requests.

Midjourney's creations often feel very dark – almost apocalyptic. After all, this is the tool that was used to create the "last selfie on Earth" images that were going around recently (see our roundup of the weirdest AI art). We think this AI art generator definitely needs counselling, but it also seems to often produce the most natural results when it comes to artistic styles, particularly with textural details. Any artefacts appear natural, whereas in DALL-E 2 artefacts often look like obviously digital glitches.

DALL-E 2 has a tendency to throw in random invented words, but it seems to be the best tool for creating photorealistic images and for handling facial expressions. Meanwhile, Stable Diffusion seems to often produce the cleanest results – Stelzer notes that it can create incredible photos too but that you need to be careful not to "overload" the scene. It's also good at recreating the artistic styles of specific artists.

Stelzer says he sees these and other AI art generators much like musical instruments, each with its own range and timbre. Midjourney is like an analogue Moog – beautiful but with a limited range while DALL–E 2 has a huge range but a more obviously digital result "These image synths are like instruments - it's amazing. We'll get so many of them, each with a unique 'sound'," Stelzer says, adding: "You want to play'n'prompt DALL-E / Midjourney / StableDiffusion individually to their own strengths."

The three tools have other differences too, beyond the initial results of how they handle prompts. DALL-E 2 offers a powerful inpainting feature that allows you to edit part of an image, while Midjourney has a big, active community of users for support and inspiration.

Stelzer believes that AI art generators will revolutionise creative work in ways we haven’t seen since the advent of photography – "what photography was to painting, image synths are to photographs," he says, and predicts that soon anyone will be able to create film-like content by typing it out. He's using AI to create community-narrated '70s sci-fi film SALT (opens in new tab) and the experimental Twitter game @battleprompts (opens in new tab), in which players summon monsters through prompts – it's a fascinating glimpse at the creative possibilities that could emerge through AI-generated art and AI-generated video too.

How do free AI art generators compare?

Of course DALL-E 2, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion aren't the only AI art generators. There are many more, including some that are more less sophisticated but much easier to access – tools like Crayion (formerly known as DALL-E mini, although it has nothing to do with OpenAi's tool). So how do they compare? In the video below, we can see that DALL-E 2 gets by far the most realistic results, but Crayion also has its strengths.

In his comparison above, the YouTuber Philip Dyer (2kliksphilip (opens in new tab)) compares the prompted output of three popular AI image generators: Dall-E Mini, Midjourney, and Dall-E 2. Dyer's looking for photorealism rather than artistic styles. He concludes that DALL-E 2 is the best for this, and DALL-E Mini, well, isn't. 

DALL-E 2 produces results that you might just think are real, Midjourney sits in the middle, producing more realistic results after some refining, while DALL-E Mini isn't going to fool anyone that its outputs are real. However, there's more to it than that (UPDATE: Midjourney as the tools used to create the controversial AI artwork that won an art competition in Colorado. 

Dyer also notes that each tool requires some learning to get the best from it, and they may require different approaches to the phrasing of prompts to generate the best AI images they can produce. He found that by playing with different prompts he was able to get images from Crayion that, while not realistic, were very creative and more diverse than those produced in the other tools, suggesting that it could be an interesting springboard for ideas.

We can certainly see a lot of uses for DALL-E 2 for professionals – you could use the images to paint over or in a new form of photobashing workflow, but we're not writing off tools like Crayion (opens in new tab) and Artbreeder-collages. For one, they're (at least for now) free and accessible for anyone, but secondly, realism isn't necessarily what everyone's looking for in AI art generation. Weird, surreal abstract images could be just the thing we sometimes need for creative inspiration.

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Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.