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Review of Pixia Photo Editor

A Look at the Free Photo Editor Pixia

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User Rating 4 Star Rating (1 Review)

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Pixia user interface

Pixia is a varied package as a tool for image enhancement and illustration. View Larger

Text and images © Ian Pullen

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Pixia is a free pixel-based image editor that started life as a creative tool for anime and manga artists, but has developed some way beyond that now to include features for image enhancement. Pixia is developed in Japan and this is an English translation of the original application.

I found Pixia to have a charm, but taken as whole, it is a flawed package which is weakened by incomplete help files and an apparent lack of an online community. I'm sure it's worthy of a cult following, especially for photographers who rarely apply localized corrections or illustrators who prefer to draw with pixel tools.

The User Interface

Pros

  • Clear and bold style
  • Main palettes stack in a single strip

Cons

  • Overall layout lacking coherency
  • No keyboard shortcuts for main tools

Pixia takes a bold approach to its user interface with buttons that are large and clear. Some may feel it lacks a little sophistication, but I don't see a problem with this at all. Unfortunately, the layout of the interface isn't so good, and the overall lack of coherency in the way the interface is laid out means that the user experience isn't as intuitive as it could be. I think that was one of the reasons why it took me some time to realize that the main tools don't have keyboard shortcuts, which is usually one of the first things I notice when using software for the first time.

Another aspect of the user experience that I think could affect work flow is the way the Zooming command is set to operate on a range of fixed increments, without the option to fit the image to the size of the window. This means that when working on an image, it isn't unusual to either be zoomed out further than necessary, so that there is wasted empty screen estate around the image, or zoomed in further meaning that some parts of the image aren't visible.

The way that the main palettes are all stacked up in a single strip which can be arranged to either side of the screen is quite effective at bringing most of the features within easy reach while working in Pixia. Less effective is the the fact that layers within the Layers palette are stacked in reverse order with the background layer at the top. Once you know this, you can quickly adapt, however, I wasted a stupid amount of time trying to establish why a duplicated layer that I'd painted on was not visible. Even now I cannot start to fathom why the Layers palette has been set up this way.

Enhancing Images

Pros

  • Good set of image adjustment tools
  • Layer masks for non-destructive editing

Cons

  • Maximum brush size of 100 pixels
  • No gradient tool to help produce smoothly blended masks

In view of the fact that Pixia was born as a tool for anime artists, its offering of tools for image adjustment is very impressive. Unfortunately, shortcomings in some other utilities ultimately undermine the effectiveness of Pixia for enhancement tasks, as it becomes awkward to make some localized corrections by using Layer Masks to target specific areas of an image.

The two main problems I found here were that the maximum size that a brush can be is 100px by 100px, and the lack of a gradient tool reduces the ability to make smooth transitions from one shade to another. If you don't often apply localized corrections to your images, then this shouldn't be an issue. After all, it's worth noting that the first version of Photoshop Lightroom didn't allow localized corrections and that still fitted into many photographers' work flows.

Looking beyond localized corrections, the features in the Image menu offer users reasonably powerful tools for enhancing images. Some of the names may not be familiar, but the tools themselves will be to more experienced users, with the Color Adjustment tool basically being a curves tool and Tone Balance largely equating to a levels tool. I also found that the Automatic Adjustment command was reasonably effective, even on the example image which was taken directly into the sun.

I've previously mentioned that the Layers palette is very confusing; the Masks feature is equally so. I've spent some time trying various things with the Mask layers and searching online for information about them, but I've completely failed to work out what they are meant to do or how to use them. There is another feature referred to as a Transparency Plane that does operate exactly as I'd expect a Layer Mask to, but I can only assume that I'm missing something.

Creating Artistic Images

Pros

  • Reasonable range of filters
  • Simple to use effects brushes

Cons

  • Few brush shape options
  • No plug-ins system

Beyond image adjustments, there are plenty of users who use pixel-based image editors like Pixia to produce more creative and artistic images. Pixia has enough features to be practical for this, though it isn't as well-equipped as some other free pixel-based image editors.

The Layers palette allows users to apply different blending modes and change the opacity of layers which opens up possibilities for combining layers in creative ways. There is also a reasonable selection of Filters offered by default. This can be extended a little further by downloading a set of five extra Filters that are offered on the Piaxa download page.

Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a structured system for plug-ins, though the Pixia download page does offer a plug-in that is intended to allow users to use their Photoshop filters with Pixia. I did try this out with a couple of filters without any success, but this may be because I copied them from a Mac and Pixia is a Windows application.

Something else that a plug-ins system could help with would be to increase the options for brushes. While Pixia has a very straightforward system for specifying new brush sizes, the shapes available are quite limited and, as mentioned, the maximum dimensions of a brush are constrained to 100 pixels, which seriously compromises the brushes' usability.

There are a good range of Effects Brushes which allow you to easily apply effects such as blurring and smudging to specific areas using a painting action.

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