Pixelmator “Marble” review

Can $29.99 Pixelmator be as good as $29.99/month Photoshop CC? Your gut feeling tells you it cannot, and yet… Pixelmator is perhaps not as feature-rich as Photoshop but it enables you to retouch photos, paint and create composites. All for the price of a one-month subscription to Photoshop CC.

OK, so the single month price of Photoshop CC I stated above is the most expensive option. The lowest (limited time and special) price would be $9.99. That still is well over 100 USD per year for an application you can’t keep on using when it’s time to upgrade, as with “normal” licenses. With Pixelmator you still can but you probably won’t mind to pay for an upgrade once or even twice a year at their price rate.

Pixelmator interface

Pixelmator is good for anything from photo retouching to image effects to compositing and painting. I found its Magic wand selection tool even beats that of Photoshop’s (I don’t have CC, so any comparison with Photoshop is with version CS6) in terms of accuracy.

I tested Pixelmator 3.1 “Marble”. That’s the newest version and it has four major new features: layer effects and layer styles, liquify tools, a share option with which you can order prints, and 16-bit support on a new Mac Pro. That’s 16-bit colour per channel, which results in a 48-bit image. Opening 16-bit TIFF files is not a problem on any Mac.

Pixelmator has a very nice interface. Coming from Photoshop it took me a few days to get used to the differences, but soon enough I found Pixelmator more intuitive to use than Photoshop. The interface is a sort of hybrid between Photoshop and Illustrator. Some people on forums across the Internet are complaining about missing power-features in Pixelmator. For example, I repeatedly read a multi-level Undo feature isn’t present. That’s not true. The feature is built-in, but you will only find out by repeatedly hitting the Command-Z shortcut.

Hue and Saturation wheel

Most of the filters found in Photoshop are listed in the Effects palette in Pixelmator. Sharpen, blur, but also colour adjustments: they’re all effects. Some of these have a much more intuitive interface than what you’ll find in Photoshop. For example, the colour wheel in “Hue” (with which you also change saturation) has RGB as well as CMY designators and works more like the colour wheels inside Capture One Pro than the old and fairly clumsy equivalents in Photoshop.

One thing I miss in Pixelmator is a histogram that stays visible even if you’re not working with Levels or Curves. Another thing that I don’t miss, but am used to are tons of palettes with tons of options. You won’t find that in Pixelmator. For example, in terms of creating clipping paths and masks, Pixelmator offers roughly the same functionality as Photoshop, but you’ll be hard pressed to find the options in a palette menu — a contextual menu will do and create less screen clutter — and you’ll need to reinvent the workflow if you’re used to working with Photoshop.

Magic Wand

Other features follow an equally different organisation. The liquify effects , for example, are tools in Pixelmator. They lack the advanced options of the equivalent in Photoshop, but they do the job just fine. Some tools are also less customisable than their Photoshop equivalent. The Healing Tool is a good example. It too works slightly different than its Photoshop sibling, but for a Photoshop user it may be more worrisome that it doesn’t have more than two to three parameters (depending on how you use it). However, the results are just as good as with Photoshop’s. When it doesn’t work out well enough, though, Photoshop does offer more options to try to fix it after all.

One of the elements that frustrated me with Pixelmator was that the Effects browser picks up FxFactory and other Quartz Composer effects that are dumped by other apps in your Library > Image Effects folder. The solution was to remove the FxFactory plug-in from that folder. Of course, that also got rid of all these effects in other applications such as Final Cut Pro X, although in my opinion the most interesting FxFactory effects aren’t the Quartz Composer ones. Some people would disagree and they’ll end up with loads of effects that in some categories just duplicate Pixelmator’s built-in effects.


4 thoughts on “Pixelmator “Marble” review

  1. I’ve been a fan of Pixelmator for years now, and I completely agree: It’s a surprisingly powerful tool that gives you easily 85 to 90% of PhotoShops feature set, but with a lot less “bloat”. The interface DOES take some getting used to (especially since I had been using PS since prior to Adobe’s purchase — my first hands-on with PS dates back to the late 80’s!), but if I hadn’t already given up on PhotoSlops insane pricing and upgrade paths, the bizarre “subscription” pricing would have pushed me over the edge.

    And this is while knowing several of the PS devs at Adobe. Sorry guys… I know it’s not your fault. 😛


  2. I agree, it’s a great app (and I have owned it for several year, upgrading every time) but it desperately needs a couple of things in order for it to fully replace photoshop for me.

    a CMYK color workspace
    ability to set bleeds
    support for ICC profiles

    Until then, it is great for little jobs or digital only work, but not so good for those of us that actually need to print our work.


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