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Pixelmator 3.1 Marble: New tools, expanded capabilities nudge photo editing app into pro arena

Jackie Dove | Jan. 28, 2014
Pixelmator 3.1 Marble (Mac App Store link) is the latest iteration of an image editing app that's often viewed as the hobbyist photographer's alternative to Adobe Photoshop. Much attention has been focused on Pixelmator as enthusiasts seek to escape the confines of Photoshop CC subscriptions. Recently, Apple featured Pixelmator as part of its performance demos of the new Mac Pro, so it's no accident that the company has now released a fresh update of the program roughly in tandem with Apple's new

Overall, I found the program smooth and stable and operated as I expected in most instances on a series of Macs that most users would own. The layers palette provided the flexibility to experiment non-destructively with multiple effects and edits simultaneously. The challenges I encountered were related to the program's interface and the effect it has on general usability.

Interface dilemmas
Despite Pixelmator's many fine qualities, there are still challenges in operating the program and interface features that could stand some improvement.

Pixelmator has torn a page from its Adobe counterparts with a dark--in this case stark black--background. Some people like this, but I find it a bit much. It's hard to read tiny type of any kind, and even harder if that type is white on a black background. Adobe offers some limited color scheme choices; Pixelmator should do the same. That said, the colorful, consumer-friendly toolbar icons are a relief compared with the monochromatic beveled look of iPhoto and Photoshop.

For years, Adobe has offered a choice in how to group Photoshop panels together and Pixelmator's independent palettes may well appeal to some users. But for Mac artists who finally reconciled with the all-in-one application frame, reverting back to mandatory independent windows may be an unpleasant adjustment. Then too, Pixelmator's floating palettes are not dockable, which tends to open up even more chaos on your desktop.

The fact that there's no tabbed interface in the main window makes it harder to switch between separate images for compositing. Details like the program's inability to lock a layer can result in some frustrating keyboard-mouse acrobatics.

And while there can be no complaints about 16-bit capability--users have been clamoring for this feature--it seems silly not to have extended that capability to all Macs capable of handling it, as opposed to limiting the coveted feature to the Mac Pro. Pixelmator says it is working to implement 16-bit support for other Mac models for the future.

Bottom line
Photo editing enthusiasts who seek to replace Photoshop with Pixelmator have to accept Pixelmator on its own terms. It's an advanced consumer app that, with version 3.1, gains additional flexibility and features for both consumers and prosumers. 

Despite that certain Pixelmator features are reminiscent of those found in Photoshop, Pixelmator is not Photoshop, and it does not pretend to be. However, it will likely please many photography enthusiasts who do not have to work in CMYK or other color spaces or modes, and who don't need video capability or sophisticated Photoshop-style non-destructive adjustment layers. Moreover, photo pros who must collaborate in groups or work in standardized environments still need Photoshop, but most hobbyists probably do not.


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