Pixelmator Pro Review: An image-first experience for photo editing on Mac

Pixelmator Pro is the newest addition to the Pixelmator Team's incredible array of photo editing tools for both Mac and iOS. This pro version is built on the foundation of Pixelmator for Mac but has a completely redesigned interface that focuses more on displaying the image than spotlighting the tools. It's got all the advanced editing tools you'll ever need to perfect your photos, but removes distraction so you can dedicate your eyes to the details in front of you.

I've only spent a little time with Pixelmator Pro, but it has already become my new favorite editing tool for Mac. It's easy to start using, even for beginning photo editors but is bursting with advanced tools that any professional photographer would need.

Pixelmator Pro - $59 - Download now (opens in new tab)

The interface is image-first

Pixelmator Pro

The biggest difference between Pixelmator and Pixelmator Pro (aside from the many additional tools) is the complete overhaul of the interface. Instead of floating tools that lay on top of your image, you're presented with a full view of your photo with the tools resting off to the sides, which you can hide at any time.

This makes the photo front-and-center. It may not seem like much, but it really makes a difference in how I interact with the app. The tools blend into the black border, and sub-tools are translucent until you click on one to access all of the customizations. If you need to quickly view your photo without the tools, simply click on the photo edit icon in the top right corner of the screen and it hides completely.

Your layers are visible on the left side of the interface, and can also be hidden at any time with just a click on the leftmost button and selecting "Hide Layers".

To add even more to the photo-first design, you can hide all of the tools and interface by selecting Hide Interface from the View section of the App Menu. The currently-selected tool is still in place, but you don't have all of those little icons on the side getting in the way.

It's all about the tools

Pixelmator Pro

Another major upgrade to Pixelmator Pro is the many new tools. Not only are there some fantastic photo adjustment tweaks, but there is a huge array of painting tools with dozens of brushes, each with a variety of textures, sizes, brush styles, and more.

I'm absolutely not an artist and have very little experience with digital illustrating. What I can say, though, is that Pixelmator Pro has more tools and customizable options for size, thickness, style, and texture than I've seen in a lot of painting apps. It even supports Photoshop brushes.

As for photo editing tools, the list is lengthy. The nondestructive color adjustments can make the most washed out photo pop with life. I have a few photos (AKA: a lot of photos) in my library that are nearly perfect except for the bland background on a winter's day, or the washed out effect from the camera being at the wrong angle against the sunlight. With some adjustments to the colors, including my favorite, Black Point, I'm able to pull out details in otherwise flat images that looked drab in their original form.

Pixelmator Pro also features some really interesting effects that can punch up your photos. They're somewhat kitschy, with such effects as mosaic and wave, which manipulate a photo into swirls or broken into parts, or some such thing. But, if you use some of them sparingly, you can take an otherwise boring image and make it pop.

I have quite a few blurry photos taken at live music events (in the dark, lots of action - a photographic nightmare). Using Burst or Zoom, I'm able to manipulate an otherwise horrible mess into something unique and interesting.

With the repair tool, you can fix pretty much any mistake. I completely hid a messy, brightly lit/partly cloudy sky with the repair tool, which took the focus away from a washed out corner of the photo and made the whole thing look better. There are dozens of tools specifically designed for graphic design that I wasn't even able to dig into in the short time I've had with the app.

Smart layers are smart

Pixelmator Pro

Pixelmator Pro uses machine learning to automatically name a layer. If you drag and drop an image into a layer, it will identify the main subject of the photo and name it. If it gets it wrong, or if you have a better name, you can manually change it, but for the most part, it's a fantastic way to organize your layers so you can find them easily in a project.

You can combine layers, like multiple photos for a collage or a single photo with different layers that have text, which you can merge into one. You can drag items, photos, graphics, and more, from your Mac directly into the app without having to look for them from the app menu.

Once you start adding layers, they appear on the left side of the window so you can easily select them. If you want to still see the layers, but don't need to see their names, you can reduce the list to thumbnail size instead. You can also lock any single or multiple layers to avoid accidentally making changes to a layer you've finished.

Who is Pixelmator Pro for?

Pixelmator Pro

On the one hand, I'd say it's for professional photographers. With a $59 price tag, it's hard to recommend this much program for a beginner or hobbyist. On the other hand, the interface is so intuitive and user-friendly that, aside from the cost, It's perfect for people getting started with photo editing.

Pixelmator Pro is for people that have some experience with photo editing and want to move up to the next level. Because Pixelmator Pro is so intuitive and also has so many advanced tools, not only is it the next level, it's the last level. You'll never need another photo editing app. You've got the basics and the deep-dive complex tools.

It's not, however, for someone that just likes to put a fun filter on top of a selfie so they can post it on Instagram. Though preset filters (and ones you create yourself) are available, $60 is a high price for something that you'd only use to drop a filter onto.

If you feel like you're too new to the photo editing game to justify the price tag (you shouldn't ... in the long run, you'll be happy with your purchase), you can invest in Pixelmator (not-the-pro) for just $14.99 (opens in new tab). It's got a lot of great photo editing features. Until Pixelmator Pro, I considered it one of the best photo editing apps for Mac (Sorry, Pixelmator, your successor is just so flipping rad).

If you've got your finger on the trigger, but are still not sure you want to go all-in with Pixelmator Pro, you can take it for a test drive with a free, 30-day trial.

If you've been waiting for this moment since it was first hinted at, you've probably already installed it, but if not, it's available now in the Mac App Store for $59.

Pixelmator Pro - $59 - Download now (opens in new tab)

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).

  • Thanks for the early take on Pixelmator Pro. What are your thoughts concerning how it compares to something like Affinity Photo? Does a user of Affinity Photo benefit from Pixelmator Pro, or is it mostly a different approach to the same stuff?
  • I also have Affinity Photo and would have to say that it's mostly a different approach with the same stuff, except that Pixelmator Pro has WAY more painting/illustration tools and a better way to incorporate shapes and text boxes (like, for graphic design). If you're heavy on photo editing, Affinity Photo is just fine. If you're also big on illustration and graphic design work, Pixelmator Pro is worth the addition.
  • Worth noting that Pixelmator Pro is new, and Affinity Photo has been available since 2015. Give Pixelmator Pro 2 years and I'll be much more interested in a comparison then 🙂
  • Affinity will at least be in the next major product version by then, and you'll use the same handicap for Pixelmator - ad infinitum. Serif has Affinity Designer for that stuff with Publisher coming soon. I still think Affinity Photo is a better option. It also supports Photoshop plugins like Nik Collection and has a superior iPad app. Pixelmator wins with it's iPhone support but is that being updated as well?
  • I wouldn't use "ad infinitum", it's just because Pixelmator Pro is a new product right now (regardless of the fact that "Pixelmator" exists). It could well be that Affinity Photo might still be ahead in 2 years, but that will have given Pixelmator Pro enough time to catch up. Not sure if Pixelmator on the iPhone is still being updated, it'll obviously get updated to support things like the iPhone X and new iPhone features, but I'm not sure if they're working on a Pixelmator Pro for the iPad and possibly the iPhone
  • I remember seeing something in the promos they sent out regarding vector capabilities. Did you see any of that or test it? (I know they had basic internal-only vector capabilities with Pixelmator, but they weren't really usable as a even a base competitor to Illustrator or Affinity Design.)
  • Thanks for the response. Answered my questions. May be worth checking out as I do some some basic illustration/design work, but not sure I need all of the stuff Affinity Designer brings to the table at this point. Also... new, shiny, and curiosity...
  • Thanks for the review, but it would be nice to see the perspective from a graphic artist. I think I bought Pixelmator when it was $40 or $50, and while I wish there were an upgrade, I've gotten that money out of it and then some! Just the interface cleanup (a major pain) is worth it. That said, I suppose I also need to compare it to PhotoShop and the benefits of having that whole suite (though this is like 1.5 months of CC cost). Industry compatibility and skill-marketability are the big considerations, but I also want to use the best tools for the job** (and while I haven't used PS for a while now, I get the impression that the CC apps are more old-school and clunky in comparison to some of these newer apps?). (**For example, if I used CC, then I'd feel compelled to also use Audition instead of Logic, or Premiere instead of Final Cut, etc.)
  • People get CC because they are in that ecosystem. Otherwise, they just brought Apples Pro Apps and supplemented with a few others. The subscription has made it a no brainier for professionals who use multiples of these historically expensive applications - similar to Office 365. Photographers only need a Photography plan, and Adobe (and even Affinity) is a superior option due to their enabling you to repurpose past investments (plugins and other apps that integrate with them). On top of that, Affinity and Photoshop are both better documented. The Affinity Photo Workbook is cheap enough and top notch/excellently developed. Pixelmator doesn't really have anything like that. Another issue is them being Mac only. With Adobe or Affinity, you can use the same app across platforms with feature parity. This is great for people like me who have an Apple desktop but windows gaming laptop that I use for gaming, graphics and media manipulation (a conscious choice due to Windows' deep app ecosystem and the fact that I can get basically a windows PC with better specs than a $2,700 15" rMBP for almost half the price. Supporting Windows is still a bigger deal than supporting Macs, especially with the competition being so good across platforms, and being excellently documented.
  • I just downloaded the 30-day trial on my MBP running the latest update to Sierra and was surprised to see that I need High Sierra to run Pixelmator Pro.
  • I believe it uses features that make High Sierra a prerequisite.
  • So I tried it on my other MBP that's running High Sierra, but it needs support for Metal graphics and won't run.
  • Ouch, that's a shame. Usually they can specifiy requirements in the Mac App Store so that it warns you before buying/downloading it. List of Macs that support Metal are here:
  • I have Sierra on my 2012 MBP which does support Metal, and High Sierra on my 2011 MBP, which doesn't support Metal. The reason for not upgrading the 2012 machine to High Sierra is that I have Photoshop CS6 and don't want to risk breaking it with the High Sierra update. Both of these machines are still highly capable, especially with 16 GB of RAM, a high density screen (1680 x 2015) and a SSD.
  • I have been using Pixelmator for some time now on both iOS and MacOS and am in love with the Pro upgrade. It does everything that I need it to do that I could have done with other apps like like Photoshop or Affinity and it's easier to use. I think that we need to stop throwing around the term "for professionals" when it comes to different apps. A pro/professional is not someone who uses a high priced app like photoshop or office just to say that this is what they are using but rather someone who can get the job done no matter the platform or software.
  • Indeed. A long time ago I used to always have Photoshop despite not being a "professional" in that field. But it was great to have because for any kind of image editing I needed to do, it'd be able to do what I needed. Now, I have bought Pixelmator Pro, and will use that. I may only need it now and again, but when I do, I know it'll do what I need it to do, and I like to support software that deserves the money due to the amount of effort they've put in