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TUAW preview: Pixelmator 1.3 "Tempo"


We've praised Pixelmator here before (and we've even shared our love with the devs directly) -- I am by no means an image-editing professional (Photoshop and Aperture are way, way beyond my ken), but Pixelmator lands exactly where I want it to: it's a relatively lightweight application with just enough features to do the complicated stuff when I need it done.

One of the big drawbacks of the software, though, is that performance-wise, it's never quite been up to par. Especially when pulling down big jobs like editing a lot of pictures at once or opening or closing really large pictures, Pixelmator has always lagged a bit behind. The team, however, wants to fix all that with their latest release, appropriately called "Tempo" -- they've made huge changes on the back end to try and bring performance up to where it needs to be for a solid image editor.

They've made a number of other nice changes, too, including finally creating a "Magic Eraser" with some nice click-and-drag functionality for selecting and editing specific color areas. TUAW recently got our hands on a preview version of Tempo -- our in-depth preview starts after the break, and you can click through the gallery below to see the new features in action.



The first things that strikes you, upon loading the new update, is that nothing has changed much at all -- this update of Pixelmator is mostly under the hood. The team tells us they've rewritten and optimized most of the code, and they're aiming to improve performance not only for this release, but for future releases as well. The difference is evident, however, when you try to open images or switch Spaces while Pixelmator is active -- things move much faster, and there's much, much less downtime. Opening large images especially used to slow down my little Mac mini to the point where I was sometimes waiting minutes to see a picture, but the new build of Pixelmator handles even large images well. Just to test the upper limit, I opened up about 12 screenshots (1920x1200) all at one time, and there was still a significant bit of lag between images -- this still isn't Photoshop, and if you are constantly opening and working with extremely large images, Pixelmator probably isn't for you. But in day-to-day use, the app was notably faster, and only bogged down when I asked it to do more than I normally would anyway.

None of the major tools have been changed too much, but there are a few new options in the mix, including the new Magic Eraser. The Pixelmator team is very excited about this -- they claim there's nothing else like it in any other applications out there. Basically, you choose the Magic Eraser, and then hold the click down as you drag it across the screen, and in real-time, you can see the selection grow to fill out that colored area of the picture. It works like Instant Alpha in iWork -- you just drag across until everything you want is selected (or back, if you want less selected), and the picture draws a selection for you.

As we said, the Pixelmator team is thrilled about this tool, and they've added it into almost all of the selection tools in the app -- the Magic Wand now works the same way when you drag it, and even the paint bucket can be clicked and dragged (or just clicked to work normally). It works fairly well -- if there are clear color definitions in your picture (like someone standing in front of a clean background), then it's very useful. But as you can see in the gallery above, if there are no color lines in the picture, you'll still have to select things by hand.

The color editing tools have been given a nice revamp as well -- Replace Color really shows off what the team has done (the same improvements appear in the Hue and Saturation and Colorize tools). They've made it much more of a dynamic experience -- before, all you got to replace the colors were a series of sliders, which could then be dragged back and forth until you aligned them the way you want. But now, the radius slider works in real-time (so you can see a black and white image of just which colors in the picture you're replacing), and then there's a color wheel you can turn that will show you which colors will line up with which -- if you want to change red to green, you just grab the red handle on the wheel, and drag it around to the green section inside. It's very intuitive, and really well done.

I'll mention here that I did find a bug with the Replace Color tool -- sometimes, when switching to the black and white selection display on the radius slider, the app didn't switch back, and I was left with my picture displayed as an empty screen (it didn't actually erase anything, there was just a display error). But again, this was a beta version, and hopefully that bug will be ironed out by the time the release drops.

Finally, Pixelmator has one more feature that I didn't even really notice right away -- whenever a special tool pops up (like Color Balance or Replace Color), other tools and display panels on the application will fade away until that tool is closed out. Personally, I appreciated it -- fading out all the other clutter let me focus on what I was doing, and when I closed the tool, the menus were quickly back where I needed them. However, for those who can focus their attention on their own, there's still an option in the app that will keep those other menus from fading away.

As a Pixelmator user, I'm really looking forward to this release -- there are a lot of solid changes in here, and all the background work ensures that there will be more good changes in the future. The performance fixes especially are welcome -- that was really my only complaint with the app so far, and now that it runs so much faster, I'm pretty happy with the way things are. Batch editing would be the only thing I'd still want to see as an addition, since even as a casual image editor I still need to do that sometimes, and if it's in Pixelmator right now, I haven't found it yet.

Pixelmator 1.3 will be a solid release. If you already use Pixelmator, you'll be happy to see the improvements, and if you've passed on the app before because of the performance slowdowns, it'll be worth another try (not to mention that you might want to check out the Magic tools -- they're fun). Hardcore image editors who've already found a high-end tool they use won't need to change horses, but for the rest of us who do a daily crop and resize with an occasional edit sprinkled in, Pixelmator is a great piece of software, and Tempo makes it even better.

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