Pixelmator is an interesting image-editing app for Mac and iOS that I’m always telling myself I should spend more time with. Well I did just that, finding an interesting use for the Pixelmator Kaleidoscope filter.

Before we go any further, though, there’s something you need to know (that I wish I’d found out sooner). The iPad version resizes your images downwards, so that while I thought I was working on a 12-megapixel image, Pixelmator had resized it down to 3 megapixels.

Ho hum. Well, I can always repeat this whole process on the desktop version.

01 Choose your image

Pixelmator Kaleidoscope

For this ‘mirrored landscape’ technique, shots containing water seem to work particularly well. I’ve already opened this picture for editing in Photos, then tapped the Extensions button at the bottom of the tools panel. Pixelmator and some other iOS apps install a Photos extension automatically, so you can launch them straight from here.

02 The Pixelmator layout

Pixelmator Kaleidoscope

Pixelmator’s adjustment tools and effects filters are laid out as a strip of thumbnail images across the bottom of the screen. The filter we want – ‘Kaleidoscope’ – is at the far right-hand end.

03 The Kaleidoscope look

Pixelmator Kaleidoscope

This filter is designed to replicate the kids’ toy that shows multiple copies of a scene in a series of internal mirrors. As you turn the barrel of the toy, the fragments of the scene rotate and reform in different configurations. At the moment, all we see is a reflected version of the centre of the picture. That’s because we’ve got too many repetitions for the effect we want – the slider at the bottom shows it’s set to 10.

04 One repetition only

Pixelmator Kaleidoscope

If we reduce the value of this slider to 1, the minimum, the image suddenly looks a whole lot more interesting. We now have a mirror image of the left side of the picture reflected over on the right to give a rather odd and surreal-looking picture. It is, however, obviously symmetrical, and we need to fix that.

05 Moving the ‘mirror’

Pixelmator Kaleidoscope

The beauty of this Kaleidoscope filter is that it’s so easy to manipulate. You can change the point of reflection simply by dragging the centre of the Kaleidoscope gadget around the picture. Here, I’ve moved it to the left, positioning it right in the middle of the building’s central facade, deliberately shifting the composition off-centre. If your shot was perfectly level in the first place, that may be all you need to do. Mine was slightly skewed by a fraction of a degree, which made the mirrored sides of the building converge slightly, but you can fix that by dragging on the Kaleidoscope gadget’s top control handle. When you’re happy, you just click ‘Done’, top right.

06 Back in Photos

Pixelmator Kaleidoscope

Not bad. The Kaleidoscope filter adds a vignette effect, which is OK, but I do feel this image needs a little something extra.

07 Photoshop Express

Pixelmator Kaleidoscope

So for this I’m going to use Photoshop Express, which you might have spotted on the pop-out Extensions menu in an earlier screenshot.

08 Photoshop Express and its Haze filter

Pixelmator Kaleidoscope

This Haze filter is just the ticket. It gives my picture the look of an old Canaletto (well, kind of, with apologies to Canaletto), which seems to go well with its odd, surreal look.

Pixelmator Kaleidoscope

There’s a lot more to say about this particular technique. For example, it’s perfectly possible to do this in a regular image-editor like Photoshop, though you have to do a lot more painstaking manual alignment with layers, masks and manual mirror image alignment. This picture would probably benefit from a little ‘Punch’ distortion just below the building to remove that slide ‘V’ shape in the bank – and Pixelmator has a filter for that. Finally, the repeated boats and jetties at the edges of the picture give away the fact that this is a mirror image, so a little cloning would help to break the symmetry. All told, though, I think this is a fun, effective and unexpected technique that Pixelmator makes easy.