Apple Aperture and Pixelmator Integration

Apple Aperture and Pixelmator don't play well together. It's unfortunate since both are great apps for photographers.

Apple Aperture and Pixelmator Integration

I've been using Pixelmator quite a bit and I feel I know it well enough by now. It has its good and its bad things, but overall I like it. From a photographer's point of view it does a lot well without feeling bloated with irrelevant features; it also has some important missing features but it's definitely growing on me. My Textured Nudes I and Stills in Motion series were edited entirely with a combination of Aperture and Pixelmator.

Unfortunately, these two apps don't integrate well together. The main issue is that Pixelmator uses a proprietary filetype called PXM that Aperture doesn't recognise. I was hoping that a new version of Aperture would be released this week at WWDC with PXM support, but that didn't happen.

A few hours ago, Pixelmator released an update to version 2.0.5 which supposedly includes Aperture (and iPhoto) compatibility. The website says:

In addition to being compatible, your favorite image editor makes it simple to send your images directly to your photo libraries, whether iPhoto or Aperture

Well, sort of.

Pixelmator 2.0.5 can send back an image to Aperture via a Share menu, but it doesn't do proper round-tripping like Photoshop and other image editors.

In my tests today, this is what happened:

  1. In Aperture, I chose Pixelmator as the External Editor and set PSD as the file format. I tested with TIFF as well with the same result.
  2. I sent an image with 'Edit with Pixelmator...' This does what's expected and creates a duplicate Master (Original) and sends it over.
  3. The file opens, but as a PXM. First problem.
  4. I added a layer with a big cross just to test and hit Save. This is where it all fell apart. The Save dialog box appeared as if it was a new file that had never been saved. There's no way to save the file back to Aperture as normal round-tripping. I canceled Save.
  5. I then went to the Share menu in Pixelmator and sure enough, there's Aperture. I clicked on that and without additional dialog boxes the file was saved back into Aperture. It looked promising.
  6. Back in Aperture, the file didn't have the changes I'd done. I searched for the file and found a third one in a new Project called "Photos from Pixelmator". It included my changes, but it was a flattened TIFF. I lost layers.

Basically, this "compatibility" only means you can send a flattened version back into Aperture. That is not true compatibility.

I ended up with 3 Masters (I guess I need to get used to calling them Originals now), the first a RAW original, the second a PSD (or TIFF) Aperture created to edit, and a third a TIFF that Pixelmator sent back to a newly created Project.

I believe for true compatibility, there are only 2 options:

  • Aperture needs to support PXM files. That means we should be able to choose PXM as a file format to export. Currently Aperture can't even import PXM files, which is weird given Pixelmator won an Apple Design Award in 2011. It's not like Apple don't know who they are.
  • Pixelmator needs to fully support PSD files. At the moment, it can open PSDs, but it doesn't 'Save' as PSD, it only 'Exports' and with limited functionality. In order for integration to work, Pixelmator will need to be able to receive a PSD file from Aperture and save it back as a PSD with all features preserved.

I really wish these two apps worked well together. It's frustrating as hell at the moment.