Pixelmator 3.3: Tom's Mac Software Pick

Powerful and Easy to Use: An Advanced Image Editor for the Mac

Pixelmator 3.3
Courtesy of Pixelmator

Pixelmator is a photo-editing app for the Mac that stands out on both cost, ease of use, and versatility. Wait, that’s three things. That's the problem with Pixelmator; once you start listing its attributes, you can't stop. 

Pixelmator is an extremely powerful image editor that makes use of Apple’s Core Image APIs to manipulate graphics with amazing speed. Even better, the Core Image engine knows how to use your Mac's graphics card to really put the zing in performance.


  • Very easy to use.
  • Uses Apple’s Core Image graphics engine.
  • Can use your Mac's graphics card to increase performance.
  • Newly redesigned user interface meshes with OS X Yosemite's style.
  • Doesn't tax your Mac's system resources.
  • Supports new 5K iMacs.
  • Repair Tool extension lets you access the power of Pixelmator in other apps.


  • Default dark UI theme may not be to everyone's liking.
  • Keyword tagging is very basic.
  • Has EXIF viewing, but not editing, capabilities.
  • Lacks image library management tools.

With Apple abandoning iPhoto and Aperture, and the new Photos app not being a serious contender to replace Aperture, Pixelmator may be able to step in as the go-to image editor for OS X. Its many features provide much better image editing and manipulation capabilities than iPhoto ever had, and while it lacks image library management features, it shines as an image editor.

Using Pixelmator

Pixelmator uses a central canvas area that contains the image you're working on, surrounded by a number of floating tool palettes and windows. Palettes and windows can be arranged in any fashion you wish and saved as your default preferences when starting new editing projects.

Pixelmator is a layer-based editor, allowing you to control how multiple layers interact with each other via various blending and opacity settings. If you've used Photoshop, the layer setup will be second nature. You'll find that Pixelmator's layers, and how you make use of them, have a great deal in common with other layer-based editors.

The tool palette deserves special mention because it's remarkably easy to use. When you select a tool, it's enlarged in the tool palette, so a quick glance at the tool palette will confirm which tool you selected.

If the selected tool has any optional parameters, such as brush size, drawing modes, or erasing styles, they're displayed above the central canvas, which is an easy place to make changes or refinements to a tool while working on an image.

The effects browser window is where you'll spend much of your time, adjusting various image settings, such as exposure controls, color level adjustments, blur, sharpening, and many special effects. The nice thing about the effects browser window is that you can set it to display just one type of ​effect or all of them. You can then quickly scroll through the effects, which are shown as both a text title and a thumbnail image. You can even drag your cursor across a thumbnail to see the effect in action.

New Pixelmator Features

  • OS X Yosemite support, including a new UI whose window transparency is similar to Yosemite's UI.
  • Handoff support: You can work with Pixelmator on your iPad, move to your Mac, and pick up right where you left off.
  • iCloud Drive support: Pixelmator allows you to select iCloud as a save or export destination.
  • Repair Tool extension: This is an interesting feature that allows you to use many of the Pixelmator tools from within another app, without having to open Pixelmator. A good example is attaching an image to an email, and then using Repair Tools to correct part of the image in the attachment before sending it off.

Final Word

Pixelmator is a joy to use. It's easy to understand, and all of the tools and capabilities are well presented. You can achieve remarkable editing effects without the high learning curve required in many other advanced image editors.

Throw in the low price, and you can understand how the words "extraordinary value" can be applied to Pixelmator. If you're an iPhoto or Aperture user, and you find the new Photos app from Apple doesn't meet your needs, download the 30-day trial of Pixelmator. You may discover that Pixelmator not only meets your needs but exceeds them.

Pixelmator 3.3 is $29.99. A 30-day trial version is available.

See other software choices from Tom's Mac Software Picks.