Photoshop is the most famous image editing application in the world; its name has become a verb. It’s the industry standard, the most powerful, and generally just the program to use if you’re serious about image editing. It isn’t, however, the only app out there.
The free and open source GIMP — the GNU Image Manipulation Program — is right for some people although it lacks a lot of Photoshop’s features. It’s also not very easy to use or pretty to look at.
For Mac users, however, there’s another option. For a fraction of the cost of Photoshop you can get an app that’s intuitive to use, runs great on OS X, and has a lot of powerful features. Let’s look at when Pixelmator might be the better choice than Photoshop.
In the Red Corner… Pixelmator
Pixelmator is a Mac-only image editing app. It’s available for $29.99 from the Mac app store. With Pixelmator you can edit images, draw or paint digital artworks, composite multiple shots, retouch pictures, and do everything else you’d expect from a fully featured image editing app.
Pixelmator has been around for a few years. With every fresh update it’s improved and now it’s a real contender for the best Mac image editing app for most people. If you want to check it out, you can download a free trial from the Pixelmator website.
And in the Blue… Photoshop
Photoshop is the image editor everyone knows. Since Adobe’s introduction of the Creative Cloud, it’s been impossible to buy Photoshop on its own. Instead, it comes as part of a large suite of apps bundled together at different prices. The best deal is the $9.99 a month Photography package that has Photoshop and Photoshop Lightroom, although you can spend up to $49.99 a month to get every app in the Creative Cloud.
Photoshop has been around since the 90s and has slowly built itself into the industry powerhouse it is today. However, with its focus on professional users, it may do too much for regular people. Just as with Pixelmator, you can get a free Photoshop trial from Adobe’s website.
Where Pixelmator is Great
Pixelmator is a great casual image editor. If you have a website or blog and need to upload images to it, it’s perfect for resizing and tweaking them. Adding a text overlay, adjusting an image’s brightness, or scaling them to different sizes are all incredibly intuitive with Pixelmator. There are quite a few MakeUseOf writers who use Pixelmator to edit their images for the site.
Pixelmator is also a fraction of Photoshop’s long-term cost. You can buy Pixelmator for a quarter of Photoshop’s annual cost. It’s not free, but $30 is a very reasonable price for the app. You get a lot of bang for your buck.
You can also learn a lot using Pixelmator. Although I’ve done all my image editing tutorials — like the Killer Doll and Ghosts in the Graveyard — using Photoshop, you can follow along almost as easily with Pixelmator. If you want to learn the theory behind image editing, digital painting, or anything else done in Photoshop, it’s a great place to start. If you start working professionally, you can always change to Photoshop.
Pixelmator is built just for OS X. This means it can use a whole host of resources that a multi-platform app like Photoshop can’t. Pixelmator follows the same design language as the rest of OS X, it uses Apple’s technologies like iCloud to sync rather than a specially built service, and it’s created with Mac users in mind. Most things are intuitive. If you just use Macs, this can be a big advantage.
Where Photoshop is Better
Pixelmator, however, isn’t perfect. Although it’s a worthy competitor to Photoshop in many ways, there are some areas it just can’t compete.
Pixelmator can’t handle RAW image files. This is a problem if you’re a photographer. It also doesn’t have the cataloging and sorting power of Lightroom or Bridge (which both come with Photoshop). If you want to edit one image every now and again, Pixelmator is great. If you need to sort and edit 500 images from a photoshoot using it, you’ll want to put your head through your desk.
Designers are also better served by Photoshop and the other apps in Adobe’s Creative Cloud. While Pixelmator’s drawing tools are fine, the app doesn’t support CMYK color — which is used by professional printers — and a few other important design specific features. Again, for people making a logo here and there Pixelmator will work fine, but if you need to regularly work with professional print shops you have to go with Adobe’s offering.
On the subject of collaboration, that’s another area where Photoshop wins: it’s the industry standard. If you want to work with professional retouchers, designers, or editors, you can practically guarantee they regularly use Photoshop. Yes, Pixelmator is somewhat compatible with Photoshop documents, but not to the same degree as the app they’re designed for. Pixelmator works if it’s just you using it, but if you’re collaborating with lots of other people on different systems you may run into issues.
Pixelmator is the only image editing all I’d ever consider using over Photoshop. I don’t. But for a lot of people it’s right.
— Harry Guinness (@HarryGuinness) May 17, 2016
Finally, there are plenty of powerful features that Pixelmator just doesn’t have. If you want to create animated GIFs, render 3D objects, automate your workflow with actions, or merge separate exposures into HDR images, then you can’t use Pixelmator.
Which One is Right for You?
Of all the Photoshop alternatives out there, Pixelmator is the one I feel most confident recommending. It’s simple to use, powerful, and fully-featured enough for most people. The biggest problem is it’s only available on OS X.
If you’re a photographer or designer, or just someone who works with them regularly, then Photoshop is still the app to use. It’s more powerful and widely supported. While Photoshop can do everything Pixelmator does, the opposite isn’t true.
Which image editing app do you use and why? Does Pixelmator do enough for you or do you need the power of Photoshop? Let us know in the comments.
Image Credit: Boxing ring by Prov910 via Shutterstock