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Pixelmator for iPad review: The best image editor on the iPad

One of the favorite image editors on the Mac is now available for iPad and it's loaded with photo tools, effects, and templates designed for almost any photo project.

Jason Parker Senior Editor / Reviews - Software
Jason Parker has been at CNET for nearly 15 years. He is the senior editor in charge of iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.
Jason Parker
5 min read

Pixelmator for iPad is a pro-level image editor with tons of templates, tools and effects for perfecting your photo projects. It has a full set of artistic tools so you can touch up a photo or paint a picture from scratch. It also supports iCloud Drive and handoff features so you can start working on one Apple device and seamlessly move to the next.


Pixelmator for iPad

The Good

Pixelmator for iPad has tons of advanced photo-editing tools and each have intuitive controls for making precise adjustments.

The Bad

There is no version for the iPhone.

The Bottom Line

Advanced photo editing features and tons of artistic tools for creating and editing images make Pixelmator a must-have for photo enthusiasts and well worth the price.

Pixelmator has been available for Mac for a long time, acting as an affordable ($29.99) but serviceable alternative to Adobe Photoshop. But with the iPad version, it feels as though a lot of thought went into creating the best tools for a touchscreen, making it a benchmark to compare to other top-shelf photo editors for iPad. To sweeten the deal, it only costs $4.99.

Pixelmator uses the touch screen extremely well (pictures)

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Made for touchscreens

On the Mac desktop, Pixelmator closely resembled the Photoshop experience with separated tool palettes, a layer manager, and other windows you could move for flexibility in your personal workflow.

Many photo editors for iOS come packed with features, but the screen often gets crowded with buttons, sliders and toolbars that get confusing. With Pixelmator on the iPad your project is front and center, but by using a handful of buttons at the top and onscreen tools, you can get to the app's many features without much screen clutter.

You start by touching the plus sign in the upper left to either take a picture or import one from your photo library or iCloud Drive. You can also create a project from scratch using this menu, with a number of templates that include several collage types, poster layouts, or even greeting cards. Even if you just want to start with a blank sheet to work with, you have complete control over its dimensions with a keypad where you can enter the width and height.

Few buttons, enormous feature list

Once you have an image onscreen or if you decided to start with a blank slate, your main tools are in the upper right. Touching the paintbrush gives you a dropdown menu with artistic tools for painting, retouching, or drawing; lets you adjust colors and effects; gives you selection tools (like the lasso from Photoshop); and you can make formatting adjustments.

To the right of that is a plus sign button where you can shoot or import a new image as a layer, add text with several font selections, or add basic shapes (squares, stars, etc.) in a few different colors.

Next to that is the settings menu button where you can adjust canvas dimensions, toggle onscreen rulers and snap-to guides, and enable supported pressure sensitive stylus devices.

A sharing button lets you send a copy via the iOS sharing menu, open your project in another app, save to iCloud Drive, or save to your photo library.

The fifth and final button in the upper right is a question mark that lets you toggle tool tips so you can get the gist of the main controls.

Editing images

With this simple set of controls, you can do a multitude of different actions, all of which are extremely intuitive on the touch screen.

Touching the Paint and Erase option gives you tons of different artistic tools so you can draw with pencils, pens, crayons, markers, paintbrushes and more, with several styles for each type. To give you an idea of your options here, there are 12 different styles for each type of tool. There are even 12 eraser types so you can fade and obscure parts of your project with just the right look. I've used a lot of photo editors as well as paint apps on iOS, but I've never seen an app with this many tool options.

The retouch selection gives you nine different tools so you can lighten or darken specific areas of an image, sharpen the focus, fix red-eyes, desaturate and more, all applied with a swipe of your finger.

Adjusting colors is particularly cool, because it pushes your photo to the left, and brings up several color presets with thumbnails so you can see their effects along with color level sliders for more precise adjustments. You also have sliders here for brightness, contrast and saturation.

When you touch the Add Effects button, you get a large selection of thumbnails across the bottom you can scroll by swiping, but each type opens up into another group of thumbnails so you can select the style for that type of effect. Once you select an effect, the app gives you onscreen controls to adjust the size and intensity of the effect with a neat radial control system. Of course, there are many photo apps that give you tons of effects, but Pixelmator has really high-quality selections and you can customize the look further with onscreen controls not found in most other apps.

In other words, Pixelmator seems simple on the surface, but you really see how it stands apart with its flexibility and feature options when you dig a little deeper.

Layer manager

Working with layers can be tricky on the desktop, but with Pixelmator on the iPad it's easy. You can add a layer by hitting the plus sign in the upper right to import another image. Once your second image is selected, you can go back to the paint brush button and select format to adjust the layer opacity.

To switch between layers, you can drag your finger in from the left side of the screens to bring up thumbnails for each layer. Touching a thumbnail on the left makes that layer active so you can make edits on it without effecting the other layers.

The layer system is really easy and intuitive so creating masks and double exposure projects are much easier than other apps with similar tools.

No iPhone version

I was already a big fan of Pixelmator on the Mac and (if you can't tell) I'm very impressed with it on the iPad, but the only problem is, I can't use it on my iPhone. I suppose I can see how the smaller screen might get a little crowded with all the tools in the app, but this image editor is so good that I think it should be on every device.


Pixelmator for iPad is the best image editor I've seen yet on iOS. It's loaded with features usually found in pro-level image editors like Photoshop, but the interface makes it easy to do advanced edits with your photos on the touch screen. It's not just the feature list that makes it stand apart from other apps though; its the way the features are organized making hundreds of different potential tweaks only a couple of taps away.

It has amazing amounts of tool variations and styles, beautiful font selections, and the customization options for each tool are virtually endless.

If you're a photographer or just like to play with your images, Pixelmator is a must-download. The only problem that will quickly become apparent after using it is that you can't get it on your iPhone.


Pixelmator for iPad

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 10Interface 9Performance 9