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Have it your way: 6 programs for editing images on the Mac

CameraIt turns out that Madonna had it wrong: instead of living in a material world, we are increasingly moving to a digital one. One arena in which that is particularly true is photography: digital cameras have slowly replaced traditional cameras, digital images replaced real prints, and digital manipulation has replaced traditional editing means.

Today we're going to look at six programs for the Mac, all designed to help you edit and manipulate your digital images. These programs vary widely in price, skill level, and features. Know this: whether you simply want to remove red-eye without having to pull out that felt-tip pen (we're not the only ones who did that, right?), or would like to insert Bigfoot into a picture of scenery, we've got you covered.

Adobe Photoshop CS3: Photoshop is the ubiquitous photo editing application. In fact, the very name of the program has become synonymous with image editing and manipulation in general. The person who tells you to "Google" a name or place is the same person who sniffs at a particularly amazing image and says, "it's Photoshopped."
However, the price tag is enough to scare most everyone but the professionals away.

  • The only real limit of the program is your imagination.

  • Expensive (We're talking three figures here!)
  • Hard to master
  • Too much for the casual image editor (We're sure that, at one point in your life, you opened Photoshop and immediately shut it, overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of buttons)
  • Photoshop CS3 is not yet fully compatible with Leopard. Check out their official statement on that.

GIMP: GIMP (short for GNU Image Manipulation Program) has long been thought of as the open source equivalent of Photoshop, and for good reason. It features the same advanced image manipulation (layers and channels), a full suite of painting tools, and much more. Unfortunately, the GIMP team doesn't provide "official" Mac binaries. Not to worry: the excellent community of "Wilber loves Apple," self-professed GIMP lovers, have built a working version for the Mac, including Leopard.

  • Free
  • Lots of advanced features for the professional user
  • Did we mention it was free?
  • Open source

  • Large learning curve
  • More features than the average user needs
  • You have to jump through a few hoops to get it up and running on your Mac (a few different install packages are needed)

Seashore: Seashore is an open source image editor based around the GIMP's technology and built for Mac OS X's Cocoa framework. The programmers have designed Seashore in order to make the software less intimidating; unlike the GIMP, it provides only the basic image editing needs for the common user (read: non-professionals). It features gradients, textures and anti-aliasing for both text and brush strokes, and supports multiple layers and alpha channel editing.

  • Free
  • Open Source
  • Designed for the Mac

  • Without updates since May 10, 2007, it might be lacking any support or feature enhancements in the future.

Acorn: Acorn is one of the new kids on the block. Its aim is to be a low-cost, Mac-native image editing application for the rest of us. In an interview with TUAW, Gus Mueller, the brains behind Acorn, said "my hope is that anyone who is intimidated by Photoshop or the Gimp will find a welcome interface in Acorn." If you're looking to be able to add text to an image, take screenshots and edit them, resize images quickly and easily, then Acorn is for you.

  • Inexpensive (just $39.95)
  • Very easy to use
  • Designed for the Mac

  • Missing some of the features of Photoshop; e.g., no brush palettes and just one drawing tool, no support for Bezier curves

Pixelmator: Another new kid on the block, Pixelmator is a Mac-only, small yet feature-packed image editing application. At first glance, Acorn and Pixelmator look to be very similar in price, features, and audience. However, the creators of both Acorn and Pixelmator see some fundamental differences in design and implementation. They also agree that the intended audience is different: Pixelmator is more of a Photoshop competitor, while Acorn is aimed at people who don't like Photoshop because of its intricateness and expanse of options.

So can Pixelmator be called a competitor to Photoshop? Certainly not by its price tag: only $59. However, Pixelmator includes precise selection tools, painting tools, retouching tools, layers, filters and effects, with support for over 100 different file formats. So, yeah...we'd give a long look at Pixelmator before plunking down hundreds of dollars for Photoshop.

  • Inexpensive
  • Lots of advanced tools
  • Designed for the Mac
  • Core Image Editor (uses your Mac's video card for image processing, increasing the program's responsiveness)

  • Hmm...

Adobe Photoshop Elements 6: Hot off the presses, Adobe has just announced its Photoshop Elements 6 for the Mac. The release date will be in the second quarter of 2008, and they are giving a sneak peek of the software at the Macworld conference. Seeing as how the current Photoshop Elements for Mac lacks a universal binary (yeah, it's been that long), we think it would be wise to withhold our opinions until the new version is officially released. It should be pointed out, however, that Photoshop Elements has long been an intriguing purchase for amateur photographers. The price of the full version is $89.99, and it will be compatible with Leopard.

So there you have it. As with any list of programs, there might be a program floating out in the ether that we may have missed. Well, now is your chance to chime in. Let us know what you use in the comments, and point us to any image editing programs for the Mac that we might have left out.

Tags: digital photographs, DigitalPhotographs, mac, os x, OsX, photo editing, PhotoEditing, photoshop