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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
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 9:05
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    I think all you've listed are merely raster image editors with various levels of features.
    – Scott
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 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
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 at 13:17

3 Answers 3

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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
    Commented Oct 23, 2020 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

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 matrix 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.

For example. You can take a photo in some lighting conditions, a warm light. But you want to turn on auto white balance to get rid of that orange look.

The RAW image will capture the image as the camera sees it, and a RAW processor will make the transformation adjusting that white balance.


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 editor's main purpose is the 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.

This one uses layers. The former does not.


There are some other categories

Painting programs

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

They could focus on having a lot of brushes.

Pixel editors

Meant to do pixel art, a zoomed-in version of assets meant for videogames, fixed color palletes, etc. Their focus will be on avoiding antialiasing between pixels to have a pixel-perfect image.

Texture editors

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

Apply filters

There are some that promote the ability to add filters, like a sepia look, scratches, vintage looks, etc.

Image viewers

Normally used simply to view images, but sometimes they have some quick tools, like file conversion, brightness and contrast, etc.


But the terminology is common among them. Things like contrast, curves, and saturation, can be adjusted in almost all of them.

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I think you're entirely correct about pixel-based editors and compositing editors.

Pixel-based editors, like Photoshop, Affinity Photo, and Pixelmator Photo, work directly with the individual pixels of an image. This allows for precise editing of the image data itself, making them ideal for tasks like retouching, color correction, and adding special effects.

Compositing editors, like Lightroom, the editor in Apple Photos, and Pixelmator, work with layers to combine multiple images or elements into a single image. They're not designed for pixel-level editing, but they excel at tasks like organizing photos, applying global adjustments, and creating basic edits.

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