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How to Install and Use Plugins in Pixelmator

Pixelmator Tutorial for Adding Plugins

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A Core Image plugin in Pixelmator

This more advanced Channel Mixer is actually a Core Image unit plugin that has been opened in Pixelmator.

This is a simple Pixelmator tutorial that will show you how to install and use plugins in Pixelmator. Pixelmator is a powerful and increasingly popular photo editor for use on Apple Mac OS X. It lacks the outright power of Adobe Photoshop, the industry standard photo editing tool, but has many similarities and is available for a fraction of the price.

It also can't match the power and feature set of GIMP, the popular and established open source photo editor that can be downloaded for free by anybody. While Pixelmator can't exercise a price advantage over GIMP, in the same way that it does with Photoshop, it does have a real edge in offering a much more stylish and user friendly interface. While it may not seem like an important point, it can significantly help work flow move along more smoothly.

It can feel like a bit of a compromise when you choose which photo editor you use, but this can be offset a little through the use of plugins. Most Photoshop and GIMP users will be well aware that they can extend these apps by downloading and installing plugins, many of which are offered for free.

However Pixelmator users may be less aware that they too can can take advantage of plugins to add new functionality to the popular photo editor.

In reality, this is perhaps because they aren't exclusively Pixelmator plugins, but plugins that are installed at a system level to extend the graphics capabilities of Mac OS X itself. Additionally, there isn't a great range available and it can take quite some searching to find any of these plugins.

Pixelmator is compatible with two types of plugins, which are Core Image units and Quartz Composer compositions.

Installing Core Image Units

You can find a few useful Core Image units available for free download on the Belight Community website. I've downloaded and installed the BC_BlackAndWhite plugin which brings a more powerful Channel Mixer to Pixelmator. In particular, it allows you to convert color digital photos to black and white on a per color channel basis which opens up the possibility of much more creative mono conversions. You can also apply a color tint to your image, in a similar way to applying color filters in Photoshop.

After downloading a suitable Core Image unit, if necessary, unzip it before continuing. You now need to install it into the necessary folder. Open a Finder window and navigate to the root of your Mac. Note that this isn't your Home folder, it should be the hard drive first listed under Devices at the top of the side bar. You then need to open the Library folder, followed by Graphics and finally Image Units and you need to place your Core Image unit into that folder.

To use the newly installed plugin, if Pixelmator is already running, you will need to close it first before relaunching it. You will find the plugins that you have installed in the Filter menu of Pixelmator, though you may need to check through the sub menus to find your new filter. If you installed the BC_BlackAndWhite plugin, as I did, the new filter can be found under the Color sub menu.

Installing Quartz Composer Compositions

Quartz Composer compositions are another type of plugin that Pixelmator recognizes and you can find a larger selection of these on the Belight Community website. However, one complication of using these compositions is the fact that Pixelmator is only compatible with compositions created by Quartz Composer 3.

If you're not able to establish which version of Quartz Composer was used to create a plugin, the only choice you have is to try installing it and see if it is recognized by Pixelmator.

As with Core Image units, you need to open a Finder window and navigate to the root of your Mac. There again you need to open Library > Graphics, but then open the Quartz Composer Plug-Ins folder and place your downloaded plugins in there.

If Pixelmator is running, close the app before reopening it. If the plugin is compatible with Pixelmator, you will find it listed by going to Filter > Quartz Composer and looking for it there. Note that it may appear inside one of the existing sub menus.

The option for installing plugins into Pixelmator offers a great deal of promise, though the selection is a little limited at the time of writing. However, hopefully as Pixelmator develops into a more powerful photo editor, a larger user base will stimulate greater production of more exciting Core Image units and Quartz Composer compositions.

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