Design

App Directory: The Best Image Editing App For Mac

There are a handful of good image editors on the Mac, but Photoshop has long been the king of them all. It’s our top pick, but that’s not to say there aren’t other apps that can get the most common tasks done for (a lot) less money. Here’s a look at why Photoshop’s the best and plenty of alternatives that might work just as well for you.

Adobe Photoshop

Platform: Mac OS X

Price: $1168 (30-day trial available)

Download Page

  • Layer-based workflow allows for flexible adjustments
  • Several image adjustment tools for a variety of options
  • Layer styles save time when creating common effects
  • Includes a robust set of filters for image alteration and manipulation that can be expanded with third-party plug-ins
  • Supports importing and exporting many image formats
  • Built-in Camera RAW plug-in is like a specialised RAW image editor app inside of Photoshop
  • Excellent image exporting tool for getting images ready for use on the web
  • Excellent colour management tools for images that will be printed
  • Smart Objects make it possible to easily re-use common assets
  • Healing brush and content-aware fill tools help you easily remove unwanted blemishes and even objects in photos
  • Create animations with Photoshop’s frame-by-frame animation tools
  • Several tools for quickly making complex selections and removing backgrounds
  • HDR imaging tools
  • Complex brush tool for great painting effects, including custom brushes you can create yourself
  • A lot more!

Note: This doesn’t even begin to dive into the features in Photoshop, which are far too numerous to list here. You can visit Adobe’s official Photoshop page to learn more, but even it doesn’t detail every single feature. Your best bet is to make use of the 30-day trial and explore for yourself.

Photoshop is amazing. There’s so much it can do and it makes common, repetitive tasks very simple. Photoshop offers some of the best colour correction methods, touch up brushes, and other image adjustment tools. It’s also not limited to photos. Photoshop has become a popular app for things like web site layout and illustration as well. It even provides things like layer styles so you can quickly add drop shadows, gradients, and other effects to your layouts without going through any tedious steps to create them. (This also provides a means for simple adjustments later.)

Photoshop has powerful format support, a great exporting tool for the web, and great colour management for users who plan to print their work. It’s a remarkably versatile application that serves a very wide skill set and has done so successfully for over two decades.

Photoshop is remarkably expensive, coming in at $1168 all by itself. It’s an amazing application, but this is an incredibly high price for software, and one few people can afford (especially with the rort-tastic Australian price, which is almost double what US users pay). Adobe is already losing novice users to other applications because of this barrier to entry, and that will become a greater problem down the line as the competition matures. There are discounts for student users, which then get you onto the upgrade path for future purchases, but it’s still very expensive, and Adobe has never adequately explained its continuing desire to ream Australian purchasers with an insane exchange rate.

In regards to the actual software, Photoshop’s biggest drawback is its bloat. The app has been around 1990, so it’s had plenty of time to grow pretty fat. In its later releases its gained features like 3D modelling that move a long wauy from its image-editing roots. Photoshop is big and can be slow at times. It distributes files all over your system and isn’t self-contained. All of this can be frustrating when you just want to use it to make a few photo edits. While its powerful feature set can be helpful in some situations, you’ll generally neglect about 90% of what the app can do every time you use it. This is simply because Photoshop can do too much. While Adobe has made efforts to increase the app’s speed, hopefully future releases will focus on this more and we’ll see a much snappier and less-bloated Photoshop in the coming years. For now, however, it’s still worth the trouble if you can afford it.

If you don’t want to pay the hefty cost of Photoshop, you’ve come to the right section. Here are a few options that can help you do some of what Photoshop can do for a much lower price.

Pixelmator ($30) is like a simpler, smaller, faster version of Photoshop that will cost you far less to own. It features an incredible toolset that is very comparable to Photoshop in many ways, and is a sufficient image editor for most people. It even has content-aware fill for removing unwanted blemishes and objects from your photos. That said, there are plenty of things Photoshop can do that Pixelmator can’t. A lot of Photoshop’s time-saving features like layer styles and automation actions aren’t present. Unless you need the full power of Photoshop, you should really consider Pixelmator instead. It’s incredibly powerful and very inexpensive for what it can do.

GIMP (Free) has been the go-to open source image editor for awhile, and it can do many things Photoshop can do. If you prefer Photoshop’s interface, however, you might want to check out GIMPshop (Free) instead, as it is basically the same program tweaked to emulate the style of Photoshop more closely.

Seashore (Free) is another image editor based on the GIMP, but has an interface that fits more with Mac OS X. It also focuses on providing basic image editing tools rather than acting as a full replacement for Photoshop (or other expensive image editing software). If you just need to make basic edits, it is worth a look.

LiveQuartz ($2) is another simple image editor. It comes with layer support, brushes and other tools, plus a few basic filters. It’s another decent option for basic edits.

Pixen (Free) is a more specialised image editor for pixel artists. It’s worth mentioning here because Photoshop’s tools for low-resolution artwork are pretty bad and Pixen makes for a good supplement (if you need one).

Any other Photoshop alternatives you love? Share ‘em in the comments!

Lifehacker’s App Directory is a growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools across multiple platforms.