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Pixelmator’s filters are powerful and adjustable.

Review: Pixelmator brings high-end photo-editing to iPhone

From applying filters to working on creative and complex edits, this app’s a must for your iPhone

Price: $4.99/£3.99
Size: 98.7 MB (1 GB free space recommended for image storage)
Version: 2.0.1
Developer: Pixelmator Team

App Store Download button

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about iPhone image editor Pixelmator is that it exists at all. An ongoing narrative about Apple’s iOS devices — despite plenty of evidence to the contrary — is that they are not for doing ‘real work’ (whatever that is). Instead, they are devices for browsing web pages, noodling about on Facebook, and playing endless games of Candy Crush.

The iPad has started to break free of this thinking, with standout apps such as writing tool Ulysses, synth masterpiece Korg Gadget, and also Pixelmator. Although Adobe once brought a version of its powerful Photoshop tool to mobile (since removed from the App Store), it was Pixelmator that truly impressed, through not attempting to ape its desktop cousin. Instead, it was an immensely powerful image-editing tool with an interface specifically designed for touch.

However, what works on an iPad and an iPhone are very different things, hence why we were sceptical — if excited — on hearing Pixelmator was coming to iPhone. How would it fare on a much smaller screen? How mad would you be driven working on complex edits while your fingers tied themselves in knots? The answers are, respectively, ‘surprisingly well’ and ‘not very’.

Pixelmator’s filters are powerful and adjustable.

Pixelmator’s filters are powerful and adjustable

All of the tools from the iPad version are present and correct; indeed, the interface is practically identical — just a bit smaller. You start out with a blank canvas or one of your own photos, and can optionally utilize a Pixelmator template to add some default effects. If you just want to make basic adjustments to a photo, you can easily enough crop, muck about with levels, and then add filters. These aren’t single-tap effects either — most enable you to drag the focus point and range of the filter, thereby providing plenty of flexibility. (They’re optionally available inside Photos, too, which is a nice touch.)

But it’s outside of the filters and effects that Pixelmator is most interesting. You get a range of tools for painting on, erasing, retouching and distorting the canvas, and layers can be used to work independently with individual elements. Said layers can have effects applied, such as transparency and drop shadows. You can also make and move selections, and insert text and shapes. This expands Pixelmator beyond being a mere photo-retouching tool, potentially making it suitable for digital artists, and even for designers to jot down basic layout ideas on the move.

It would nonetheless be naïve (and entirely inaccurate) to argue this is ‘Photoshop for your iPhone’ — but it is enough of Photoshop for the tasks you’re likely to want to do when mobile, and with power, capabilities and a level of friendliness and usability that would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago.

Some tools resemble what you’d expect from desktop apps.

Some tools resemble what you’d expect from desktop apps.

Given its toolset, Pixelmator is quite an involved app, but it rewards the time you spend with it, and it rarely frustrates. Only the smaller canvas of your iPhone makes it an inferior experience compared to using the app on an iPad. Performance-wise, even an iPhone 5s didn’t struggle during testing, and so we imagine the app flies on newer iPhone hardware. Its speed really is astonishing when you realize what the app’s doing as you pinch, zoom and tap.

For some people, Pixelmator’s undoubtedly going to be overkill. However, even if you only make the odd edit and use the filters, you’ll find plenty of value here, despite the app being more expensive than many of its contemporaries. But if you’re the kind of person who wants to go further, working on more extensive and creative photographic experiments and compositions on your iPhone, Pixelmator’s one of the biggest bargains around.

Read our tutorial for getting started with Pixelmator