Pixa: The best, most useful, design-related app I’ve installed in over a year

Pixa

It’s rare that I come across an app for my Mac that I lean back and say “WOW!” Pixa, from Shiny Frog software, is one of those apps that not only did just that, but it made me wonder why nobody made this app sooner?

Pixa is an image organizer for OS X that appears to have been made specifically for freelance graphic designers who find other asset management apps like Apple’s iPhoto, Adobe Bridge, and Extensis’ Portfolio to be too cumbersome and time consuming to maintain. People like you and me.

While I’m a huge fan of Extensis software, I’ve never been able to force myself to use Portfolio full time. It’s a nice app, and handles almost every sort of file a designer might throw at it, but I found it slow, buggy, and overly-complicated to use—especially for a designer who works primarily with photos and vector art, and not audio and video files. And it required a lot of my time to maintain the files I added to its library. Bridge is ok, but also offers too much, and it’s sluggish. Don’t even get me started with iPhoto. And that’s been the problem with every asset management app I’ve ever come across. They claim to make your job easier, but expect you to do all the heavy lifting.

Pixa strips-away all the frivolous features, the need to manually add images to a library, even some of the chores such as tagging images and sharing, and puts your library of images front and center in a clean and easy to use interface. Read on for more about Pixa.

File formats

Pixa supports all the file formats you could possibly need, including: psd, ai, svg, jpg, png, tiff, pdf, bmp, gif, ico, icns, eps, tga, raw, Acorn, Sketch and Pixelmator. Unlike Extensis Portfolio, I had no issues with vector art displaying, no matter how old the file, or whether it was saved as an .eps or .ai file.

Pixa main screen

Organizing

You can add images to your Pixa library manually, of course. But the killer feature of Pixa is the ability to designate folders on your hard drive as Live Folders. For those like me that are meticulous about file organization and already have images placed in carefully organized folders based on clients and use, Pixa is a blessing because it doesn’t move your files! Pixa automatically keeps your designated Live Folders updated; add an image to the folder in the Finder and Pixa updates it immediately—relieving you of the task of having to manually add images every time you get new ones.

Along with Live Folders, you can collect images in Project folders, similar to the way you organize iPhoto images by Events. And of course, you can view all the images in the Pixa library if you wish.

While Pixa does allow you to store its library anywhere you wish (external drive, etc.), I really wish you could safely store it on Dropbox—making it available to both your desktop Mac and your laptop. While you could do this, the developer recommends against it. You can get around this by physically storing your images in Dropbox, then setting the Dropbox folder as a Live Folder in Pixa. Not optimal, but a solution nonetheless.

Tagging

Pixa allows you to add tags to images to assist you in finding the images you’re looking for when you search. As you would expect, any tags embedded in the image when you purchase it from a site like Getty, iStock, or Shutterstock, are retained and appear in the tag list which you can view in the sidebar. Pixa also helps you by automatically tagging images based on predominant colors in the image and the overall size.

Pixa export

File Control

Pixa allows you to open the folder where the original file is stored on your hard drive, export the image or images as JPG, PNG or the original format, and will even Zip multiple images in an archive if you choose. You can also upload them to Dropbox if you have an account. The ability to open

Pixa custom exportWhile JPG, PNG and Zip are default presets, you can also customize them to export images at a percentage of the original size, or to fit a specific pixel dimension—perfect for bloggers and website designers who frequently have to size images to a set dimension.

The Extras

Drag & Drop is everywhere, and not just within Pixa. You can drag images in and out of Pixa into other apps like InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator.

You can view image thumbnails at customizable sizes using the slider at the bottom of the main window, as well as double clicking individual images to get a closer view. You can also use the Loupe Tool to view your file pixel-by-pixel. The Loupe Tool also allows you to click a pixel in your image and have the color copied to your Mac’s clipboard in either HTML, CSS3 or RGB format.

The interface is free and clear of frivolous 3D button, drop shadows and bloated features that few designers will ever use. Pixa launches almost instantly, is quite fluid while using, and offers full screen mode for those that like that.

Pixa launches almost immediately, and runs so fluidly that you almost can’t believe you’re working with your high-res photos and not low-res thumbnails.

Summary

Pixa is available in the Mac App Store for $30. That means you can legally install Pixa on both your desktop and laptop. A demo is available on the website as well, so you can give it a try to see if it fits in your workflow. 15 minutes of using Pixa is all it took to convince me of its worth. You can also pick up some helpful hints on the Pixa Tips blog.