Jumping Ship From Photoshop To Pixelmator: A Switcher's Guide

Jumping Ship from Photoshop to Pixelmator: A Switcher's Guide

Pixelmator is now our favourite image-editing app for Mac because it's incredibly cheap ($37.99) and almost as powerful as the far more expensive Adobe Photoshop. But if you're coming over from Photoshop, you'll notice that things work a bit differently. Let's take a look at how to do some of the most common Photoshop stuff in Pixelmator so you can get to using it right away.

As you'd expect, Pixelmator looks different from Photoshop, but for editing photos, it does almost everything Photoshop does -- especially for the average user's needs. It's also a lot easier to use, especially if you're new to image editing in general. That said, Pixelmator is pretty similar, uses a lot of the same toolbar icons, and if you've used Photoshop before, you can master Pixelmator with less than an hour of effort. If you're sick of Adobe's expensive subscription pricing, now's a great time to make the switch. If you're not a Mac user, GIMP can be customised to work nearly as well as Photoshop too, you can check out our guide here.

Learn Your New Keyboard Shortcuts

Jumping Ship from Photoshop to Pixelmator: A Switcher's Guide

A lot of the keyboard shortcuts in Pixelmator are the same as they in Photoshop, but you'll still need to learn Pixelmator's to really get into the app. The chart above from Dashkards should help you get started. If you want to make the shortcuts work more like Photoshop, you can change them around.

Get Used to the Different Toolbar Items

The toolbar in Pixelmator is pretty similar to Photoshop's, with the exception of few things:

  • Paint Selection: The paint selection tool is the purple marker in your toolbar. It works similar to the lasso tools to select sections of your image. Instead of carefully tracing over an image with the lasso, you can "paint" your selection and Pixelmator will automatically select similar colours to make selecting sections easy.
  • Gradient Tool: The gradient tool actually works identically to the one in Photoshop, but the icon's just a blue square that can easily be confused for Photoshop's shapes menu (which is the heart towards the bottom of the toolbar in Pixelmator).
  • Warp Tool: The Warp Tool icon (the lollipop looking thing) houses a few different tools. These tools allow you to stretch, compress, expand, contract, twirl or smudge an image. Unlike it Photoshop, these tools are all housed in the Warp Tool's dropdown menu.
  • Red Eye Tool: The red eye tool does exactly what you'd expect: it removes red eye from photos. Just click it, select the red eye in a photograph, and Pixelmator does the rest.

Otherwise, the icons and tools in Pixelmator are pretty similar to Photoshop and you should be able to find your way around the interface within a couple of minutes.

Differences in the Panels

For the most part, Pixelmator's menu bar and various windows are very similar to Photoshop's, but there are a few things worth noting.

The first thing you'll notice coming over from Photoshop is the fact your various windows and panels aren't dockable. Everything is floating, which makes managing your windows a little difficult, especially if you're used to Photoshop's very concrete interface. Likewise, there's no big workspace area. Instead, your image gets its own window with a contextual menu up top that changes depending on which tool you have selected.

As for the panels themselves, Pixelmator has a bunch of panels you'd expect, including a brushes, layers and shapes. But it also has a few that Photoshop doesn't have:

  • Effects Browser: The Effects Browser is essentially Pixelmator's take on Photoshop's Filters. Here, you'd find effects to edit your images, including blur, distortion, sharpen, colour adjustments, tile, stylize and halftone. Just pick an effect you want to add to your image, drag it over to the image, and you'll get a set of options to customise how the effect works.
  • Styles: The Styles menu works like Photoshop's Blending Options menu. You can adjust fill and stroke colours, add shadows or add reflections. You can also create your own styles.
  • Photo Browser: The photo browser is exactly what you'd expect. You can easily search for images on your computer or in iPhoto here.

For the most part, all these panels work the same way as they do in Photoshop, so if you're familiar with the various effects and blending options, you'll understand how to use them in Pixelmator right away.

How to Handle Layers in Pixelmator

Layers work slightly differently in Pixelmator, especially if you're working with adjustment layers. You can do just about all the same things as you can in Photoshop, but how you get there is a bit different.

In Photoshop, you can't alter a layer unless you select it from the layer panel. In Pixelmator, you can select it right from the image itself. It's intuitive, but if you're a long term Photoshop user it might take a little getting used to.

The newest version of Pixelmator also finally brings in Layer Styles. This allows you to do some of the non-destructive editing like you can in Photoshop. You'll also get all the blending options you're used to in Photoshop in the layers panel. That said, the layer styles aren't nearly as powerful as Photoshop's adjustment layers where you can edit levels, curves, and just about everything else without altering the main image. It's one of the main complaints people have about Pixelmator, and for now it seems like it's one of the few places where Photoshop still has a big leg up.

Editing Differences in Pixelmator

Pixelmator handles images and editing a little differently than Photoshop, and while we've already touched on some of these differences, let's take a closer look at exactly how you'll use them in your workflow.

  • Move/Transform Tools: Unlike Photoshop, Pixelmator's move and transform tool is combined into one. When you drag a new layer onto an existing image, you can move it around with the move tool. You can also then rotate or resize it instantly without hitting the Cmd+T shortcut.
  • Paint Selection Tool: We talked a little about the Paint Selection tool above, but it's worth noting how it works in editing. You can select any part of your image using the paint selection tool and it will automatically select a part of your image that a similar colour. It's basically Pixelmator's take on Photoshop's Magnetic Lasso tool. Once you have part of the image selected, you can then easily apply effects to the selection by dragging them from the Effects Panel.
  • The Repair Tool: The Repair Tool in Pixelmator is one of its coolest features. Just select the band-aid icon from the toolbar, then highlight anything you want to remove from an image. You can get rid of small blemishes, wrinkles or remove entire elements from an image.
  • Built-In Effects: We talked about how the effects panel works above, but it's worth taking a closer look at how to actually use them to to edit your images. Effects are what Pixelmator calls Photoshop's filters. You can preview an effect by mousing over it to see how it works. From there, you can double-click it or drag it to your image. Once you're there, you can adjust the effect amount, move the effect around, or make more acute changes. There's also a set of Instagram-esque effects under the Vintage Effect section that's worth noting. Here, you can apply all kinds of filters to change levels and give your photos an older look. Similarly, there's also a Light Leak effect that adds another way to give photos that vintage look.

Pixelmator's editing options are where it really steps away from Photoshop's system. It can do many of the same things as Photoshop, but it's a heck of a lot easier to use, especially if you're just doing light image editing. It does take some getting used to though, so when you're making the switch don't be surprised if you end up getting a little frustrated when you're learning how to edit.

What Pixelmator Still Doesn't Do

Finally, let's just do a quick rundown of a few of the more popular features in Photoshop that Pixelmator is lacking:

  • History: Pixelmator doesn't allow you to go back and look at the entire editing history of a project.
  • Actions: There's no way to record or use custom actions in Pixelmator.
  • Magnetic lasso: Pixelmator doesn't have the Magnetic Lasso selection tool, although the Paint Selection tool serves a similar purpose.
  • Bitmap to vector conversion: Pixelmator doesn't do most of the vector stuff that Photoshop does, and the lack of bitmap to vector conversion will likely bother some people.
  • Make animated GIFs: If you use Photoshop to make animated GIFs, you'll be disappointed with Pixelmator. It can't handle animated GIFs at all.
  • Third-party plugin support: Pixelmator doesn't have the extensive library of third party plugins that Photoshop does, so if you tend to use a lot of those tools, you'll be out of luck here.
  • 3D Filtering: Pixelmator doesn't have any of the 3D tools that Photoshop does.
  • Run on Windows: This is obviously the big one. Pixelmator is currently Mac only.

There are plenty of other subtle differences between the Pixelmator and Photoshop, and chances are you'll find a few little things that Pixelmator can't do or that it just does differently. For the most part though, if you're using Photoshop for basic image editing, Pixelmator can do everything you need it to and more. It's also a heck of a lot easier to use and once you get the hang of it image editing is quicker with Pixelmator than it is with Photoshop.


    Is it just me or do those screenshots look horribly cluttered. Whenever I had to use a Mac I would make the window full screen. It looks horrible with the desktop peeking through and menu's everywhere.

    "almost as powerful as the far more expensive Adobe Photoshop" lol

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now