The team behind Mac image editor Pixelmator plays David to Adobe's Goliath

in Mac Software edited February 2016
What began as a spark of inspiration between two brothers has grown into one of the most popular image editing applications in the world, and the team that brought it to life has done so from one of the software industry's least likely locations.

Pixelmator's newest version, Pixelmator 3.0 FX

A far-flung idea

It's difficult to find a way to work Vilnius, Lithuania and San Jose, California into the same sentence. One is the 14th century capital of a small Western European republic, while the other is some 400 years its junior and sits at the heart of California's Silicon Valley.

The connection becomes much easier to make when the topic of conversation shifts to image editing apps for the Mac. San Jose is home to software behemoth Adobe, makers of seminal graphics program Photoshop, while Vilnius houses the small band of developers responsible for upstart editor Pixelmator, whose slick interface, ease of use, and relatively low price have helped it nudge Photoshop out of the dock on hundreds of thousands of Macs.

Adobe has dominated desktop publishing since the 1980s.

Pixelmator was born in 2007 when brothers Saulius and Aidas Dailide went searching for an OS X-native image editor and came up empty handed. Already on the lookout for a new project, the duo -- veteran Mac developers -- decided they could fill the void.

The brothers wanted "to make an app that we could use ourselves and that we would love developing," Saulius Dailide told AppleInsider in an email interview.

"We loved the idea [of Pixelmator] from the beginning and knew that it was big and ambitious," he said, "so we instantly started working on it day and night. Literally." Pixelmator 1.0 made its debut 9 months later.

In the six years since its release, Pixelmator has evolved into what many believe is a legitimate contender to Photoshop's image editing crown, winning an Apple Design Award in 2011 and clocking 1 million downloads along the way. The team now numbers 18, and Dailide notes that achieving so much in such an unusual location was not without its challenges.

Pixelmator's Vilnius, Lithuania office is adorned with images from Apple's Think Different campaign.

Do the work, sell the product

Unlike startups located in tech hubs like San Francisco, New York, London, or Berlin, the Pixelmator team does not have the luxury of a large local pool of ready-made development talent to draw from.

"[Because] the Pixelmator Team is a rather pioneering company in our region, we don't have many Mac developers around us," Dailide said. "This means that each new person will have to be taught, starting with the very basics."

"Perhaps this wouldn't be such a big problem in Silicon Valley," he concedes.

The Pixelmator team's offbeat location has proved challenging.

One thing the company doesn't have a problem with is distribution. Even as other independent developers complain about its fees, problems with discoverability, or the sometimes opaque review process, the Pixelmator team has fully embraced the Mac App Store. Dailide was effusive in his praise for Apple's efforts --?"We love the Mac App Store," he said. "It makes everything so much easier for app developers."

Before the Mac App Store's 2011 release, Pixelmator was sold via the team's own online shop as well as in boxed form at Apple retail stores and other brick-and-mortar outlets. The administrative overhead of the different sales channels strained the limited resources of the then-four person team.

Getting the software into Apple stores was "way too much effort," according to Dailide. The company also had to deal with sales and support from their online shop, taking even more time away from development.

"Since the Mac App Store came out, we don't have to worry about any of those things," he said. "I doubt we will ever look back."

Apple replaced Photoshop with Pixelmator 3 in the advertising materials for the new Mac Pro

Designed to be seen

The team's efforts appear to have caught the eye of someone in Cupertino. In addition to the Apple Design Award and a slot as Mac App of the Year on the Mac App Store, Pixelmator took the spot long occupied by Photoshop in the marketing materials for Apple's innovative new Mac Pro desktop.

Pixelmator's inclusion in the Mac Pro campaign --?which the team was not aware of before its release -- drew a "very happy and surprised" reaction. Dailide believes the team's focus on engineering quality and their decision to target only the Mac is what ultimately led them there.

"The biggest driving force behind the development of Pixelmator is Pixelmator itself."

The company makes it a point to take advantage of Apple's latest software or hardware technologies and is often one of the first apps to be updated when new features are released. The app received a high DPI makeover just days after the Retina display-equipped MacBook Pros first hit store shelves, for instance, and has already adopted support for OS X Mavericks's OpenCL-backed Core Image.

Pixelmator has even been prepared for the new Mac Pro's dual GPU architecture, weeks before the next generation desktop is set to be released.

Dailide believes this focus is "what makes Pixelmator a true Mac app," in contrast to Adobe's cross-platform offerings. They are "probably are not as being able to take advantage of all of these great technologies that Apple has to offer," he said.

On the subject of Pixelmator's future, Dailide was less forthcoming, but made it clear that the team has one simple goal -- to make the best possible software. "We always look for better, smarter ways to develop new features and create a better user experience or better performance enhancements," he said.

"The whole team is on this mission."


  • Reply 1 of 101
    I belong to one of many who left Photoshop for Pixelmator. It is such a great piece of software!! It is a joy to use and the special interface is incredibly attractive. It is a surprise to me to learn that the company is situated in Vilnius. I like that! Keep weaving, making Pixelmator ever better! Oh, yes, one more thing: using shift-cmd-V, one can jump between a pixel and vector based programme! Excellent!
  • Reply 2 of 101
    steven n.steven n. Posts: 1,214member
    I like Pixelmator quite a bit but wish it would ALWAYS preserve file name extensions instead of always wanting to rename a file yo it's native format. Very frustrating.

    Beyond that, it is a great program.
  • Reply 3 of 101
    Given how bloated Photoshop has become over the years, Pixelmator was a breath of fresh air. Photoshop's GUI has gone from assuring, functional to low-contrast, web-app-like color scheme. Pixelmator still doesn't match PS one-to-one, especially when it comes to advanced filters (truck load downloadable from the web for PS) and high-end publishing process (spot colours, preflight, separation , etc.) But it's perfectly adequate to make images for a website. Much more reasonably priced and none of that cloud requirements from Adobe.

    Keep it up, team.
  • Reply 4 of 101

    Fantastic software.

    The price is just a bonus.


    I wish aperture was cheaper.

  • Reply 5 of 101
    asdasdasdasd Posts: 5,629member
    Great software.
  • Reply 6 of 101
    ipilyaipilya Posts: 195member
    Wow... I never realised that they lived in my backyard (I being in Tallinn). I bought the app as soon as it went to the app store. Would much rather give this team my money then that of Adobe... and I would be willing to pay twice the price... but grateful that I didn't need to.
  • Reply 7 of 101
    gwmacgwmac Posts: 1,799member

    Back in the old days, as in Mac Classic OS, I would often use Graphic Converter by Lemke. I still have the updated version for OS X in case I need it but I rarely need to do much photo editing anymore. The nice things about apps like these is that for many people they don't require an Abrams tank type of app to do some very simple stuff. Programs like Photoshop or Office are great if you need the myriad of options but are confusing and difficult to use for just the occasional user not to mention expensive.  Good to see these small start ups continuing to offer great apps for Macs. 

  • Reply 8 of 101
    On most of my project, I still use Ps. I've been using it long enough to know all the keystrokes by heart. Pixelmator fills out the gap between big projects and whenever I let my Ps subscription runs out- I pay as I go. It's good enough for 90% of the time. I wasn't aware that it's based in Lithuania. Go Pixelmator and R%u016Bta Meilutyt%u0117!
  • Reply 9 of 101
    Vilnius ? I thounght this is a joke ! This is my home town ! Negaliu patik?ti ! :O
  • Reply 10 of 101
    feynmanfeynman Posts: 1,087member

    I'd like to know when they will come out with their counterpart to Illustrator.

  • Reply 11 of 101

    Good article. So much better than the usual clickbait.

  • Reply 12 of 101
    As someone who is a big photoshop fan (not sure what is bloated about it as there are no features that I would want them to remove and probably some I'd like to see added) I think that this will hopefully keep Adobe honest and innovating.
  • Reply 13 of 101
    I've been using Pixelmator for four months now, and I don't see myself stopping using it. I use it for photo editing and web design. The one thing I do miss in it though, is RAW camera compatibility; I usually have to do most of my advanced editing in Aperture.
  • Reply 14 of 101
    sockrolidsockrolid Posts: 2,789member

    Love Pixelmator.  Have used it instead of Photoshop for years, and recently deleted my (bootleg) copy of CS3.  Many years ago I bought Photoshop Elements, but there was absolutely zero chance that I would have paid for the full Photoshop anyway.  Not then, not now, not in the future.  Pixelmator lets me do everything I need to do, with tons more features that I may need some day.


    Minor nitpicks:

    - As Steven N. said, I prefer to not hide extensions by default

    - Mavericks shows that Pixelmator uses significant energy, even when not actively editing images

  • Reply 15 of 101
    technotechno Posts: 728member

    This is the perfect time to take away users of Photoshop. Adobe has become too greedy in their pricing. Leasing software, hopefully, will be the downfall of Adobe.

  • Reply 16 of 101
    dacloodacloo Posts: 890member
    It's getting better and better but is far from being a full photoshop alternative. It needs a UI overhaul, especially the floating windows. Anyway, I hope they'll stay very successful in selling and developing this app.
  • Reply 17 of 101
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,496member

    Originally Posted by Feynman View Post


    I'd like to know when they will come out with their counterpart to Illustrator.

    Check out iDraw. Owned by Indeeo, another small company. 

  • Reply 18 of 101
    xamaxxamax Posts: 135member
    rob53 wrote: »
    Check out iDraw. Owned by Indeeo, another small company. 

    Or Vector Designer!
  • Reply 19 of 101
    chabigchabig Posts: 640member

    Originally Posted by Steven N. View Post

    I like Pixelmator quite a bit but wish it would ALWAYS preserve file name extensions instead of always wanting to rename a file yo it's native format. Very frustrating.

    Uncheck this --> Preferences > General > Open documents in Pixelmator file format

  • Reply 20 of 101
    techno wrote: »
    This is the perfect time to take away users of Photoshop. Adobe has become too greedy in their pricing. Leasing software, hopefully, will be the downfall of Adobe.

    I remember my first copy of Photoshop. What a great program! I ran it on my Mac II with only 8 Mb of RAM. I got it free with a scanner I had bought. Back then I also bought Freehand, another great vector draw ing program. Loved it. Gone now... assimilated into Adobe, never to be seen again.
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