Pixelmator Revisited: It’s Good To Go

 Stylized camera image.

My reacquaintance with Pixelmator impressed me enough to give it a more thorough look, and I’m pretty impressed by how far it’s come. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s fixed and what still needs work based on a couple of hours.

The Good

  • Marquee Selection works perfectly. Zoom in and select pixels precisely and effortlessly. Perfect.
  • Polygon and Lasso selection are nice, but need more work. Zoom in for sub-pixel positioning, but there’s no way to accurately select along pixel boundaries. Good but needs work.
  • Curves. Yup, Pixelmator has Curves at last.
  • RAW image support. I can edit my beloved NEFs now. (It was incredibly lame that this wasn’t the case from day one.) That said… see the Ugly.
  • Very quick launch time! Nearly instantaneous on both my MacBook Pro and (less surprisingly) my Mac Pro. I’d say it actually launches quicker than Photoline.
  • Very nice masking tools.

The Bad

  • Some operations are still a bit slow (e.g. Undo).
  • Some of the Quartz Compositor filters seem like “dumpware”. (Others are simply amazing.)
  • I can’t believe it’s 123MB on disk! I spelunked the package to see where all that bloat was coming from, and it seems to be mainly giant icon files (Pixelmator can open a buttload of image formats and it has a 512×512 icon for every single one of them).

The Ugly

  • RAW images come straight in with no adjustment, which somewhat defeats the point of RAW images (you can’t perform the white balance, exposure, and color correction before down-sampling from RAW to 8 bits per channel).
  • The text tool is hopeless. You have no typographic controls at all, and not even text wrap. Yuck.
  • GIF export offers no useful controls.
  • JPEG export is rudimentary (you can’t compress to a size, or even find out the size in advance, or preview the results)


  • Shape Layers and Vector Tools.
  • Matting Tools
  • Various useful non-RGB image modes, such as Lab Color, Monochrome, Indexed Color, 16 bits per channel RGB, CMYK, and so forth
  • Image Slicing Tools
  • Styles and Presets

It seems like all this narrows Pixelmator’s potential audience, at least for now. Web Developers will need a tool which can optimize JPEG and GIF output, such as GraphicConverter. Some will need slicing tools, such as only Adobe’s tools and perhaps Photoline offer. Graphic Artists and Designers will need more capable selection tools, far better text capabilities, and shape layers, which again leaves you with Photoshop and Photoline. Anyone working with print needs CMYK. Which basically leaves us with Photographers who don’t want, can’t afford, or are stymied by Photoshop, and either don’t shoot RAW or don’t much care about RAW processing.

Summing Up

Pixelmator has, in a few short months, gone from being a flashy interface sitting on top of an alpha-quality image editor to a useful, usable program that would at minimum satisfy the needs of a lot of Photographers.

Pixelmator’s only real competitor in this space is Photoshop Elements. For slightly more money, Photoline is far more capable (aside from lacking Core Image filters) but it’s even more difficult to use than Photoshop. Although cheaper, Acorn is little more than a tech demo at this point. And as for the 800lb Gorilla, I’m about to install Photoshop Elements and will be back shortly…

Edit: my review of Photoshop Elements is here.