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Pixelmator: Image Editing For The Rest Of Us

written by: Chet Alzona•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 6/4/2009

Pixelmator is a powerful graphic editor for Mac OS X that uses Core Image and OpenGL technologies. Priced in the amount of USD $59.00, it is dubbed by its creators as "Image editing for the rest of us".

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    What is Pixelmator?

    Pixelmator Icon There are many apps out there for image editing, among the most popular is Adobe Photoshop. Unfortunately, its high retail price doesn’t make it easily available for everyone. Pixelmator offers much of the same core capabilities of Adobe Photoshop - working with image layers, digital editing tools, color management - at a much more affordable price. It is a powerful tool for both advanced and novice image editors.

    The developers of Pixelmator have devoted a lot of time and effort to improving the app since its initial release in September, 2007. Major upgrades have been iteratively released over time and in it’s latest update, Pixelmator arrives as version 1.4 (dubbed “Sprinkle”, released last February 19, 2009) with a newly improved painting engine and further improvements added to this maturing software.

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    Chic and Sleek


    The first thing you’ll notice with Pixelmator is it’s distinctively chic, black, semi-transparent graphical user interface. Its frames and floating windows is built around black containers making your images pop - allowing your eyes to focus on the image you are editing and takes away the visual clutter that may disturb your vision on screen.

    Pop Up 

    One thing unique about Pixelmator is its smart palette hiding feature. This feature hides unnecessary frames from view while a tool is currently in use. Standard palettes come back to view once done. So when, for example, you are currently adjusting an image’s saturation, all unnecessary floating palettes dissolve from view leaving only the image and the saturation slider window. As a result, visual clutter is reduced, allowing you to focus on the editing controls you are currently engaged in.

    Pixelmator also provides this small but much appreciated notification feature that pops up every time you undo or redo an action. For example, you want to undo a gradient you just applied, hitting on Command+Z will undo the last action and pop up a message “Undo Gradient” on the image you are working on, making it easy for digital artists to back or forward track properly.

    Amazingly enough, Pixelmator is both powerful and lightweight. It doesn’t take as much time to load compared to Photoshop, and works without making you feel like your system is bogged down.

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    Layers and Brushes


    Perhaps one of the biggest selling point of Pixelmator is that it can handle photoshop documents (files with extension .PSD). Whether you have a PSD file on your Mac, or downloaded a PSD from the web, or you intend to save an image you’re working on as PSD, Pixelmator seamlessly allows you to work back and forth between Adobe Photoshop at work for example, and Pixelmator at home.

    Pixelmator allows you to work with layers - separate elements stacked in one compiled document that will eventually make up one whole image. Each layer can be tweaked, manipulated, and can be assigned a blending mode desired, just like Adobe Photoshop. The only main difference from Photoshop though, is that Pixelmator has yet the capability of setting blending options for layers - such as adding inner or outer shadows, inner or outer glow, emboss and or stroke and the like.

    In its latest update, Pixelmator can now load Adobe Photoshop brushes to enhance your digital image editing capabilities. Its enhanced painting engine gives way to new brush settings and presets, more precise drawing tools, and even the ability to support tablet pressure and tracking speed controls.

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    Tools at your Fingertips

    Tools Pixelmator provides the same painting tools common for graphic editing software, and more. Among the most notable functions in Pixelmator is its Magic Eraser - an instant alpha tool that helps eliminate backgrounds to isolate focal image points of a digital image. Another is its Replace Color and Colorize tool, making it easy to adjust specific hues or overal color of a digital image to a color of your choosing by clicking and dragging from a round color palette.

    There are over 50 filters (accessible from the menu bar) available for use in Pixelmator, which is by its own right a rather extensive library to facilitate more than basic digital imaging needs. In 1.4, the latest addition to the filter family is the Clouds filter, which auto creates a cloud-like pattern automatically on your canvas based on two color palettes you choose.

    Applying gradients by click and drag is very intuitive. As you click and drag the gradient tool, a live preview draws dynamically on the document.

    There is also a dedicated Image menu item where you can launch certain imaging controls such as Colorize (changing the overall or select colors of your image), setting the Levels, Curves, and Exposure of the image, canvas rotation and image or canvas resizing and so on.

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    Something Cool

    There’s no denying that for the day-to-day man, digital image editing comes in handy for whatever reason. Although there are commercial apps out there available for the Mac, sometimes they’re too expensive, too complex to use, or not very easily accessible. And, between freeware alternatives that offer limited features, and highly priced digital editing suites with too many features that a regular day-to-day men do not entirely need, Pixelmator bridges the gap and fills just the right needs for the digital artist in you. This app is definitely something cool to own and use - powerful and fast.

    Pixelmator is currently on version 1.4 and can be downloaded and bought online from for $59.00 USD. It requires Mac OS X 10.5.6 or later and Core Image supported graphics card (some features require iLife). You can visit the developer’s weblog at for more information.