It can be hard to know where to start when it comes to what image editor to use on your Mac. There are so many options that it can be hard to know where to start and what’s worth trying. Do you want Photoshop? Pixlr? And what the heck is a GIMP?
The good news is that picking a good photo editor is easier than it sounds. You simply need to lay out a few heuristics and they’ll do all the sorting for you. The various photo-editing programs for OS X have different advantages. Picking the best one is as easy as choosing the program that hews closest to your needs.
We’ll rate image-editing programs on these characteristics: price, ease of use, and features. Ideally, you should pick the cheapest program that has all the features you need. Here’s how the programs break down.
Best Image Editors for Mac
Apple Photos App
Apple bundles its new Photos app with Yosemite as a replacement for iPhoto. Photos is primarily a photo-management system and isn’t great for editing. Its real strength is in allowing you to sort your photos into albums and sync them to iCloud.
However, Photos has a few useful functions for editing photos. You can enhance, rotate, crop, recolor, retouch and remove redeye from photos. Pretty basic stuff. No sign of advanced features like layers and nondestructive editing.
Photoshop is the king of photo-editing apps. If dwarfs everything else on this list as the universal standard in creative businesses.
Photoshop is an incredibly powerful tool for those willing to learn how to navigate its intricate menus and endless options. The program can do amazing things like algorithmically selecting hair to move into a separate layer.
If you plan to do serious graphic design or work professionally in the field, you need Photoshop. It’s just that good.
However, there is a major learning curve. I remember opening Photoshop for the first time and being overwhelmed with menus and options. It’s not easy to learn.
Photoshop is also expensive. Adobe has moved to an asinine pricing structure designed to milk people of as much money as possible. Photoshop Creative Cloud costs $10–20 per month, depending on your plan. It’s not much up front, but the costs definitely add up.
That’s Photoshop. Expensive, hard to learn, but practically irreplaceable.
Price: $10–20 / month
Pixlr is a cool web-based approach to editing photos. The app lets you edit content right there in a browser window, making it a good cross-platform service as well.
The menus are deceptively simple, hiding a great deal of functionality under a few simple categories. This is no Photoshop, but it has a lot more power than something like Photos.
Pixlr’s simplicity and free price make it a great option for anyone looking for a more elegant photo-editing app. I would definitely recommend it to intermediate users who aren’t quite ready to tackle Photoshop yet.
Features: Mostly there
People invested in the Apple ecosystem looking for another intermediate photo-editing program should check out Pixelmator. It’s an OS X app that syncs with its iPad counterpart through Handoff so you can edit across platforms.
Pixelmator is built for Yosemite and feels far more at home on OS X than Photoshop. Where Adobe builds functional but inelegant apps, Pixelmator is beautiful to use.
It does not have as many features as Photoshop, it has most of the important ones. There are layers, color adjustments, effects, selections and context-specific editing. There are also vector tools, giving it an edge over Photoshop.
The functionality is decent, and the learning curve is a lot easier than it could be.
Features: Fairly Complete
GIMP is the weird one. The GNU Image Manipulation Program is a free and open-source project worked on by thousands of developers for years now. It’s the FOSS Photoshop replacement.
Or, that’s at least what it aims to be. While championed by FOSS geeks as a Photoshop replacement, GIMP has often failed to live up to the massive feature set offered by Adobe. It began running natively on OS X only at version 2.8.2- previous versions made you install X11.
A lot of the features are there, but GIMP actually manages to be less intuitive than Photoshop. Navigating the learning curve is difficult, especially for people used to Photoshop.
GIMP is best for FOSS geeks and people looking for a powerful and free program without pirating Photoshop.
Out of all of the photo-editing apps I tried, Photoshop was the best. It demands you master its fractal interface, but rewards you with features and photo-editing abilities you just can’t get anywhere else.
If the price is too much for you, though, any of the other apps listed here are great supplements, especially if you don’t need all the features.
For intermediate users, Pixelmator is the best option. It’s a beautiful app that integrates well into Apple’s ecosystem.
For beginners, Pixlr or Photos are best. They provide a good amount of features wrapped inside an easy-to-use interface. They’re also free, a great feature for someone who doesn’t need to sink a lot of money into photo editing.
Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.