Pixelmator Quick Review: The Best Photoshop Alternative Hands-Down

I am a long time graphic, app and web designer. I learned how to design using Adobe Photoshop 7 (before there was such as thing as Creative Suite, much less Creative Cloud). So I’ve seen a lot of changes come to Photoshop over the years. I’ve also been on the lookout for a cheaper alternative.

I quickly learned that that cheaper alternative was NOT Gimp. Give me a break. I mean, just look at the website. A designer can’t use a poorly-designed interface. Plus, Gimp has plenty of limitations. I don’t even like talking about it, honestly.

For years I assumed there was no competitor that could ever crop up and effectively takedown the monster Adobe has built. Aviary was no real competitor—it was built on Adobe products. Web-based photo editing tools just can’t cut it yet. I mean Pixlr is fine for people who want to edit Facebook photos I guess, but not for a real designer—at least not for me (not yet).

But I recently tried a Mac app called Pixelmator that is an honest-to-goodness Photoshop alternative that costs just $29.99—once. Photoshop, on the other hand, costs $49.99 PER MONTH for the full version.

I’m sure there are die-hard photographers out there who are stuck in their ways and do, in reality, benefit from some of Photoshop’s unique and advanced features but for graphic, app and web designers Pixelmator will be more than fine.

I was skeptical, at first, of Pixelmator’s chops. How could such a “cheap” app compete with such an established competitor?

So I dug right in and began getting my hands dirty.

The first thing I tested was the paint selection tool. OH YA. I immediately liked it better than the photoshop equivalent. It’s fast, highly accurate and uses nearly identical keyboard shortcuts for painting/unpainting selections. Brilliant.

Well, as long as I had something selected I thought I’d try giving it a fill. Again, similar keyboard shortcuts (holding option or command + delete). Plus, it’s easy to fill with a gradient. Cool.

Next, I decided to try the repair tool (similar to the heal function in Photoshop). Wow. Works awesome. So far, Pixelmator is performing as good or better than Photoshop in each of these categories.

Clone stamp? Check. Works like a charm.

Whoa—what’s this? A “magic” eraser. What does this do… Oh, wow. It’s like the paint selection tool except it literally erases the selection in realtime. I love it!

Okay, so all of Photoshops basic functions are covered and even improved on. So far so good.

That brings me to the effects browser. The effects you’ll find in Pixelmator are like the old Photoshop effects crossbred with Instagram-style filters—and they rock. Rather than display a drop-down list of effects from a menu, instead there is a panel with preview images that change to show you how effects will behave when you mouse over them.

There are so many effects I love I’m not sure where to start. First off, there’s an auto-enhance. Goodbye auto-levels and curves. Miniaturize will apply a tilt-shift blurring effect. The replace color effect is so brilliant I can’t even describe it. Adding a halftone no longer requires a multi-page tutorial—just click, adjust and you’re done. There’s even an ASCII filter that will turn your image into text—and fast. I seriously can’t gush enough about all the amazing, time-saving effects in Pixelmator. It would take a Photoshop user hours to get the same results manually in many cases.

Let me finish up by adding that I love the Pixelmator interface. A lot of thought and care went into building it that needs to be properly appreciated. Aside from merely looking nice, there are UX enhancement’s that make using the app better. It’s the little stuff, like, for instance, when you select a tool it sort of jumps and increases in size in the menu so you know, without a doubt, what tool you have selected. Many of the effects menus have custom options that make them a breeze to use.

Overall, Pixelmator is one of those apps I can’t recommend enough. And that’s coming from a designer who has used Photoshop for years. Unless you’re 90 or a true to life professional photographer who needs some really niche functionality, you should buy Pixelmator without hesitation.