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Pixelmator's Shapes interface coming soon

Pixelmator is one of my favorite apps on the Mac -- I've been following it for a long time, and whenever I want to do any photo editing beyond a quick resize (and sometimes even when I want to do that), I click the Pixelmator icon in my Dock. This week at Macworld/iWorld 2013, Pixelmator's Ausra Meskauskaite kindly stopped by the media room to visit with the TUAW team, and chat about what Pixelmator's Lithuania-based developers have been up to recently.

It turns out they've been busy: The company is just about to introduce the long-awaited Shapes feature, allowing designers and artists to drag pre-created (or custom-made) shapes onto a digital canvas, and then edit various attributes of those shapes, like painting them with a color gradient, growing or shrinking them, and masking or layering them as needed. Pixelmator has planned to implement a shape element for a long time, and Photoshop users will know how useful dealing with shapes can be. But Meskauskaite told me that Pixelmator took its time working with the new feature, because they thought they could implement it better than Adobe did with Photoshop.

The final interface certainly does seem simple -- you can just drag a shape out, and then drag a gradient onto it as needed. Clicking on the placed shape brings up a series of control points, and those can be dragged around to get the shape exactly where you need it. You can even convert text over to a shape, and then interact with it in the same way. I'm not a design expert, but the whole interface seemed very fluid and easy to use.

Pixelmator is also working on an interface for layer styles, although I didn't get a chance to see that one in action just yet. Meskauskaite said that the company spent much of 2012 just making sure the app was running well and correctly, and now that 2013 has arrived, the focus will move to start putting new features in, like the shapes and upcoming layer styles interfaces.

Unfortunately, not everything has gone smoothly with Pixelmator in the last year or so. Meskauskaite told me that whenever Apple offers a cool new feature in OS X, "we take it and place it in the app." Pixelmator saw Apple's Auto Save feature, and immediately decided to add it into the app, but that change ended up rubbing a lot of users the wrong way. The problem is that Auto Save automatically wrote over any changes users made to images, which means that "Save As..." no longer worked (since the original image was replaced by the image being worked on, rather than being separate from it).

Instead of "Save As...", Pixelmator has implemented an "Export" screen, but the change in workflow has caused a lot of problems for users, admits Meskauskaite. She told me that "we had debates day and night" about how to deal with the Auto Save problem, and in the end, "we had to choose Auto Save." Users who understand how Auto Save works have dealt with the change better, she says, but Pixelmator also understands why users still attached to the old workflow would be frustrated, and the team is working on finding a solution that makes as many people happy as possible.

Pixelmator famously moved exclusively on to the Mac App Store a little while ago, and Meskauskaite says they're very happy to be selling apps (a lot of apps) via Apple's platform. I asked what the company might want out of the App Store in the future, and Meskauskaite said the number one thing they're looking for is volume purchasing. That's a feature that came to the iOS store a while ago, but hasn't yet shown up on the Mac App Store yet, and Pixelmator believes they would do well with it.

As for the future, Pixelmator certainly has plans, but couldn't share any of them just yet. Getting the 2.2 Blueberry "Shapes" update out is the current focus, and it should be available soon, and definitely in a beta form later on this month. As for the other updates, we'll just have to wait and see.