The Pixelmator crew has been hard at work for the last six months on a major update to their namesake image editor. Pixelmator 1.6 'Nucleus' will arrive next week, but Digital Arts got an early peek at what's in store.

At the top of the new features list for Pixelmator 1.6 is Layer Groups, sharing images directly to social sites like Flickr, Picasa, and Facebook, and direct import from devices like cameras, scanners, iPhones, and iPads. Also on the list are new transforming tools, a redesigned printing engine, and new Automator actions to trim and watermark images.

Saulius Dailide, a Pixelmator General Manager and developer, told our sister site Macworld that a major focus of this 'Nucleus' release was speed. Like Apple did with Snow Leopard, the Pixelmator team gutted much of the app's underpinnings in the name of major performance improvements, added 64-bit support, and integrated the new Grand Central tools that Apple built into Snow Leopard for developers. This allows Pixelmator to better harness the power of the multi-core CPUs that Apple has been building into Macs for years.

For example: Dailide claims that Pixelmator 1.6 starts up twice as fast as the previous version, opens images two times faster than Photoshop, has a painting engine that is four times faster than the previous version, and both previews and applies filters and adjustments faster than Photoshop.

Pixelmator

Because of this deep integration of Snow Leopard tools, however, Pixelmator 1.6 will require Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard--previous Mac OS X versions will not be supported. If you are still using 10.5 Leopard (the only other version of Mac OS X that Pixelmator 1.5 supports), you cannot upgrade to this new version next week.

Pixelmator 1.6 also gained quite a few tweaks and bug fixes--over 320, in fact. To name a few: an Open Recent button was added to the Welcome Screen; the Ruler should do... ruler stuff better; a progress bar was added when saving large images; palette locations can be reset with a Command+Shift+R shortcut; Gradients got its own palette; and the Fit Images Automator action can now scale images proportionately.

Pixelmator 1.6 will arrive on Tuesday, July 13 as a free update to current owners. A free demo is available, and licenses cost £43/$60.