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You know something is popular when its name becomes synonymous with an entire product category and people start using it as a verb. We don’t search, we Google. We don’t photocopy, we Xerox. We don’t eat gelatin dessert, we eat Jell-O--well, except for us vegetarians. Most importantly though, when we crop Dick Cheney’s face onto a picture of a quail and give it a witty caption like, “I didn’t miss,” we are Photoshopping. Though there are plenty of image-editing apps for the Mac, the unquestioned king of the hill is Adobe’s Photoshop, which can run up to $699 for a single license. It’s the most pirated software in history, and the vast majority of people use it to crop and resize pictures, which is kind of like using a chain saw to julienne carrots. Pixelmator offers a Photoshop-esque experience for those who don’t know the ins and outs of Photoshop. While it lacks the depth of niche features that distinguish Adobe’s offering, it matches, and often beats, Photoshop when it comes to interface, usability, and speed, offering an extensive feature list of its own.
For the huge number of users who use Photoshop for basic image-editing tasks, Pixelmator is worth a look. Pixelmator's real competitors are second-tier image editors like Seashore and Acorn, and it easily bests the pack.
Next time you need to make an LOLcat, ironic motivational poster, or add Megan Fox to your Facebook profile pic, don't Photoshop it, Pixelmate it.
Beyond its brand name, Photoshop sets the standard for image-editing interface and feature set, merely by virtue of ubiquity. In fact, this is where several competitors fail (cough cough, GIMP), simply because people used to Photoshop’s paneled layout have a hard time adapting to anything else. So it’s a welcome surprise when Pixelmator’s HUD (head-up display, basically transparent panes that overlay the main work area) layout mimics that of Photoshop, albeit with less customizability. In fact, we prefer Pixelmator’s dynamic panels, not only because they are prettier, but also because they are more functional. You don’t have to search for the correct panel to perform an action--it simply pops up with the appropriate tool. Along the same lines, the Pixelmator team has thoughtfully included compatibility with industry-standard file formats. You can edit layered .PSD files, import Adobe brushes, and even import third-party Quartz filters.
Pixelmator is also a layer-based editor, so it automatically offers more functionality than many simple image editors. Its tight integration with OS X and speed truly set it apart. We tested Pixelmator on a G4 Mac mini, a system that Adobe didn’t even support with CS3, let alone CS4. While large (40MB-plus) image files brought the G4 mini to its knees, it was able to handle basic operations just fine in Pixelmator. On a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro, it often handled processes faster than Photoshop. Resizing and applying filters to a 100MB layered .PSD file in Photoshop CS4 heated up the Mac and took up 387MB of RAM, whereas the same actions in Pixelmator were nearly twice as fast--and only chewed up 120MB of RAM. Pixelmator fully leverages OS X’s Core Image technology to wring the best possible performance out of any Mac. The app is also fundamentally integrated with OS X. You can easily (and directly) import pictures from iPhoto or iSight, drag and drop images onto the dock icon from Safari, Quick Look any of your files, and even use included Automator actions to easily perform common image-editing tasks.
Though Pixelmator does an admirable job of creating a Photoshop-esque environment, it stops short of being a perfect clone. Photoshop staples like CMYK support are missing, the keyboard shortcuts aren’t the same as their Photoshop equivalents, and there isn’t a history panel. These may be forgivable, but Pixelmator’s biggest flaw is in the omission of a proper free-transform tool--Pixelmator’s tool only scales and rotates. But for many home users, these weaknesses are easy to overlook.