Photography Reviews Software

Pixelmator Pro 2 review: is this cheap Photoshop rival the real deal?

Pixelmator Pro 2
Adobe alternative: Pixelmator Pro is terrific value

Adobe Creative Suite is magnificent, but also magnificently expensive. If you want the full suite of apps, Adobe will relieve you of £50 per month. Pixelmator Pro 2 doesn’t cover anywhere near the full breadth of Adobe’s Creative Suite, but if all you really use is Lightroom, Photoshop and Illustrator, then it could be a genuine replacement – and it costs only £38.99. That’s £38.99 full stop, not every month.

In this review, I’m going to look at it largely from the point of view of a photographer, because that’s where my skills lie. Pixelmator Pro 2 does have tools for illustrators and designers, and I will touch on these, but I simply don’t feel qualified to offer a definitive opinion on them.

One other thing to note before we get cracking. Although the Pixelmator team refer to this new version of the software as “Pixelmator Pro 2”, it’s simply labelled as Pixelmator Pro in the Apple App Store (it’s Mac only, sorry Windows fans). Don’t fear that you’re buying an old version.

Pixelmator Pro 2 – the new look

One of the biggest changes in this new version of Pixelmator is the revamped interface. The software has been tweaked to match Big Sur (the latest version of macOS) and it will work with either older Intel-based machines or Apple’s new M1 Macs.

By default, the software has the dark black look that every app seems to shoot for at the moment, but you can pick a lighter design in Preferences. Talking of Preferences, this is where you’ll find the option to choose one of four different workspaces for Photography, Design, Illustration or Painting. This cleverly adapts the toolbars in the software so that, for example, if you’re only interested in tweaking photos, you only see the tools that are relevant to that job. (Note: all the screenshots you see here are in the Default look, where the full range of tools are on offer.)

Pixelmator also lets you customise the menus, so if there are only one or two illustration tools you’ll ever need, you can add those to your menus and hide the rest, which is smart thinking.

Pixelmator Pro 2 for photography

When it comes to photography, Pixelmator Pro 2 is something of a halfway house between Lightroom and Photoshop. It doesn’t have Lightroom’s Library tools, which allow you to import photos, add metadata, make global import tweaks and such like, but the editing tools are very similar to those that you will find in Lightroom’s Develop panel. It also has those added illustration and painting tools that you’ll find in Photoshop, allowing you to easily draw shapes or add text behind images, for example.

I’m no illustrator, as I’ve mentioned before, but even I found it easy to get to grips with the basic drawing tools, allowing me to draw shapes and add text to a cut-out portrait (see below). It’s the kind of quick job you might do when adding profiles to a website, and Pixelmator makes that easier than it would be with Adobe’s tools.

When it comes to day-to-day tools that you might use to tweak photos, Pixelmator Pro 2 only lacks for red-eye remover – although cameras are so good at avoiding red eye these days, it’s not a tool I use often in Adobe’s suite.

The Lightroom-style slider system for adjusting exposures, saturation, vibrance etc are all there, as are curves, vignette and sharpening tools. I do miss Lightroom’s History feature, which allows you to dip back to any previous point in an edit, but unlike Lightroom, Pixelmator does support layers, so you can experiment with edits on a new layer and simply delete it if you don’t like the results.

I’m a big fan of Pixelmator’s Quick Selection tool, which allows you to drag over an image to create a selection. It instinctively finds the edges of a selection with impressive accuracy, making it easy to cut out your subject. Performance is very snappy on my Intel-based MacBook Pro 16in.

Pixelmator Pro 2

In addition to the regular editing tools, Pixelmator offers a series of filters that can be applied to images. I’m not a huge fan of smashing photos with filters, it’s all a bit too Instagram for my liking, but even I was impressed with this kaleidoscope-like effect on my photo of Brighton’s West Pier.

There are other tools that are less convincing. One of Pixelmator’s headline features is called ML Super Resolution, where the software claims to automatically boost the resolution of low-res images by effectively filling in detail with sophisticated guesswork.

Here’s a low-res image taken from the Microsoft website before ML Super Resolution is applied:

And here’s that same shot after:

It’s not a terrible effort, but you can definitely tell there’s something artificial about the enhanced image. That tool might be useful when a website CMS simply demands an image must be a certain resolution before it can be uploaded, for example, but I wouldn’t use it on a day-to-day basis.

If I’m being picky, some of the wording on menus can also do with a little work. If you edit a photo and decide not to save it, for instance, the options appear as ‘cancel’, ‘save’ or ‘delete’. Delete merely discards the edits, but you could easily be fooled into thinking that your original photo will be chucked in the bin, too.

The verdict

Is Pixelmator worth a fraction of a month’s subscription to Adobe’s suite? You don’t really need me to answer that question. Aside from Lightroom’s brilliant ability to help manage a large photo collection, Pixelmator offers 99% of the editing tools most photographers will need on a day-to-day basis, and much more besides.

It has a near immaculate user interface, performance is impressively snappy and its wide compendium of tools are frequently much easier to use than the Adobe alternatives. Like Affinity Photo before it, it has me seriously questioning whether my monthly Adobe fee is worth it.

Pixelmator Pro 2
  • Features
  • Performance
  • Value for money

Summary

A great, low-cost alternative to Adobe’s expensive suite that has most of the features enthusiast photographers will ever need 

Overall
4.5

Pros

  • A ridiculous bargain 
  • Comprehensive set of photo-editing tools
  • Easier to use than Adobe alternatives
  • Superb, snappy performance

Cons

  • No red-eye removal
  • The odd, gimmicky feature

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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