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2023 MacStories Selects Awards: Lifetime Achievement Award

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of the Pixelmator Team’s image editing apps at MacStories. A lot of our coverage in recent years has focused on Pixelmator Pro and Photomator, but long before those apps ever hit the App Store, there was just plain Pixelmator, an app that’s still available on the iPhone and iPad, and I still use regularly.

Pixelmator debuted on the Mac in the fall of 2007. Here’s how the Pixelmator Team described the release on its blog:

Pixelmator Team today released Pixelmator 1.0, GPU-powered image editing tool that provides everything needed to create, edit, and enhance still images.

Built from the ground up on a combination of open source and Mac OS X technologies, Pixelmator features powerful selection, painting, retouching, navigation, and color correction tools, and layers-based image editing, GPU-powered image processing, color management, automation, and transparent HUD user interface for work with images.

It’s fun to look back at the app’s launch page with its focus on the iSight camera, iPhoto, and the latest Mac OS X technologies like Core Image and Open GL. It feels dated now, but the fundamentals that made Pixelmator an exciting new app in 2007 are just as important for the app and the Pixelmator Team’s other apps today as they were then.

Early promotional shots of Pixelmator.

Early promotional shots of Pixelmator.

Pixelmator has always focused on GPU-powered image editing. In 2007, that meant supporting PowerPC and Intel-based Macs to squeeze as much performance out of Pixelmator as possible. Today’s Macs are vastly different, allowing the Pixelmator Team to increasingly move into machine learning-based editing with features like Pixelmator Pro’s Super Resolution and ML Enhance.

Another feature touted by Pixelmator on that original launch page that I had forgotten was deep automation support via Automator. The same commitment can be seen in Pixelmator Pro today, which includes an extensive set of Shortcuts actions that few other apps can match. It’s a reflection of the Pixelmator Team’s early understanding that its apps are often used as part of workflows that rely on other apps – an all-too-rare approach by developers.

A few years later, Pixelmator was one of the earliest apps on the Mac App Store, where it saw early success, with $1 million in sales in 20 days. Throughout those early days, the Pixelmator Team continued to refine the app, shipping new features, adding tools like Content-Aware fill, a healing tool, and improved drawing tools.

Editing in today's Pixelmator on the iPhone.

Editing in today’s Pixelmator on the iPhone.

Pixelmator’s development continued unabated on the Mac in the years that followed. In the meantime, Apple released the iPad, a canvas that felt like a natural fit for an app like Pixelmator. That became a reality in 2014, with an iPhone version following less than a year later.

Pixelmator has since been replaced on the Mac with Pixelmator Pro, an app I rely on for editing many of the images on MacStories. The Pixelmator Team has also expanded its lineup to include Photomator, an excellent photo editor for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

For a time, it seemed inevitable that Pixelmator Pro for the iPhone and iPad would be the next shoe to drop, but it hasn’t, much to the consternation of some users. Instead, the original Pixelmator app for the iPhone and iPad has continued to evolve. The latest version has a new, more modern design, a faster Metal-based editing engine, and support for Pixelmator Pro files.

Editing in Pixelmator on the iPad.

Editing in Pixelmator on the iPad.

Pixelmator may not be on par with what can be accomplished with Pixelmator Pro on a Mac, but it’s an app that has stood the test of time for those of us with limited image editing needs. Pixelmator was one of the first apps on iPadOS to support layered image editing, and for that, it’s still one of the easiest to use. I’m a fan of what Affinity and Adobe have done on the iPad, but most of my needs are still met by Pixelmator all these years since its introduction. The app is simple to use and intuitive, without the learning curve that I’ve experienced with other image editors. So, while I hope Pixelmator Pro makes its way to the iPhone and iPad eventually, I also hope Pixelmator hangs around to address the sort of editing it does so well.

It’s remarkable how much the Pixelmator Team got right with its first release on the Mac. They saw a GPU-powered path that allowed them to create a sophisticated image editor with native Mac controls and deep support for automation. That legacy has extended to its other apps on every platform and is why Pixelmator remains a great choice on iOS and iPadOS nearly a decade after its debut.

Not everyone is a graphics pro, but everyone needs to edit images from time to time, whether that’s for your work or in your personal life. With Pixelmator, the Pixelmator Team recognized that those people weren’t being served by the existing apps on the market. For that and the app’s legacy that’s reflected in Pixelmator Pro and Photomator, Pixelmator deserves to be recognized with 2023’s MacStories Selects Lifetime Achievement Award.

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