Review: Pixelmator 1.2

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The level of hype upon budget image-editor Pixelmator’s debut was such that it would have made a Hollywood marketing executive giddy with glee, but the glossy pretender to Photoshop’s throne (rather brazenly lifting much of Photoshop’s interface and many of its features) divided the Mac audience. Many were sucked in by Pixelmator’s semi-transparent palettes, relative ease-of-use, and occasionally useful interface animations. I wasn’t, deciding that its beauty was skin deep, and that Pixelmator had a hell of a lot to do if it had any chance of taking on Adobe’s powerhouse, or even its errant offspring, the takes-ages-to-be-released-for-Mac Photoshop Elements. Now, with Pixelmator hitting its second fairly major revision, I figured it was time to take another look. Frankly, I think I’ll wait until version 2.0 before I bother again.

To be fair to the Pixelmator team, new features have been added: the application now boasts rulers (which neatly highlight your cursor’s location, but have an odd habit of vanishing when you switch from a different Space in Leopard), guides, grids and snap settings, a curves tool, and a color balance tool—although one might argue they should have been present from the start. Some of the existing tools have been tarted up a little, and a polygonal lasso tool has mooched on in.

Also, the translucent interface has been toned down. If you’ve not seen Pixelmator before, it’s largely dressed in a HUD-style skin, but rather than restricting this to dialogs or temporary palettes, you can even see through the document window background and title bar. (Seriously, guys, this is a distraction, and while the new version is an improvement, we’d much prefer an option to turn off the transparency entirely.) Unfortunately, similar improvements haven’t filtered through to other areas of the interface: in an area where precision is often key, it’s bizarre that you still can’t directly input numerical values into filter dialogs, instead being forced to mess about with sliders. Still, the small ‘string’ that attaches a filter dialog to its focal point remains, and shows that some of Pixelmator’s effects aren’t just eye-candy. If only more of the interface had the same level of practicality.

However, despite these grumbles, Pixelmator is now fairly fully-featured (at least if you’re editing RGB imagery—inexplicably, there’s still no CMYK support), and there’s a decent range of filters, so why am I still pulling a sour face? Performance is the answer—or, rather, lack of performance. When using a low-cost image editor feels like a treacle-wading session, on a machine where even the bloatware that is Photoshop CS3 is pretty damn nippy (a Mac Pro with 5GB of RAM, fact fans), it’s time to throw in the towel. The biggest culprit is perhaps the Clone Stamp tool, which is simply unusable in real-time, but many of the other tools proved similarly sluggish, such as the Brush tool, which seemed to take a half-second or so to start displaying what I was drawing. When using a Wacom tablet, Pixelmator was also prone to ignoring fairly speedily drawn curves, instead rendering them as a series of straight lines.

So, Pixelmator: you’ve got me beat. And if I have to make a recommendation, it’s this: Photoshop Elements 6 is only 20 bucks more than Pixelmator when grabbed from Amazon, and, when the current state of both applications is considered, Adobe’s effort is about 20 times better.

This could almost be a real-time movie of how fast Pixelmator is sometimes.

Further information

Manufacturer: Pixelmator Team Ltd.
Price: $59
URL: pixelmator.com

24 responses to “Review: Pixelmator 1.2”

  1. Extensor says:

    I work at screen res and the speed is fast for me. Maybe the reviewer was using really large images? It is too bad that he doesn’t say. Bad reviewer! I bought the program because I like to support interesting software. To expect two guys to knock out something equivalent to Adobe Photoshop in the 1.X version says more about the reviewer then the product.

  2. Craig Grannell says:

    I’ve mostly used Pixelmator on images from my digital camera, but also on small web-oriented ones. In all cases, performance lags behind Photoshop CS3. And I’m not expecting Photoshop, but a 60-dollar app should be able to hold its own with Elements, especially since that’s what it’s gunning for. As it stands, Pixelmator is simply not up to scratch.

    As for supporting interesting software, I’m not sure what’s interesting about a clone of a three-year old Adobe interface. Now, something like Scribbles – that’s interesting.

  3. Andreas says:

    What machine did you try it out on? specs? I love photoshop and when I heard of elements I couldn’t wait since I often think it’s over kill with the full app for some of my quick edits. When I first tried PS elements I was VERY disappointed, not because it lacks features, but simply because I feel that doing simple tasks is cumbersome. I still haven’t tried pixelmator, but I know that one of these days Im going to! still, maybe I should wait for v 2.0 ?

  4. Michael says:

    I have tried Pixelmator and I did find it lacking some of the basic things that I use everyday in Photoshop. But I think that is the key, I use photoshop everyday. A lot. So for me comparing this app to Photoshop seems unfair, though understandable. I think for a first version this app goes a long way to make an affordable image editor. While Pixelmator won’t replace photoshop for me, mainly because I have photoshop, I would offer this as a choice to people who want to do minor edits to family photos or have some fun with them. After all Pixelmator does have some fun filters that many people will find quite enjoyable. Is this the best? Not yet. But it’s defiantly a good first shot.

  5. Michael says:

    Anyone tried Photoshop Express much? How does it compare? I’ve been signed up for the beta for a while but truthfully haven’t found a use for it since I have Photoshop on both my computers. But I would think that would be a good version of Photoshop to compare with Pixelmator.

  6. Craig Grannell says:

    “What machine did you try it out on? specs?”

    Mac Pro 2 x 2.66 Ghz D-C Xeon with 5GB RAM. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an underpowered Mac. I also tried it on my MacBook. In all cases, performance was often sorely lacking. Cloning, for example, was an exercise in futility.

    “So for me comparing this app to Photoshop seems unfair, though understandable.”

    The interface and feature-set borrows so heavily from pre-CS3 Photoshop, comparisons are unavoidable. However, my point was that it’s gunning for Photoshop’s little brother, and in that area it also comes up lacking. That’s not to say Pixelmator doesn’t have potential, because it does. It’s just not nearly there yet.

  7. Michael says:

    Pixelmator is a GPU rather than CPU powered app. Would that have something to do with why it was chugging a bit on the MacBook (though that’s what I used it on)? But the mac pro shouldn’t have had any issues with it since the Graphic card is more than powerful enough. Weird. (I realize I sound like a big fanboy of this app, but I assure you I’m not. I’ve just been waiting to discuss this app for a while)…

  8. les says:

    This barely quafilies as an image editor review. Your review is basically “hey, take my word for it, this app is slow” with nothing to substantiate what you are saying. I’m not saying you are lying, but I am saying this is lazy.

    1 paragraph about the app/company
    1 paragraph bitching about the UI
    1 paragraph kinda talking about features… maybe

    How is this a review?

  9. Tice says:

    I reviewed Pixelmator a few month ago (german, http://blog.tice.de/beitrag.ph… ) and since then I was hoping for a better web-export function. Without a preview while exporting to a less quality JPEG all wonderful feature end in a blindfoldet export.

    Now that Photoshop Elements 6 is out I was hoping to get that. I did, but more of what I didn’t wanted: forced-online-registration! I didn’t buy Photoshop Elements because of this and still waiting for that (to me) most missing feature in Pixelmator, which they are working on (read it in their forum) and which will be not just a quick fix but a grown-up feature.

    Hope they bring that out soon.

  10. Gouldsc says:

    I kind of thought the review was a bit too harsh as well to be honest. I’ve not actually used it but from the screenshots, I’d have to say that it looks like a pretty awesome first effort. Perhaps the tone would have been better stressing that it’s overpriced for being such a young app, moreso than dogging the guys. I mean if only 2 guys managed to put that together, I’d have to say it’s pretty damn impressive even if the performance sucks. Personally, I’d like to see this app mature and be able to give adobe some competition, their innovation has really stagnated over the past few years and hopefully this might begin to prod them along.

  11. Craig Grannell says:

    It looks pretty in stills, but in use, Pixelmator’s interface issues are a major problem. Regarding performance issues, it’s still 60 bucks. If it was freeware, I’d go easier on it, but it’s not. And as for innovation, I can’t see how Adobe will be given a kick up the backside by an app that so desperately wants to be pre-CS3 Photoshop, right down to the tools palette.

    Small, focussed apps might be what finally gives Photoshop a nudge: Scribbles, ImageWell, etc.

  12. J says:

    Pixelmator crashes just after I print an image. It isn’t related to the printer or driver software, because all other applications print nicely.
    This is a really serious problem.
    Also, I couldn’t find a ‘smear’ or ‘smoothing’ tool at first (and second) glance. This seems to suck too.