Pixelmator Photo for iPhone: First Impressions

Pixelmator Photo has long been one of my favorite photo editing apps for iPad. The app makes great use of the iPad’s large screen, which offers space for tools next to the image you are editing. Reducing that experience to the larger iPhone model is a tall order, but based on my preliminary tests, it looks like the Pixelmator team has pulled it off.

Pixelmator Photo on iPad offers a full suite of editing tools that strike a nice balance. The app simplifies the application of the app’s machine learning-based tools for quick editing and sharing, but it also includes precise controls when you want to refine a photo. The same is true on the iPhone, but the design leans in favor of fast access and edits, which I think is appropriate on a device like the iPhone. The deeper tools are always there, just below the surface and easy to access when you need them, but on the iPhone the emphasis is on quick access to frequently used tools.

The Pixelmator team says there are over 30 tools in total, and if any are missing compared to the iPad app, I haven’t found them yet. However, keep in mind that I only had a little over a day to delve into Pixelmator Photo on iPhone, so there may be a few subtle differences.

On iPhone, it only takes one tap less to access Pixelmator Photo’s high-level editing tools. By default, your images are arranged in a grid of squares when you first open the app, which crops a portion of many images in favor of showing more photos per screen. If you prefer to see your full photos in their original aspect ratio, there is an option to switch to that view behind the three-dot button in the top toolbar.

Tap an image and the magic wand, machine learning-based healing and cropping tools are all available on the top toolbar. At the bottom of the screen, you will find a filmstrip of the images in your photo library. If you want to dig deeper into Pixelmator Photo’s editing tools, hit the button on the top toolbar with the sliders. The filmstrip at the bottom will switch to Pixelmator’s presets, and if you swipe up on the presets, the rest of the app’s image adjustment tools you’ll find in the right panel on an iPad are revealed in a map-shaped interface reminiscent of applications like Maps.

The before and after slider is even available on the iPhone, which I love when considering the changes I’ve made. The iPhone version also includes the custom workflow system which allows you to batch edit photos by applying the same set of multiple settings to each image. Pixelmator Photo also supports RAW, Apple ProRAW and its modifications are completely non-destructive.

My time with Pixelmator Photo on the iPhone was limited, but I quickly got to grips with it as much of the app is familiar. The functionality has been moved to fit the smaller screen, but it’s all there. I had no trouble finding the tools I wanted. It’s an impressive feat to pack so much on an iPhone.

Even more important, however, is the simple fact that Pixelmator Photo is now available on the same device where I take my photos. As much as I appreciate the large screen of an iPad for photo editing, the reality is that a lot of my editing is done on an iPhone. I make some minor adjustments and share an image with someone. This reality has drastically reduced the amount of Pixelmator Photo usage in the past. Now I expect to use the app a lot more.

My only disappointment with Pixelmator Photo is that it hasn’t been built into shortcuts. Pixelmator Pro, the Mac app that includes a larger set of editing and image creation tools, added a fantastic set of shortcut actions to the Mac this fall. Pixelmator Photo’s custom workflow feature is great, but it’s limited to the four corners of the app itself. I’d really love to see some of the same power built into shortcuts where it could be harnessed alongside the actions of other apps.

That said, Pixelmator Photo for iPhone is a fantastic photo editor. It’s an uncompromising version of the app that dramatically increases its usefulness just by being available more often. I look forward to spending a lot more time in Pixelmator Photo in the coming months.

Pixelmator Photo is available for universal purchase on iPhone and iPad in the App Store.

Jack C. Nugent