Pixelmator 2: You’re Going to Be Impressed

As a web designer, I spend a significant amount of time creating graphics and interfaces in Photoshop. Like other designers and artists, I love the power and limitless possibilities it offers, while at the same time, I grow increasingly frustrated with high prices, feature bloat, and the myriad little quirks that seem designed to drive us insane.

Photoshop’s lack of competition is partly due to the large scope and flexibility of the application – it is used by web, graphic, and interface designers, digital artists, photographers, and more. I doubt Photoshop’s reign as the king of multi-purpose graphics software will end any time soon, but developers have been chipping away at its supremacy in individual fields.

In the more artistic fields, Pixelmator has long been a popular Photoshop alternative, loved for its speed and simplicity. Despite these advantages, Pixelmator could never quite match Photoshop in terms of sheer power – until now. Pixelmator 2 was recently release with an impressive list of new features, find out if it can really compete after the jump!

What’s New

For a rundown of Pixelmator’s basic functionality, you might want to take a look at David Appleyard’s review of Pixelmator 1, in this article, I’m going to dive right in to what I think are Pixelmator 2’s most exciting new features.

Interface & Lion Features

Pixelmator 2 features a readjusted interface that is both refreshing and familiar – it’s the same basic dark, slick look, with some added polish. It has some great little touches that make Pixelmator a pleasure to use: an unobtrusive pop-up that tells you what you’re undoing, subtle animations, and large icons to highlight active tools. One gripe is the lack of foreground/background color display, you’re pretty much left to guess what color you have selected if you don’t have the color panel open. I’m also a bit disappointed that Pixelmator doesn’t use tabbed windows, which are key when working with a small display.

This new release comes with the welcome integration of some of the more useful Lion features, including full-screen view and versions. I’m a huge fan of versions/autosave in my writing applications, but I honestly never thought I’d see it in a graphics application. I wasn’t expecting my MacBook Pro to be able to handle versions in Pixelmator, but I was pleasantly surprised by its speed and reliability.

Behold – it's a thing of beauty

Behold – it's a thing of beauty

The interface now also features a contextual tool options bar at the top of each window, which changes depending on the tool you’re using. The downside of having this at the top of each window is that some options are hidden on narrower images, so remember to stretch out your window if you’re missing options.

Vector Graphics

A lack of vector graphic tools was likely a deal breaker for a lot of potential Pixelmator 1 users, so this version introduces a rudimentary vector toolkit, including a pen tool, a freehand drawing tool, and a vector shapes tool. Vector shapes are handled similarly to in Photoshop, with each shape getting its own layer. You can adjust fill and stroke for your vector objects, and even add a drop shadow.

What my eyeball would look like close up if I were a hastily-drawn vector graphic.

What my eyeball would look like close up if I were a hastily-drawn vector graphic.

I’m no pro in vector graphics, but I found Pixelmator’s implementation a bit unintuitive. I miss Photoshop/Illustrator options like “convert point” and “direct select,” and I might have missed something, but it seems like the bezier handles are not individually editable. I’m hoping this feature will be more fleshed out in future updates.

Healing tool & Content-Aware Fill

A lot of people were excited when Photoshop introduced its new Content-Aware fill feature in CS5, and for good reason: it promises to be able to seamlessly erase elements from an image without spending time clone-stamping. Though the technology can’t be applied in all situations (and rarely works as smoothly as in the demos), it’s still a time-saving tool, and now available in Pixelmator.

Erasing a window using the Healing Brush. Why? Because I can!

Erasing a window using the Healing Brush. Why? Because I can!

There isn’t a specific Content-Aware fill tool, rather it’s a technology used by the healing brush tool (and an option when you select a region). Unlike Photoshop’s healing brush, the Pixelmator healing brush ‘erases’ objects from an image, replacing them with an interpolated background. It works quite impressively, I don’t have CS5 at home for a comparison, but it seems to work just as well.

Dodge & Burn Tools

Dodge and burn are easily two of my most-used features when I’m working with photographs, and they’re a very welcome addition to Pixelmator. Dodge and burn work just as you’d expect, with a full range of options allowing you to select shadows, midtones and highlights, select brushes, and vary exposure.

A dodged-and-burned apple

A dodged-and-burned apple, zoomed in too closely.

You can use the same trick for non-destructive dodging and burning as in Photoshop: create a new layer, set the blending mode to overlay, and fill it with 50% grey.

Pixel Tool

If you’re creating icons or other graphics with pixel-level detail, you need to be able to edit pixels individually. I’ve never been really happy with Photoshop’s pencil tool, but the Pixelmator pixel tool works just the way I want it to (except that it’s not in the toolbox – you have to hit P).

I'm no pixel artist

Pixel level precision

What Else?

There are more new features than I can go over in detail, but here’s a quick overview of some other handy additions:

  • Smudge Tool: works pretty much as you’d expect it to.
  • Sponge Tool: this is pretty handy, it lets you spot-saturate or desaturate colors using any brush.
  • Eyedropper Tool: new magnifying eyedropper tool lets you zoom in on colors you want to use.
  • Info Bar: shows you RGB values for any spot in your document, as well as X and Y coordinates.
  • Type Tool: improved type tool features more advanced typographic features.

What’s Missing?

Inevitably when discussing a graphics editor, there are going to be comparisons and complaints of missing features. It’s important in this situation to determine the intended scope of the application, and not complain that we’re missing things we shouldn’t expect to have. That being said, there are a couple features that I’d really like to see.

If Pixelmator wants to compete as powerful graphics manipulation software, it should really have something similar to the warp tool: anyone used to using this feature in Photoshop will really miss it.

Pixelmator also doesn’t feature the same kind of non-destructive editing workflow people might be used to. Adjustments are applied permanently, though they are applied to individual layers.

Conclusion

Despite these few limitations, Pixelmator 2 is a very powerful image editor that makes impressive advancements over the previous version. When I first started learning Photoshop, I did a lot of graphics and photo manipulation, and I think Pixelmator 2 would have definitely been powerful enough for my needs. Most of the everyday tasks I do at work, tasks which would generally fall under the category of “Photoshopping” (“remove the garbage cans from this photo,” “get rid of her nose ring,” “put that woman in front of some trees,” etc.) could now easily be done in Pixelmator.

It’s not going to displace Photoshop for large-scale professional uses (though I’m not ruling that out after future updates), but it’s not just for beginners or casual hobbyists any more.

One of the most appealing features of Pixelmator is the price, but that’s still up in the air as I write this. Right now, it’s a steal at the introductory price of $29.99, but there’s no confirmation on a final price. Whatever it is, I’m certain it will be a lot more palatable than $700 for Photoshop, and there is a free trial available from the website.

It’s hard to switch to a new application after putting so much time into learning another, but I recommend you give it a shot if the features suit your needs. Pros will definitely notice the faster performance, and beginners will find it much less intimidating than other software. What are your thoughts on the topic? Will Photoshop always be ubiquitous? Have you made the switch?


Summary

Pixelmator 2 adds powerful new features, including content-aware fill, vector tools, and dodge & burn, while maintaining its reputation for speediness and ease of use.

9
  • Kirill

    The beizer handles can be edited by pressing the command key, buy only after you complete the line and reselect a point.

    • http://twitter.com/ooredroxoo Rafael Nascimento Sampaio

      It’s Annoying.
      I miss the behavior of photoshop pen tool.

  • Luke

    Tessa, you can add/remove tools in the toolbox via preferences. So you can add the pixel tool or any other tool that you want to the toolbox.

  • http://portfoilo.dziurdzia.eu Nazgul

    What i really miss is effects of layer such as shadow, frame and so on… Of course I can create them by hand, but it’s time-consuming…

    • Matthias Krok

      I know it sounds stupid, but this keeps me from switching from Fireworks. If they would finally include a DropShadow as simple as in Fireworks, I would happily use Pixelmator for every day image editing – but until then it’s just easier to stick with Fireworks.

  • Mark

    The pen tool doubles up as a direct select tool. Single click on a line to get you in ‘editing mode’, single click a point to select that point, double click to convert it, right click to add a point, cmd+click to edit handles individually

  • http://www.appforthat.de Julia Altermann

    While I overall like the update to Pixelmator, the integrated Versions feature annoys me beyond words.

    I didn’t know it was in there at first and suddenly all my original images had changes applied to them I didn’t want. Even those I had dropped in from iPhoto had the changes applied.

    Now I have to go an additional step: copy images to an extra folder and then drag them into Pixelmator.

    Additionally, CMD+D for “Don’t save” – when working with new images – doesn’t work anymore. This and the versions feature have slowed down my work flow considerably.

    • Rubens Lopes

      But isn’t that how Versions should work in every Mac app? I mean, it may be annoying, but from now on most mac apps will go that way.

    • Rubens Lopes

      Oh, and Cmd+D is now Cmd+backspace, but that is a change made in whole OS.
      You see? I think your problems are related to Lion’s updates, not Pixelmator following it.
      Nevertheless, let me know if I understood you wrong…

  • Marc

    Please read the forums at Pixelmator to understand that Pixelmator is *far* from being reliable.
    I just switched to Mac and bought Pixelmator 2 because it’s high praised everywhere.

    I am not trying to compare Pixelmator to Photoshop because they are not in the same league and even Pixelmator’s creators say so (“Please, we don’t have the same resources as Adobe”).

    So I bought and tried. It was a nightmare. It crashes all the time if you do some work with vector shapes, resize often, duplicate layers (layers in duplicate groups are all renamed “Layer 1″, what a mess).
    Sometimes vector shapes are moved across the document (?? no reason).
    Try “print preview” or export to pdf if your document contains vector shapes? Everything is screwed up.
    Try to move a single layer? Pixelmator decides for yourself that it will move the layer under your cursor and not the one you selected in the layer panel. Nonsense.

    Pixelmator could become some day a soft that can be used. For now, unless you haven’t used the software at all, it doesn’t deserve 9 at all. I would say 6.
    But 6 is already too much : what we ask is *at least* the app to be reliable.
    No fancy options. Just reliable. And it is not. 3 would be enough for now.

    There is potential for 8 (according to your standards here…) but by giving 9/10, you are not being fair to your readers at all.

    Please check the forums.
    Please do another review where you actually push it a bit (only trying the tools is not enough for a review).

    I bought the soft because of reviews like this one made by people that didn’t really use it and I’ve been disappointed.

    • ttesz

      I agree. Though I like Pixelmator 2 it crashes quite often and I can confirm Marc’s issues.

      Even saving a picture with many layers, groups and single items crashes the app.

      I hope things will get fixed soon.

      Greetings

    • Alexei

      It looks like paid advertising.

      People should check Pixelmator’s forum to see if it is really worth it. For my case, I really like it and I uninstalled Photoshop. What I hate is OS X Versioning. Just like you said, you have to copy to desktop, edit it and delete it so it doesn’t mess the master version.

    • Tessa Thornton

      Hmm. I tried out Pixelmator for quite a while before writing this review, and honestly never experienced any crashes.

      • Marc

        Hi Tessa, my question is :
        now that you’ve heard the bad experience of several people that (try to) use it on a daily basis, will you update your title “You’re going to be impressed” and the 9/10 score to reflect better the quality of the software, maybe something between your 9 and my 3?

        Or are reviews totally subjective here on Appstorm? (just asking, it will help me to be more careful when reading reviews on the site).

        Really, if your goal is to help your readers (and I know it is!) then 9/10 doesn’t reflect the current quality of the software.

  • Marc

    The interface is not consistent (color panels are everywhere, toolbar, window panel, top bar….).
    Icons and texts are too little.
    The eyedropper zoom is a bad design decision because it hides what’s behind your cursor.
    Versions is a nightmare (unlock, duplicate, etc etc oh it saved have to open Versions and check each backup. Hate this, it’s counter-productive).
    I could go on and on.

    29,99$ is not expensive but Pixelmator really needs to be updated. I still want to support the developers but they are not supporting me by making me lose my time (crashes, bad workflow).
    Readers have to be aware of those issues and choose consciously.

  • http://dear-apple.com Dear Apple… (@_dearapple)

    What’s missing? The foreground/background colors under the tools panel.

  • http://modernisten.co.vu/ Robin Lundgren

    Align to page, align to selected? Only me who can’t do without this?

    Also, let’s say i want a rectangle. I messure it out with the selection tool and fill it with color. Now, the problem starts when you take a close look at the edges of the rectangle, anti-alias. I have not found any way to get it to be pixelperfect yet. If you do, give me a shout on twitter or something.

    @LUNDLUND

    • Tessa Thornton

      Yeah it’s not really ideal for interface design.

      • http://modernisten.co.vu/ Robin Lundgren

        True, and that begs the questions, what it is ideal for and what does it have that iPhoto and Preview can’t do in the way of photo editing?

      • Tessa Thornton

        I wouldn’t say it’s aimed so much at photo editing (though it does that very well) but more image manipulation, which iPhoto doesn’t really do beyond applying adjustments to entire images.

  • Greg

    You should consider Imagerie from adnX. Only $9.99 and more powerful vector tools. Still a lot of missing features but very promising!

  • Seraphiel

    Pixelmator is a great update. Especially for image designers. I agree that some features have been downgraded in stead of updated. I see some replies that are based on quick assumptions without having dived deeper into it. The tutors at http://pixelmatortutorials.net have posted a great overview on everything that is new and changed on Pixelmator 2. Don’t miss the lates tutorial on shapes either.

    • James

      Thanks for the link, I’ve been looking for more Pixelmator tutorials for a while.

      • three-d

        any good tilt-shift effect tutorials?

  • http://modernisten.co.vu/ Robin Lundgren

    Oh yeah, forgot. The type tool is a mess.

    The Pixelmator team really need to contact John Boardley founder and caretaker of http://ilovetypography.com/about/

  • Amidomi

    I agree with the critics :-)
    I also bought it because of the good reviews, but was very disappointed when using it. I am not an advanced user. Just do basic things. I use Photoshop Elements and that is more then enough. But I wanted to try something that starts up a bit faster. But even my basic editing it could not handle correctly, and many times I had to switch to PE to complete the work I was doing, or even start all over in PE.
    Now that I have an SSD and PE starts up in 2 seconds, I never went back to Pixelmator. The interface looks fine, that is about the only thing good I can say about it.

  • Tim

    “I’ve never been really happy with Photoshop’s pencil tool, but the Pixelmator pixel tool works just the way I want it to”

    So why weren’t you happy and how does Pixelmator’s tool work? You didn’t give any detail whatsoever.

    • Tim

      Still would like to know this answer.

  • http://www.mothsoftware.com Beatrix Willius

    After a first glance I can only say: no thank you. Tiny tiny icons. Stupid animations. Barely legible grey on black text. Can’t even edit png files with masks.

  • http://www.byteolicious.com Ben Stankich

    I love Pixelmator 2! For such a low price, it sure gives a lot of features. I’m using it for basic graphic design because other programs are way too expensive. This gives me almost all tools I need, and there is a lot of really great effects, tools, and tutorials. It’s not quite Photoshop, but for me, it works just fine. I’m happy with it!

  • Marc

    My question is :
    now that you’ve heard the bad experience of several people that (try to) use it on a daily basis, will you update your title “You’re going to be impressed” and the 9/10 score to reflect better the quality of the software, maybe something between your 9 and my 3?
    Or are reviews totally subjective here on Appstorm? (just asking, it will help me to be more careful when reading reviews on the site).
    Really, if your goal is to help your readers (and I know it is!) then 9/10 doesn’t reflect the current quality of the software.

    Or is it paid advertising?

    • Scott

      My question is: Do you, Marc, work for Adobe? Even if the writer was biased, why should any reader trust you? I have bought Pixelmator and I am happy for the money I paid. Keep in mind that Pixelmator offers a 30-day trial, so you could try the app first instead of whining. After all, nobody is forcing you to buy it.

      • Tim

        Why would Adobe care about Pixelmator?

      • Marc

        You can also re-read my comment where I told the readers to go to the forums and make up their mind.

        I’m not even interested in talking to you,your argument is laughable.
        I am not the one paid to make reviews, what should be done is : Appstorm publish less reviews but actually research about what they are writing.

        The software is buggy in it’s current state and that’s my right to say it when a professional writer (should be a trustable source) puts a 9/10. You can also try to understand part of what I wrote and find that those are facts. Not opinions.

  • http://activetofocus.com activetofocus

    I more love photoshop! :)

  • http://www.pxm-tuts.com Ashley

    I love Pixelmator, yes it has its problems but it does what I need it to do. I think some people need to remember that everyone has their own uses for the app.

    I can deal with a few crashes/limitations with the extra $$$ saved.

    For those who seem to have a personal campaign against Pixelmator… Don’t use it!

  • http://www.pxm-tuts.com/ Jacob

    Marc,

    Sorry about your bad experience with Pixelmator 2. There has been a nice update to fix some of theses bugs. Auto Select layer is fixed, I hated that bug.

    Everyone,

    I think a lot of people jump into Pixelmator and do the few things the way they want to do them and when that doesn’t work or they run into a hiccup they easily write off the application. It does take a bit of time to “get to know” all of the great things you can do with Pixelmator. Don’t forget where Photoshop started, many bugs, missing features, people complaining. There is a development path that will always improve. This is a type of application that is trying to do many things well, not just one or two.

    The fact that Pixelmator relies so heavily on OS X core technologies can be both wonderfully powerful and result in many varied user experiences based on their mac environment and power. I have worked with Pixelmator for years now and have seen the leaps and bounds the devs have made with this new version and it is quite amazing. I think this review is a fair, “positive” look at Pixelmator though to be honest I think I’d give it an 8 because I know how much better it will get.

    The Forums are mostly used for issues people are having so it may seem more people are dissatisfied, but this isn’t the case. The people that are very happy with the app just use it and enjoy it. I’m always trying to get these ones to get more involved in the community and to speak up!

    There are a few of us who are taking the time to show you that Pixelmator can do more than you think. You can check out our work over at http://www.pxm-tuts.com/

    It amazes me that people are critical of the review, when all reviews are essentially based on that reviewers experience with the application, which in this case was very positive and the score given based also in the context of the pricing vs features & tools offered. I think you should always blend reviews you read with your own experiences trying out the software, and third party sources that are there to help with issues, work arounds and the like.

    Like what was said above, dive a little deeper and spend more time with Pixelmator. If your a Professional Photoshop user who can afford it and put up with Adobe upgrade paths then you probably have everything you want already. Most of us are not and want something fast and affordable that can still produce high quality content, that Pixelmator does well.

  • http://about.me/boastboy Marcel

    I’m really enjoying Pixelmator, purchased it a few weeks ago, the $29 price tag made it easy, and deleted PS 5! I only use it rarely so I’m glad I freed up the space PS was using. Other than that, it’s fairly intuitive to use.

  • Marc

    Hi all,

    I get what you are saying when you praise Pixelmator because that’s still a nice software for a tiny price. That’s why I bought it.
    And I bought it after reading their blog because I like the Pixelmator team’s attitude.

    As I said, I don’t want to quit using Pixelmator :
    1. I paid for it and telling me ‘then don’t use it!’ when I say that it keeps crashing is not the way to deal with criticism.
    2. I want Pixelmator to become a rock solid application. I want to support the team.

    But still, it doesn’t deserve a 9.

    Jacob > I agree with most of your comment.
    But please don’t bring the argument “people expect Pixelmator to behave like Photoshop and that’s why they keep complaining” too quickly.
    Some users are, but I am not.
    Please don’t tell me that there wasn’t anything constructive in my criticisms.

    It’s too easy to fight complaints that way.

    I use a lot of softwares and know that things are not consistent accross apps.
    My point was much different. If it crashes many times a day, if the pdf export (when using vector shapes) is messed up, if vector shapes are all over the place when I use “Undo” to revert some changes, it has nothing to do with comparing Photoshop and Pixelmator.

    I know that some users have those kind of complaints, but that’s not my case.
    If the app is given a 9 and many users report crashes, it should be noted in the review that “some users report crashes, so please use your trial intensively to see how it works for you”.

    I want Pixelmator to improve and I have sent many crash reports. I am constructive by doing so.
    But some others are not if they try to put those criticisms on the user’s (me) wrong use of the software.
    If you like Pixelmator, just tell the people its issues (and how it’s going to be fixed by the dev team) so they can weight benefits and issues.

    Still, it’s not a 9/10, I want to like Pixelmator, but it failed on me too many times.

  • Teegan

    Some people seem to think that Appstorm reviews should be infallible. We have to remember that some people are going to have bad experiences, while others will have good ones. I haven’t bought Pixelmator, because I have Photoshop, and I never had a good enough reason to switch.
    I did download the trial, and it seemed to work really well. It kinda reminded me of GIMP, in that it requires a different thought process to use correctly. People are very used to being able to have 100s of layers in Photoshop, this is probably not the wisest decision in Pixelmator.
    Marc seems to have had a bad experience. In one of his earliest comments, he said that Pixelmator currently deserves a 3/10. What it sounds like, is that he was playing with the new vector tools a lot, and found bugs. Just remember that the vector tools in Photoshop 12 (CS5) are still pretty bad. That’s why Adobe created Illustrator. So the fact that Pixelmator is in version 2 could have something to do with it. Also, most people aren’t going to use the export to PDF option a lot. Usually, you are only going to use that when you are doing Page Layout…which is not what Pixelmator is for. If you want page layout, either fork over the cash for InDesign or buy Pages. Marc seems to have done extensive use of tools that many people, including the reviewer, don’t use.
    I think that Pixelmator actually does some things MUCH better than Photoshop. For example, try doing a zoom/rotation blur in Photoshop. PS will open up that stupid square box with the cross-hairs in it. Where will the center of the blur be? You can’t really know. You have to repeatedly move the center point, click ok, watch it render, edit the blur, move the center, click ok, watch it render…etc… until you get it right. What does Pixelmator do? It gives you a little pin that you stick into the picture where you want the center to be! Quick, precise, and it updates the blur in real-time as you move the pin. The same thing can be said for lens flares and gradients. For this applications, the PS interface is pretty horrible, while the Pixelmator way is simple, accurate and easy. The easiness of these tools are big draws for me, because I use these effects all the time.
    So will I buy Pixelmator and delete Photoshop? NO! Photoshop is still fantastic, and I’ve spent 10 years learning to use it. But, would I buy Pixelmator and use it more frequently than Photoshop? Maybe, I probably will when version 3 comes out. :D

  • nofu

    Unfortunately i can’t recommend pixelmator 2. It’s full of bugs and even though they fixed some of the most painful ones in the recent point release, it’s still unsuitable for any serious work. It blows my mind they still have not fixed the colorize bug, where even if you cancel without applying changes, the changes are applied and whats even worse, you can’t undo them ! So whatever pretty thing you might have created, its gone unless you saved. But there are other bugs, like groups which can’t be deleted, i’m basically forced to create a group Bin a move this in there, so they don’t confuse me, etc…
    Bugs can happen, but not fixing them in months in unacceptable.

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  • MikeA

    Sounds like a turkey to me. I you can’t afford, or prefer not to pay for, Photoshop then just get GIMP. With the plug-in scripts GIMP can do 99.9% of what Photoshop can do and it’s free. If you know Photoshop, then GIMP will be second nature. Otherwise, there are tons of books and tutorials on the Internet. Best of all, GIMP is free.

  • John H

    With Photoshop going fully subscription based now is the time for programs like Pixilator2 to come to the front and whup Adobes backside. Take advantage of the disaffected hoards – which there will be – and do unto Adobe as Adobe did unto Quark – Well to be fair Quark did it to themselves and Adobe have just reinvented the wheel and opened the market TBH if I had the bucks I would be backing companies like Pixelator right now… good luck guys. NB at present I am a PC user and totally jealous you Mac guys have at least an option to move too.

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