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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 GIMP vs Photoshop: Which One is Right for You? GIMP vs Photoshop: Which One is Right for You? Photoshop is the most popular image editing app out there and GIMP is the best free alternative to it. Which should you use? Read More although it lacks a lot of Photoshop’s features What Can Photoshop Do That GIMP Can't? What Can Photoshop Do That GIMP Can't? GIMP can do a lot of what Photoshop can do, but there are some areas it falls short. Here is a summary of the key differences. Read More . 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.

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Pixelmator has been around for a few years Pixelmator - The Image Editor That Mac Users Should Be Using [Giveaway] Pixelmator - The Image Editor That Mac Users Should Be Using [Giveaway] Ever since we first featured Pixelmator in March 2010, it has been improved in so many ways. It's pretty much the affordable Photoshop alternative for Mac. We're giving away 25 copies of the latest version... Read More . 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.

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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 Your Guide to Choosing The Right Adobe Product Your Guide to Choosing The Right Adobe Product When most people think of Adobe, they either think of Photoshop or Acrobat Reader. But the company has a plethora of other useful software packages that most people know nothing about. Read More 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.

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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.

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You can also learn a lot using Pixelmator. Although I’ve done all my image editing tutorials — like the Killer Doll Create a Crazy Killer Doll Image with This Photoshop Tutorial Create a Crazy Killer Doll Image with This Photoshop Tutorial Want to create awesome composite images? We should you how with this easy-to-follow free Photoshop tutorial. Read More and Ghosts in the Graveyard Use this Photoshop Tutorial to Freak Out Your Friends with Ghosts Use this Photoshop Tutorial to Freak Out Your Friends with Ghosts With Halloween on the way, now is the time to start sharing spooky photos on Facebook. Here's how to freak out your friends! Read More — 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.

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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.

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 HDRI Photography: An Essential Skills And Workflow Primer HDRI Photography: An Essential Skills And Workflow Primer This guide outlines concepts involved in HDR photography followed by a logical progression of steps in the production of high dynamic range images. Read More , 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

  1. Robert Ladd
    September 14, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    I use Lightroom for editing batches of photos. I haven't used Pixelmator that long, but so far I think it is great for individual images.. in some ways I like the user interface better than Photoshop. I rarely need to save in CMYK format and haven't really bumped into any serious limitations so far. And I don't care for Adobe's subscription only deal…

    Give me Pixelmater and Graphic and I'm good. Except I don't know a good replacement for InDesign… any ideas?

    Thanks a lot, Bob

    • Harry Guinness
      September 14, 2016 at 3:53 pm

      Yeah, I love Pixelmator. If I wasn't so invested in Photoshop I'd use it more. As for InDesign... I'm not sure. Layout is pretty much only professional, rather than hobby. Word templates?

    • Starfighter
      October 26, 2016 at 7:48 pm

      I've heard many good things about Scribus as an alternative to InDesign. I have no personal experience with it though. It's free (and open source) so you can test it out for yourself if you're curious!

  2. BKLYN COUNTRY
    August 7, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    This was a well timed article for me. Im a furniture designer and making commitment to simplify all my non-furniture work. I want as smooth, easy and as simple a process as possible to take, import, edit and place my photos into various spots. I also plan to do all my stop motion work on iPhone and then ipad pro using pixelmator to touch up shots. Looking forward to implementing. Thnx for the article!

    • Harry Guinness
      September 14, 2016 at 3:51 pm

      No problem! That sounds like a really good solution. How do you find the Pro?

  3. Michael Rhodes
    May 25, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    Actually Affinity Photo makes for a good basic image editor. And while not perfect, it is being regularly updated. Again Mac Only (for now). Updates are free for current version. And it's priced just about at Pixlmator's cost. Very worth it. RGB and CYMK, ability to use some PS plugins and brushes. It's a diamond in the rough, but getting more polished as time passes.

    • Harry Guinness
      August 6, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      Yeah I've played around with Affinity a little bit. It's in a weird place where it's got a broad mix of basic and advanced features but doesn't have either covered fully. Pixelmator is better for beginners and Photoshop is better for the pros. At least for the time being.

  4. NoobHerder
    May 25, 2016 at 7:17 pm

    What about Affinity Designer?

    • Harry Guinness
      August 6, 2016 at 1:19 pm

      As I said to Michael, I've had a play and find it falls in a weird place. It's about 18 months from being great. At the moment, I'd only recommend it to people who know what they're doing and how to work around any problems they run into, and even then I'd encourage Photoshop instead.

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