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Pixelmator vs. Photoshop

January 10, 2011

App Store, Pixelmator, and Photoshop

With the release of Apple's App Store comes an exciting period on how we think of software. In an industry where Adobe has dominated the market it's interesting to see competition emerging. One App that I've heard about (through my following of @abduzeedo) but haven't spent much time with is Pixelmator. So I was excited to see it in the App Store and it gave me the motivation to take it for a test drive (with this tutorial). At a mere $29.99 it's almost a steal especially when you compare it to the likes of Adobe Photoshop which is currently retailing for $699. But should Pixelmator even be compared to Photoshop? Is it a Photoshop killer? Well, yes and no. While I don't think it has enough power at this time to completely replace Photoshop it does offer a notable stepping stone for people just getting started. And who knows, I think it has huge potential.

Test Drive

First off, it's fast and the UI is slick. It takes up little processing and therefore the result is a fast, smooth, and fluid user experience. But one of the ways that Pixelmator is able to achieve this sort of experience is by eliminating a functionality, that I think, is critical for this to be considered in a professional environment - Smart Objects. Photoshop has the great ability to add filters and adjustments without degrading the underlying layer. For example, in Photoshop, adding a Gaussian Blur to a layer can be modified or removed at any time. This isn't achievable in Pixelmator, any filters that you add are final decisions which for me is unreasonable and frustrating.

Support for vector shapes… well, there is none. While I understand this not a vector program it would be nice to have access to basic shapes and be able to modify those shapes easily. You can certainly find work arounds for this by using the different transform options but it's definitely not an ideal workflow. Along with this you'll notice that while they offer a lot of the basic tools that you'll find in Photoshop they don't have a Pen tool. The Pen tool, in my opinion, is one of the most fundamental tools in Photoshop - not only for the vector shape support but for creating selections or defining areas to work within.

These are the initial two major set backs that I found when using the application and while there are more I don't think they're as vital. On that same note I didn't see Pixelmator introducing any features that really blew me away.

I think this is a great program for students to get started with. It has enough capabilities to produce some really cool work while eliminating some of the functionality that can make learning Photoshop a daunting and frustrating experience. One thing that I would commend the Pixelmator development team for doing is keeping a lot of the shortcuts, tools, and jargon that you find in Photoshop. This made it easy for me to jump into the program without having to relearn a lot of functionality. This also bodes well for users that are starting with Pixelmator and want to transition to Photoshop.

Lastly I want to touch on the concept of the App Store and why this is so interesting to me. My understanding is once you purchase an App you own it and any upgrades or modifications to the application don't require an upgrade cost. Adobe upgrades software every year and charges you for it, while not coming at a hefty cost of $699 the upgrades are still noticeable, especially when you have multiple computers to upgrade. The nice thing about the App Store is that it allows you to place purchased Apps on multiple computers. So for $29.99 not only can I have Pixelmator on my work computer but I can have it on my home computer. This is adds great value for those who routinely work from multiple locations.

Over all I'm excited about the App Store and the Apps that I've seen so far. While I'm not ready to give up Photoshop for Pixelmator I am excited to see where the development team takes this program.