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I think I remember seeing terminology for the different 2 different types of photo editors out there, but for the life of me I can’t remember what they are. I think one was pixel editor, the other might be.... compositor?

I’m not talking about raster & and vector editors (photoshop vs illustrator). I’m talking about Photoshop or Affinity photo to Lightroom or the editor in Apple Photos. Talking about (on iOS) Pixelmator Photo as opposed to Pixelmator.

Is this distinction a false memory? Or am I just forgetting?

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  • Hi. Welcome to GDSE. I think you might be looking for "pixel level editing" perhaps, or even "photo manipulation" to describe software like Photoshop. "Pixel editor" suggests something different I think, perhaps like pixel art software. Lightroom by comparison is more for non-destructive image processing, but also has some basic retouching capabilities like spot removal, but you can't really draw or paint, or combine parts of different images at the pixel level in Lightroom. If this sounds right I can add it as an answer.
    – Billy Kerr
    Oct 23 '20 at 9:05
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    I think all you've listed are merely raster image editors with various levels of features.
    – Scott
    Oct 23 '20 at 10:20
  • Compositors are editors that are used by animation industry to compose things together hence the name. The main contenders re Nuke and Digital Fusion... Technically graphic designers only use the first kind of editors so asking a crowd of graphic designers is probably less fruitful than you think.
    – joojaa
    Oct 23 '20 at 13:17
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This sounds complicated, but I guess you're trying to compare full-scale photo editors (Adobe Photoshop) versus more limited, but database-driven, quick-adjustments-on-many-photos-at-once (Adobe Lightroom), versus even more limited editing capability, but good library organizers and navigators (Adobe Bridge). Try this: https://youtu.be/a2fLUFMxBMw

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  • A compositor in movie industry sense is actually much more able than photoshop but ist diven indirectly. Think visual programming for images.
    – joojaa
    Oct 23 '20 at 13:20
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This is only a conceptual exploration of your question

"Editor" is a very loose word.

It can be "the person in charge of editing"

And this can be the person editing a "full publication" or someone manipulating one element of a publication.

A publication could be in an electronic medium, a multimedia element, a printed one.

Or it can be the tool to edit.

Yes there are "different" concepts... are they?


Probably not. The concept is loose but is more or less the same.

In the specific case of your question what changes is the scope or the stage of the "editing".


One is a Raw processor

  1. The initial function is to process a raw file into a raster image.

A raw file is not necessarily a raster image. Both are a dataset, a matix of information, but one is how a sensor captures it and the other is a set of instructions on what to show to a screen.

You NEED to take some decisions on this transformation because you are translating a "bigger scope" of data into a smaller one.

  1. A byproduct of this transformation is creative choices about editing. If you have the original data to get contrast information, you can do it in a localized way. Bring up the shadows sacrificing some brighter parts for example.

The other one is a photo editing program

This does not mean the previous is not editing, but it is more about "selective data visualization"

The editors main purpose is actual manipulation of elements. Dodge and burn are about putting shadows where there was not that shadow data. Cutting an element to paste it on another place. Painting things where there were not.


There are some other categories

Painting programs

With tools meant to actually paint like in a canvas. Some even react thru time like watercolor simulators.

Pixel editors

Meant to do pixel art, a zoomed in version of assets meant for videogames, fixed color palletes, etc.

Texture editors

Normally node based software using procedural elements meant to generate raster textures.

Image viewers

And sometimes they have some quick tools, like file conversion, etc.


But some terminology is common among them. Things like contrast, cures, saturation, they can be adjusted in all of them.

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