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First Look: Pixelmator private beta arrives

David Chartier

The day is finally here. After an introductory video back in May and a more in-depth teaser earlier this month, the Pixelmator crew have begun sending out the private beta downloads and I just took it for a spin, creating the image in this post. It is indeed a sexy app - the UI is a gorgeous translucent black, and it really does offer a lot of functionality and innovation aimed squarely at Adobe Photoshop or, perhaps more appropriately, Photoshop Elements. While Pixelmator is still very much a beta and too buggy for shop or casual work, I am able to play with most of the promised features, including snapping pics from an iSight, the iPhoto browser and all the powerful color and manipulation tools.

Thankfully, Saulius and the Pixelmator crew gave me permission to write up some initial thoughts with screenshots, so check out a preliminary Pixelmator gallery I've put together of some handy features and clever details, and read on for more of my first impressions of this highly anticipated image editor.

Gallery: Pixelmator First Look | 8 Photos

Overall, Pixelmator is shaping up to be a great app. Starting it up feels light, snappy and fast; easily beating out competitors by a landslide. Beyond its slick UI is a powerful image editor that offers a lot of control over color and selecting specific regions to edit. You can mask out parts of an image or layers, and yes that's right: layer support is in full effect here, complete with blending modes so color in one layer can affect the others below it.

You can toggle layer visibility on and off, and adding an image lying around on your Mac to a canvas you're already working on is as easy as dragging and dropping from the Finder; even Photoshop CS3 doesn't do basic integration with Mac OS X like this, which is where I think one of Pixelmator's fundamental strengths really shines (note the iSight snapshot earlier in the article). Instead of using its own color picker or type palettes, Pixelmator simply takes advantage of the system wide color and type panels already found in Mac OS X.

This means you can set your favorite fonts and colors in many other Apple and 3rd party apps like Adium, Pages and ecto (notice the blue and green swatches at the bottom of this color pane on the right above), and they'll come right along for the ride in Pixelmator, and vice versa. You might also notice that I have the the Hex Color Picker from waffle software installed as a plug-in for the Mac OS X color palette; it too is ready to work in Pixelmator.

Diving deeper into Pixelmator's abilities, many of the more advanced color, selection and manipulation tools are here for power users. There is a levels dialog, channel mixer, masking tools and some handy transformation abilities. A healthy number of filters are also present, including the pseudo-3D ones we saw in that in-depth screencast earlier this month. There really seems to be quite a bit here, whether you're just a casual user who would like to snap an iSight pic and play with it, or you're a more advanced image editor who needs flexible color, selection and layer manipulation tools but don't want to shell out a minimum of $650 just to get a few key Photoshop features.

Be sure to check out the gallery for a few more choice screenshots, and stay tuned for more coverage as Pixelmator matures into a more solid 1.0 release for the masses.

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