Value is my middle name. I’m not Mac360’s Value Vixen™ for no reason. I have a reputation to uphold. Mac software can be expensive so I look for what works; sometimes free, sometimes not.
By reputation and features and longevity, Photoshop is the undisputed king of Mac or Windows graphic applications. Including the high price tag king. Is there a Mac alternative that sets my hair on fire (figuratively speaking, you know)? Sure. GIMP. Nah, just kidding. We all need a good laugh.
Photoshop is a beast, a behemoth so complex and contrived that you need book after book to make it work for you, as well as a second mortgage to pay for the luxury of ownership. Is there a more affordable alternative?
Yes. No, it’s not GIMP. Please. Yes, GIMP is free, but it’s not the general image manipulation program for the rest of us, despite what our geekier Mac and Windows friends may imply.
What about Photoshop Elements 7? After all, it looks and feels like Photoshop, sans a few features you won’t miss, and it’s a lot less money; $150 for Windows users. What about Mac users?
We all know how much Adobe loves Mac users. Photoshop Elements 6 for Mac hasn’t been upgraded for a couple of years, and is known to be buggy on Mac OS X Snow Leopard. So much for that attractive $59 price tag on Amazon.
Actually, $59 sounds about right for a competent, attractive Photoshop workalike. Amazingly, that’s the price tag for Pixelmator, which bills itself as image editing for the rest us. The implication is that the rest of us can’t afford or can’t learn the increasing complexities of Photoshop.
Since Adobe has seen fit to stiff Mac users yet again, let’s take a long, hard look at a very attractive Photoshop alternative.
Loaded and Light
Pixelmator has been around a few years and continues to improve. Now at version 1.5, Pixelmator Spider adds a number of features not found in Photoshop. If you’ve used any version of Photoshop or Elements you’ll be right at home in Pixelmator.
This is especially so if you’re prone to a fetish for floating palettes of tools and Apple’s new found fetish for black and charcoal. Pixelmator opens to an elegant window—Create New Image, Open Existing Image, Start Using Pixelmator.
Pixelmator installs with a drag and drop (try that, Adobe). Double click and you’re ready to go with a bunch of floating palettes and a click away from tools of the trade.
With Pixelmator’s powerful, pixel-accurate collection of selection tools you can quickly and easily select any part of your images. That means you can edit and apply special effects to portions of your pictures, remove unwanted objects or even cut out objects from one picture to put on another.
That’s advertising talk for the basic selection tools. Wait. There’s more. Painting tools.
The real greatness of these tools is the ability to use different brush sizes, shapes, hardness, even blending modes when painting. You can paint with Pixelmator as you would traditionally, play with beautiful gradients or even fill colors with other ones.
More advertising copy to get you excited about finally dumping Photoshop and GIMP with an affordable alternative. Pixelmator’s Retouching Tools are familiar, ala Photoshop style, including text, color analysis and manipulation, cropping, transforming, and much more.
Photoshop and Pixelmator share the world of image editing via layers. If you’re familiar with the former, you’ll love the latter. But Pixelmator lets you play amateur by incorporating your Mac’s iSight camera directly to a layer.
I’m not sure how much professional value there is in that feature but it’s there, just in case, you know, you were searching for a professional graphic tool that uses iSight images.
Pixelmator calls their color correction tools simple, elegant, and intuitive. That’s short for not too many features, but enough to make it useful.
There’s curves, color balance, exposure, hue, luminance, saturation, as well as a channel mixer. It’s not Photoshop but it doesn’t have to be because it’s for the rest of us. Still, color tools are easy to use with sliders and pull down selections. Not as precise, but twice as nice.
Considering the $59 price tag, you might think of Pixelmator as Photoshop Jr. Click to Page 2 for five more features that will make it easy to seal the deal and say goodbye to Photoshop. Go to Page 2…
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Filters & Effects
Yes, they give college courses on how to use Photoshop’s varied and feature rich filters and effects. Pixelmator’s approach seems more in tune with a home study course.
Over 130 filters and effects are included in Pixelmator and these range from basics such as blur and distortion to halftones, tiles, color, sharpen and many dozens more. I’m not deeply into floating palettes, but using these tools is easy. Click. They’re there. Click they’re gone.
If there’s an area of concern when using a Photoshop wannabe, it’s file compatibility. After all, exchanging files with a true blue Photoshop user or your print shop needs to be seamless, no hiccups, otherwise it gets all embarrassing trying to explain what you did wrong.
Pixelmator supports over 100 different file formats. You can open and save in PSD, TIFF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, EPS and scores of other image formats. Above all, Pixelmator can open and save Photoshop files with layers.
File compatibility is no problemo. You get filters and effects. You get selection tools. You get retouching tools. You get color correction tools. In other words, you get the Photoshop basics at 1/10th the price tag.
Wait. There’s more.
Photoshop comes with Bridge, which is a fancy name for a photo browser so you can find, sort, store, save your images. Pixelmator uses the clever and creative term Photo Browser for their built in photo browser palette.
I found Bridge to be a little complex and cumbersome, and Photo Browser is on the other end of the scale; lightweight and actually useful, but not heavy on features except drag and drop.
Mac OS X comes with a useful feature called Quick Look. Select a file, press the space bar, and the file’s contents (for those that work) pops up on your Mac’s screen. The only problem there is that not every file format works with Quick Look.
Pixelmator includes a Quick Look plugin so the 100 or so file formats that Pixelmator can read can also be viewed in Quick Look with a touch of the space bar.
Draw by Hand
Hand drawing is where the talent gets separated from the wannabe crowd. If you actively use a drawing tablet then you’re already in a crowd of few. The rest of us don’t do much by hand.
Pixelmator works with basic tools of the drawing tablet trade, including stamp and clone tools, the eraser, pencil, paint, and brush tools, as well as blur and sharpen and others.
Our geekier creative Mac users know and love Automator for all it should be but isn’t quite. Yet. Automator works with Pixelmator to automate specific actions to transform your images (in a really crude way somewhat similar to Photoshop’s Actions).
For example, you can use Automator actions to resize or transform images, add special effects and export to various file formats. It works on a single image or as many images as you need (within reason, of course).
More Fun Stuff
Pixelmator doesn’t use Photoshop plugins, which is a bummer, but has its own plugin architecture, which is less of a bummer. 3rd party plugins are not as plentiful as with Photoshop.
That said, we all know what a resource hog Photoshop can be, so it seems that Pixelmator truly wanted to create something for the rest of us, assuming the rest of us have a high performance video card plugged into our Macs.
Utilizing your Mac’s built in Core Image technology means Pixelmator actually performs better on Macs with the right hardware, Intel or PowerPC. There’s lots to like with Pixelmator. If it’s true that no application is feature complete until it does email, Pixelmator is close. It does email. Almost. It’s just a send to to Mail or iPhoto, but that’s close enough.
Here’s the deal. Photoshop is over $600 and has a healthy learning curve. Pixelmator is less than $60 and is mostly a lightweight Photoshop workalike. Is it worth it? That’s what makes try before you buy such a wonderful component of Mac software. If money is an object, and you don’t need all of what makes Photoshop what it is, Pixelmator is a valid alternative (and so much more fun than GIMP).
Yep, you heard right. Alex is recommending a Mac application that costs money. But at 1/10th the cost of Photoshop, it’s almost free, right?