Pix­el­ma­tor 3.5

£22.99 from the Mac App Store pix­el­ma­tor.com

Macworld - - Contents -

As you start mov­ing be­yond the ba­sics of edit­ing im­ages – past gen­eral ex­po­sure and colour ad­just­ments – you’ll dis­cover a semise­cret truth: a lot of your time is spent select­ing spe­cific ar­eas for edit­ing. Mak­ing a fore­ground ob­ject brighter, for in­stance, can re­veal a halo if the se­lec­tion doesn’t match well with the ob­ject.

Se­lec­tions have tra­di­tion­ally been a strength of Adobe Pho­to­shop, but the grand­daddy ed­i­tor is overkill for many peo­ple who don’t need its ex­ten­sive fea­ture set, or don’t want to pay a

Cre­ative Cloud sub­scrip­tion fee (which starts at £6.98 a month with an an­nual plan, and can cost up to £69.72 per month for the full CC suite).

In­stead, Pix­el­ma­tor 3.5 Canyon (pix­el­ma­tor. com/mac) has been a pop­u­lar and in­ex­pen­sive Pho­to­shop al­ter­na­tive. The main im­prove­ments in ver­sion 3.5 make it eas­ier and less time-con­sum­ing to cre­ate good se­lec­tions. This ver­sion also brings se­lec­tive edit­ing to Ap­ple’s Pho­tos app by in­tro­duc­ing a new Pho­tos Edit­ing Ex­ten­sion, Pix­el­ma­tor Re­touch, that brings many of its re­touch­ing tools to im­ages in your Pho­tos li­brary.

Se­lec­tive ser­vice

The chal­lenge when mak­ing se­lec­tions is that there isn’t al­ways a clean line you can fol­low by draw­ing with the Lasso tool, and even when there is, defin­ing it by hand is painstak­ing. Let the soft­ware as­sist in a big way.

The Quick Se­lec­tion tool (which re­places the Paint Se­lec­tion tool) de­tects edges and shad­ows, and pays at­ten­tion to the di­rec­tion the mouse pointer is mov­ing as you drag to fig­ure out which ar­eas to se­lect. In gen­eral, the tool does a pretty good job of select­ing only the ar­eas I want, even when the tones are sim­i­lar and when the tool’s brush size was larger than the item be­ing se­lected. I also like how Pix­el­ma­tor high­lights the sec­tions us­ing a red swath of colour, which is im­me­di­ately iden­ti­fi­able as you work.

Don’t ex­pect the Quick Se­lec­tion tool to work mir­a­cles, though. It will do a good first pass in dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions, like hair, but you’ll need to re­fine the se­lec­tion later.

For ar­eas where you do have well-de­fined lines, the Mag­net Se­lec­tion tool helps you avoid a lot of work and frus­tra­tion. Click a start­ing point and then drag (with­out hold­ing the mouse but­ton) along the edge of the item you wish to se­lect. The se­lec­tion au­to­mat­i­cally clings to edges.

As you might ex­pect, the tool can be thrown off by sim­i­lar tones, and some­times it jumps away from where your eyes think it should go. That’s why you can re­fine the line as you go: click to set a point, press Delete to re­move a pre­vi­ous point, and, when the line starts to stray like a puppy learn­ing to walk, hold Op­tion to tem­po­rar­ily switch to the Polyg­o­nal Lasso tool and de­fine your own line; do­ing so doesn’t aban­don the mag­netic se­lec­tion work you’ve done so far. Over­all, the tool works well and pro­vides plenty of flex­i­bil­ity to make a se­lec­tion while the Mag­netic Se­lec­tion tool re­mains ac­tive.

Ul­ti­mately, mak­ing good se­lec­tions doesn’t hap­pen with just one or two tools. As you do more, you’ll com­bine the pro­gram’s other tools, such as paint­ing in Quick Mask mode and us­ing the Re­fine Se­lec­tion com­mand, for bet­ter se­lec­tions. But the Quick Se­lec­tion and Mag­netic Se­lec­tion tools in Canyon make the process much eas­ier.

It’s worth men­tion­ing that the com­pany has also im­ple­mented the Quick Se­lec­tion and Mag­netic Se­lec­tion tools into Pix­el­ma­tor for iOS 2.3 (pix­el­ma­tor.com/ios). One of Pix­el­ma­tor’s strengths is the abil­ity to syn­chro­nize edit­ing projects be­tween Mac and iOS, com­plete with lay­ers and ad­just­ments. Be­ing able to make bet­ter se­lec­tions, es­pe­cially in a touch in­ter­face where you can im­me­di­ately see what’s be­ing se­lected, is a help­ful ad­di­tion.

Pix­el­ma­tor Re­touch ex­ten­sion

Most of the edit­ing tools in Ap­ple’s Pho­tos ap­pli­ca­tion ap­ply to an en­tire im­age, so if you keep your photo li­brary there, you may feel like your op­tions are lim­ited.

That’s where Pho­tos ex­ten­sions come in. The new Pix­el­ma­tor Re­touch ex­ten­sion gives you sev­eral con­trols for edit­ing se­lected por­tions of a photo, with­out hav­ing to ex­port the im­age to edit it in the Pix­el­ma­tor ap­pli­ca­tion. Lighten or darken ar­eas, ad­just colour sat­u­ra­tion, heal im­per­fec­tions or re­move un­wanted items, clone sec­tions, and sharpen or blur ar­eas.

All of the fea­tures worked well, al­though it’s im­por­tant to note that ap­ply­ing them is ad­di­tive: If you lighten an area, and then go back over it

again with the brush, it will be­come even lighter. That’s not al­ways a neg­a­tive, but don’t ex­pect that you can ad­just the tone as if it were on its own layer (that’s when you might con­sider ex­port­ing to Pix­el­ma­tor it­self). Also, as with all Pho­tos ex­ten­sions, when you click Save Changes, the ed­its are burned in; you can re­vert the im­age to its orig­i­nal state, but can’t walk back any re­cent ed­its.

Gen­eral ob­ser­va­tions

Pix­el­ma­tor rep­re­sents that per­cent­age of Pho­to­shop’s fea­tures most peo­ple ac­tu­ally use on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Though it’s not with­out its quib­bles. At the top of my list is er­ratic ap­pli­ca­tion of ad­just­ments. Let’s say, for ex­am­ple, I use the Bright­ness and Con­trast con­trol to in­crease bright­ness by 10 per­cent, but then later de­cide that was too much. When I re­turn to that con­trol, the slid­ers are set back to zero, so I need to ap­ply a – 10 per­cent bright­ness ad­just­ment to go back to where I was (as­sum­ing I re­mem­bered that 10 per­cent was the amount ear­lier). Worse, this isn’t con­sis­tent; some con­trols, like Black & White, do pro­vide the last edit val­ues. I look for­ward to the day when Pix­el­ma­tor im­ple­ments real ad­just­ment lay­ers that can be in­de­pen­dently edited.

Mac­world’s buy­ing ad­vice

For most im­age edit­ing tasks, Pix­el­ma­tor is an ex­cel­lent, af­ford­able al­ter­na­tive to Pho­to­shop. Its en­hanced se­lec­tion tools work well and add to its util­ity, while the Pix­el­ma­tor Re­touch Ex­ten­sion for Pho­tos is a good way to add se­lec­tive ed­its while re­main­ing within your Pho­tos li­brary. Jeff Carl­son

This ini­tial se­lec­tion – sandy hair against a sim­i­larly coloured and tex­tured back­ground – was made in a sin­gle pass us­ing the Quick Se­lec­tion tool

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