Pixelmator 2.0

It’s been a very long time coming, but Pixelmator 2.0 is out today in the App Store (at an introductory price of $29). Pixelmator is an indie developed Photoshop alternative (I’ve been tracking Photoshop alternatives for years, and reviewing them for almost as long).

Pixelmator’s obvious competition is Acorn (which it appears to handily outsell). When Acorn 3 came out, I said nice things about its features but pointed out that Pixelmator 2 would probably match them and was due out soon. Well, it turned out to be over six months.

I haven’t had much time to play with Pixelmator, but I took a quick look at my personal gripes with the program and found some major improvements:

  • There’s a new healing brush. It’s OK I guess, but more comparable to iPhoto’s brush (which is great on, say, pimples) than the smart delete functionality in Photoshop.
  • Filters seem to be much faster, even on high resolution images. I don’t think they’ve added a progress bar for slow filters but I wasn’t able to do anything that took more than a second to complete. (This was performing actions on 12MP and 16MP images from my DSLRs.)
  • Text layers are now usable. Not as good as Acorn’s text layers (which have half-assed kerning, for example), and nowhere near Photoshop, but a big improvement. Photoline has functionality, but lacks Cocoa goodness.
  • Shape layers with booleans are in, although I found the interface to be both fiddly and unintuitive.
  • No layer styles that I could find.

So I’ve updated my Big Table of Photoshop Wannabeness (changes are in green, bold text indicates a notable advantage over rivals, while red text represents a notable disadvantage).


I’m underwhelmed by Pixelmator 2.0′s new features, but it seems significantly faster. If you’re happy with Pixelmator’s feature set, this is an impressive upgrade. If you’re waiting for some new key feature to trickle down from Photoshop, keep waiting.

Category Pixelmator 2.0 Acorn 3.1 Photoline 16.5
Simple Painting Tools Solid painting tools including a new healing brush. Strong support for brushes, cloning tools, dodge and burn. You name it, it’s there
Text Text boxes with simple but serviceable formatting. Decent typographic controls, elegant minimal interface, cocoa text, and full reusable layer styles. Fully styled and formatted text with both character and paragraph stylesheets and layer effects like emboss and drop shadow
Layer Support Decent vector layers, standard blending options, layer groups, text layers. Strong vector layers (with some obvious missing stuff that should get fixed quickly), comprehensive non-destructive layer style support, Layers can be grouped hierarchically Blend Mode, Opacity, Layer Effects, Filter Layers, Vector Layers, Text Layers, Layers can be different modes (e.g. you can have 16-bit color, 8-bit color, Layer Masks, and monochome layers in a single document), Layer Styles, Layers can be grouped hierarchically (these are not new but deserves mention)
Filters Excellent Core Image support (including custom Quartz Composer filters). Significantly improved filter performance when dealing with large images.
Excellent Core Image support (including custom Quartz Composer filters) and some additional useful filters, such as Clouds. Many useful filters are available as non-destructive layer styles. Comprehensive set of filters (including some marked improvements over Photoshop) but no Core Image support. Stuff that Core Image doesn’t give you like comprehensive noise reduction tools, and fractal clouds. Oh and you can create and reuse named presets for almost everything.
Vector Layers Solid vector support with some missing features (e.g. transforms). Boolean support. No ability to convert a vector into a selection. Solid vector support, but some missing features (e.g. transforms). Nice UI. Non-destructive layer styles. No boolean support. No ability to convert a vector into a selection. Full vector support with strong bezier tools and SVG import/export. No boolean support.
Non-destructive editing Not supported Layer styles allow the most common filters to be applied and composited non-destructively. Non-destructive effects layers for most image adjustments (e.g. curves, levels, hue/saturation)
Image Format Support 8-bits per channel RGBA 8-bits per channel RGBA 16-bits per channel support (but it’s a work-in-progress), Greyscale, Monochrome, Lab color, CMYK
Digital Photography Support Direct RAW import Direct RAW import Direct RAW import to 24-bit or 48-bit (16 bits per channel)
Architecture Some clever optimizations (e.g. filter previews appear to be at screen resolution) but chokes on large files. Chokes on large images and slower filters. Clever and flexible preview system allows you to keep the program responsive when working with huge files, heterogeneous layer support
Workflow and Automation Some Automator actions (but no AppleScript dictionary) Python, AppleScript, and JavaScript scripting and plugin support Recordable macros and batch conversion, Save named presets for almost anything, enter expressions for numerical inputs
Web Export Support Slicing support. Direct export to Flickr, Picasa, and Facebook. Photoshop-style (but far simpler) web export dialog with file-size preview etc. Some random subset of Fireworks is implemented (slicing, button states, etc.). Not really sure how good or extensive it is (much more extensive than Pixelmator or Acorn) since I have no use for such stuff.
Plugin Support You can probably build your own using the Quartz Compositor tools from Apple. You can build your own using the Quartz Compositor tools from Apple, and there’s extensive support for creating extensions using Python, Objective-C, AppleScript, and JavaScript Supports Photoshop plugins.
File Format Support Pixelmator, Photoshop, PNG, GIF, JPEG, JPEG2000, TIFF, BMP, SGI, TGA, PICT, PDF, and a dizzying number of export options Acorn, PNG, GIF, JPEG, JPEG2000, TIFF, BMP, RAW import Huge list of supported file formats (more than GraphicConverter!): Pixelmator, Photoshop, PNG, TIFF, JPEG, JPEG2000, BMP, PCX, TGA, Mac Icon, Windows Icon, Windows Cursor, and a bunch more, and can import and export to an even larger number of options, notably including export to SWF and import RAW
Cute Stuff Live gradients, the “dangling rope” that joins position widgets to filter control floaters Gorgeous Icon, Filter Compositor, Elegant Minimalist UI, Elegant and powerful non-destructive layer styles Amazing gradient tool, full-featured yet it still launches amazingly fast, 64-bit support
Ugly Stuff Poor performance when previewing filters or working with high resolution images. No layer styles and no text kerning. Still no curves. (At least there’s a useful exposure adjustment function now.) Vector layers are still half-assed. Poor performance when previewing filters or working with high resolution images. OMG the icon … it burns! (Sadly, Photoline 15 introduced a new icon that’s just as ugly as the old one), half-assed web export and page layout features clutter UI without being useful
If I could add one stuff from Photoshop Vector support, Layer Styles, Better Typographic Controls, Adjustment Layers Curves dammit. Just add the obvious vector functionality and we’re in great shape. Groups should work in the obvious way (they don’t right now). Oh, and masking. Offers a lot of Photoshop’s functionality. Being able to use one layer as a mask for layers adjacent to it.
Online Community Active Forum, Excellent Video Tutorials None Active Forum, Some (Lame) Tutorials
System Requirements 10.6 10.6 10.4
Price $29 (introductory price)/$59.00 $49.99 €59.00

Edit: corrected some typos, and gave Photoline more credit for functionality over the other two. In terms of raw functionality, it crushes Pixelmator and Acorn like bugs.