1. Technology

Introduction to Pixelmator

The Pixel Based Image Editor for Mac OS X


Pixelmator user interface

Pixelmator offers users a stylish and effective user interface.

© Pixelmator (interface)/Ian Pullen (image)

Pixelmator is a powerful image editor developed and produced solely for Apple Mac computers running the OS X operating system. The core team behind Pixelmator is formed of the two Dailide brothers and in that respect mirrors Adobe Photoshop, which was also born out of a collaboration between two brothers.

That is not the only similarity between the two image editors and Photoshop users will quickly feel comfortable using the tools and features that are available. They will likely also miss some aspects of the Adobe application as at the time of writing, version 1.6.5 of Pixelmator does not offer the same breadth of features. However the current App Store price does make it appear very good value, being less than 5% of the list price of Photoshop. In fact it's only a little more than half the price of a single month's rental of Photoshop under the subscription-based purchase model.

Pixelmator may not be the best option for every user, but it's powerful feature set will certainly keep many image editor users perfectly happy. The lack of CMYK support may put off some print designers, but with so much design now produced for digital devices, there will be plenty of users who won't miss this feature. It also shouldn't be a worry for most photographers, who will supply photos for print in RGB also.

If you read on, the overview of Pixelmator and it's features and tools should help you to decide if it is a suitable image editor for your requirements.

Highlights of Pixelmator

Pixelmator is a very good-looking native OS X application with many powerful features and tools.

  • Clear and stylish user interface
  • Supports layers and layer groups
  • Good range of layer blending modes
  • Wide selection of filters to apply creative effects to images
  • Save files as .PSD files for sharing with Photoshop users
  • Quick Mask mode similar to Photoshop
  • Low cost to purchase

Why Use Pixelmator?

Pixelmator is a native OS X application that is only produced to run on Apple computers. This may seem a minor point, but in practice it does make for a very cohesive user experience. If you've ever used GIMP on an Apple Mac, you'll appreciate how its requirement for the X11 Windowing System can make it feel a little disjointed.

It would make a fine image editor for beginner and intermediate image editor users, both those looking for an efficient tool for improving their digital photos and those looking for a more creative tool to produce artistic images.

The Layers palette, with its broad selection of Blending Modes will allow users to combine layers in many ways to create sophisticated artistic images. The features shouldn't be overlooked by photographers either as they offer great power in producing stunningly enhanced photos. The Layer Groups feature may seem trivial to many users, but anyone who produces advanced creative images will really appreciate the way that Layer Groups can make it much easier to manage large numbers of layers and work with complex files.

Pixelmator also includes the main image adjustment tools that you'd expect to find, as well as a good selection of filters to apply striking visual effects to your photos. When you've finished working on a photo, you have the option to save to some of the most common image formats, as well as export for web.

This introduction to Pixelmator concentrates upon version 1.6.5 and if you purchase this version from the App Store, you will receive a free upgrade to version 2 when that is launched, which makes this an even better buy.

Limitations of Pixelmator

For me, the biggest limitation of Pixelmator is the lack of Adjustment Layers like those in Photoshop. For me this is a deal breaker as the ability to combine multiple adjustment layers in a non-destructive way makes for a very flexible workflow. However, if this isn't a feature that you require, then there isn't too much missing from Pixelmator.

As mentioned earlier, there is no support for CMYK, but this will only impact upon professional print designers and won't be an issue for web designers or most photographers. Photographers may, however, miss Dodge and Burn tools, though these are due in version 2 of Pixelmator. There are other ways to achieve similar results anyway and I personally prefer to use these techniques as they often offer a little more flexibility.

One small niggle that I suspect would increasingly irritate me if I used Pixelmator for a period of time is the lack of an option to toggle on or off a live preview of a filter or adjustment. For example, when making a Curves adjustment, I can't see a way to quickly see the image without the adjustment, so that I can gauge how dramatically I have changed the appearance of the image.

Help and Support

Within Pixelmator's user interface, there is a Help menu that offers quick access to a wide range of support resources. This includes the built in help files that will cover many important aspects of using the image editor. There are also menu items to link to the online manual and also the Learn website that includes a selection of text and video tutorials, including some supplied by third parties. Finally the link to Get Support takes you to the active forums where you can search to see if your question has been asked before or start a new thread.

You can purchase and download a copy of Pixelmator from the App Store or the Pixelmator site.

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