A cheap buddy for Aperture

Could there really be such a thing as a "poor man’s Photoshop"? You bet. More than once in previous blogs I’ve mentioned an app called Pixelmator and suggested it as a cheap alternative to Photoshop. Pixelmator can step in to solve editing challenges that can’t be handled in Aperture.

Credit where it’s due: Tech writer and iPhone app developer Danny Gorog switched me on to Pixelmator a few weeks back and I’ve dabbled with it on a few occasions since. Its developers ask a very reasonable sum for a license, which will run you $A71.35.

(I’m supposing there are some of you reading this right now wondering if I’m going to mention GNU Image Manipulation Program, more commonly known as GIMP, which is free. Well, because it’s free, you’ve got nothing to lose but time and download capacity by giving it a go. So go to it. Visit http://gimp.lisanet.de/Website/Download.html to get it.)

Pixelmator, on the other hand, will cost you and, in my humble opinion, it’s worth every cent. Not because it bests GIMP in the feature department but because it’s got every flavour of OS X goodness rolled into its interface design. I’m a big fan of apps and of developers who know how to make an app look and feel all tickety-boo like a good OS X app should.

Yes, I like a generous dose of interface eye candy. There, I said it. See the image below for a taste of what I'm on about.

Pixelmator screenshot


So apart from the good looks, what’s the big deal? Layers, for a start. It’s impossible to composite images in Aperture. If you want to create a design that combines two or more images, you’ll need a layers-based editor. Just quickly, for those of you scratching their heads, a layers-based editor allows for placing images into their own editable layer, and to stack those layers in an order of your choice. Think of it as onion-skinning, if that helps. Combinations of layer opacity, blending, positioning and other design elements gives the user a great deal of latitude in editing the final design.

My favourite feature of Pixelmator is the ability to drag images from a photo browser into a current document and automatically generate a new layer to accommodate the image. This makes it a snap to build a montage.

Pixelmator's second strength is that unlike Aperture, there’s a set of real selection tools to work with. A marquee, lasso and magic wand tool provide the flexibility to select portions of the image for subsequent editing. Odd thing is all this functionality is already part of OS X or other Apple apps, such as Preview and Pages. Why Apple hasn’t yet built tools of this kind into Aperture is a mystery. But Apple didn’t, so you need an external editor that can.

The third attraction of Pixelmator is its filters. Many options in Pixelmator’s Filters menu mirror those in Photoshop. Blur and sharpen are the most useful, but there are lots of creative options, plus a sub-menu that lets you dip into the power of OS X’s Core Image filters.

Some filters or effects have a "rope" dangling from the filter’s floating palette. I thought this was very odd when I first used Pixelmator but soon realised that the rope connects the cursor to the palette, so after you’re done with applying an edit, it’s very easy to trace your way back to the palette to click off the OK button and click away the palette. Sounds odd, I know, but it works a treat — especially on a 27-inch display with a maelstrom of app windows vying for attention.

Anything else? It’s fast. With GPU acceleration, you’ll find Pixelmator very responsive. I also like that the keyboard shortcuts are familiar. If you’ve spent any time in Photoshop, you should have no trouble picking up the shortcuts in Pixelmator.

Gripes? Just one: no history. While it seems there are limitless undos (undones, undids, undudes? I counted 50) a history of editing actions á la Photoshop makes it easy to pinpoint where things began going wrong with your editing and to easily get back to the point at which you need to start again.

Also, something to bear in mind is that a copy of Photoshop Elements is about $150. I’m sure Elements users (hello, ColinC12, talking to you) can speak a lot better on behalf of Adobe’s lightweight image editor, so I’ll leave them to champion its cause in the forums. But twice the price of Pixelmator does get a lot more image editor.

Even so, if I were after an external image editor for handling the jobs that Aperture can’t, I’d be happy to fork over the asking price for a Pixelmator license, if not for its useful set of tools that are more than adequate for simple editing, then for something I always rate highly in Mac software - the fun-to-use factor.

Get a trial version at www.pixelmator.com

And if you try it out, please let us all know what you think. Remember, photography is a conversation. So share, OK?

Discuss this post with me at MacTheForum!


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