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Pixa vs Ember

I run Pixa and Ember one more time; I need to confirm their differences. Pixa stores the collection of my precious photos: the graduation, the birthday, and the vacation. On the other hand, Ember is my inspirational chamber where beautiful websites, minimalistic fixie, and well-designed user interface are on display. What sets them apart? Is it possible to use them together?

I was once the victim of abundance. Instead of figuring out what I need, I installed all the cool apps reviewed by media. As the result, I use tools without purpose — I swing the hammer in hand without target.

Hammer is only useful when you use it with purpose. You can discover the usefulness of your tools in two ways: you start with a clear purpose in your mind before taking up the tool, or you master the tool and discover a new way to make the tool useful. Either way, you have to use it.

In this post, you’re going to figure out your purpose and use it to decide whether Pixa or Ember fits the role of your best image manager.

What do you want to do with those images?

The term “images” is ambiguous. The common image formats are JPG and PNG, but now, anything that is made up of colors and lines can be treated as images. This means you can include PSD, SVG and PDF as images.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What kind of images do you save?
  • What is your reason to run image manager?
  • How will you save a new image?

You should be able to make a decision after you answer those questions. Here is one of my answer:

The images I save are JPG and PNG. I run the image manager to browse and manage photos stored in my Dropbox folder. The photos are saved to Dropbox folder with the Camera Uploads feature from iPhone, and organized with Hazel in a monthly folder structure.

Here’s the short summary about Pixa and Ember:

Pixa supports wide range of image formats such as: PSD, AI, SVG, TGA, Acorn, Sketch, and Pixelmator. Pixa’s Live Folder can monitor and sync your library with one or several folders on your Finder directly, which mean you can add images without Pixa running foreground.

Meanwhile, Ember supports limited image formats but packed with tools to organize your images. You can create Smart Folder that filters images based on tags, notes, or colors. The built-in subscriptions lets you easily stay updated with the latest images from your favorite websites. The drawback from having its own database means you need to open Ember if you want to export those images.

The similarities and differences

The summary above isn’t enough to help you make a decision yet. We’re going to explore the similarities between Pixa and Ember, and later take a look at the distinctive features of each app respectively.

Both apps store and organize images, but there is a clear difference in how they store images. Pixa updates its database to match existing folder’s images. On contrary, Ember saves the images in its own storage, which cause the process to access images in Finder more complicated.

Both apps support tags and notes. They are available in information inspector. Ember has an option to export images with tags, but not the description. Pixa doesn’t have this option, but the comment in your file1 is the notes.

Both apps can take screenshots. Ember is better because you can tell it to take a screenshot after a period of time. There is also an option to include drop-shadow when taking a screenshot of a window.

Both apps have browser extensions with different usage. Ember’s extension snaps the whole webpage while Pixa’s extension lists and lets you save the images available on the webpage. I only use Ember’s extension to snap webpage and leave Pixa as an images viewer.

Both apps can filter by colors. Ember is the winner because you can search images by typing the colors hex value into the search field.

Both apps can share to online services. Apart of the built-in sharing services — Messages, Email, Facebook, and Twitter — you can also share the images to Flickr, CloudApp, and Tumblr. Only Ember supports Tumblr though.

Pixa’s Main Features

Photographers can’t afford to store all their photos in one place because of the enormous size of photos. Many choose external drive as their primary storage, and they usually have more than one external drives for those photos.

By leveraging the flexibility of Live Folders, you can drag the folders in external drive directly to Pixa and have it display the photos without importing them to your library. The photos remain store in external drive, and you still can apply tags to your photos with Pixa.

Like how writers prefer to keep their works in plain text, photographers also share the same sentiment to store their photos in the basic format to survive the test of time.

Photos are left untouched in Live Folders; they’re in their purest form. Unlike iPhoto, you don’t have to deal with the obnoxious file format that demands export every time you want to edit the photos. You’re free from this tightly coupled environment.

Designers and developers deal with countless of image formats every day. The image formats they deal with are not limited to JPG or PNG, but also incorporate the current most popular image formats in their industry — SVG, PSD, Sketch, and Pixelmator. Here’s the complete image formats that Pixa support:

Pixa supports all the image formats you need: psd, ai, svg, jpg, png, tiff, pdf, bmp, gif, ico, icns, tga, raw, LittleSnapper, Pixen, Acorn, Sketch, and Pixelmator.

Tabs is a major feature in Pixa. If you’re working on multiple projects, having a separate tab for each active project can improve your workflow.

Each designer or developer must have a folder that store the templates of framework. But won’t it be better if we can choose which template to use whenever we create a new document instead of duplicating the template?

Pixa: Custom Templates

Pixa’s Custom Templates try to solve the problem by allowing you to turn a file into a template that can be reused when you create a new document in Pixa. Once it has been saved as a custom template, you can delete the original, and the template is available anytime you need it.

Narrow down your search results with special tags. For example, using #h > 1280 will only show the image with height larger than 1280 pixels. You can also combine several tags like #t icon #h = 512 to only show images tagged as icon with height at 512 pixels. Looking to remove duplicate images? Enter #duplicates in search field.

If you’re working on a project, you might need a way to organize your images into folders and sub-folders. Pixa lets you create projects that serve as a container for the images in your library. The images that have been organized into a project remain in their original location, which won’t be affected even if the associated project is deleted.

Pixa: Quick Exports

Won’t it be nice if you can convert, resize, and archive the images in library into JPG or PNG?

Quick export exactly does the job. Create a custom preset, choose the image format, define the output size, and pick the preset color. Press the magic button to export all your images selection.

I’ve been using Pixa to view the images I’ve saved in Dropbox, and will use it to manage images on project based. If you’re looking for a versatile image manager that is loosely coupled to the system and maintain the original image formats, Pixa is the best choice.

Ember’s Main Features

I like Ember. I used to take snapshots of the websites I like with LittleSnapper — the predecessor of Ember. It was a wonderful tool to manage your source of inspiration. Ember, equipped with the features found in LittleSnapper, is a wonderful visual scrapbook.

I’ll start with my favorite feature: Subscription.

After all, we’re talking about building a visual scrapbook. The main concern is how to easily discover and save images. Being able to subscribe to your favorite websites and have it filters out the posts with images, especially when you can save them with a simple double-tap, simplify the painstaking process.

Ember: Subscriptions

The word delightful is close enough to describe the browsing experience in Ember. The complete list of images are arranged in the bottom of the screen which you can use to quickly navigate between items. Swipe across the main screen to select next or previous image. When you find the photo you like, hit double-tap to save the image.

There is a couple of ways to save images to Ember. The first one is to open the website with built-in browser, press the snap button, and snap the images. The benefit with this approach is you get to keep the source of website along with its meta description along with the saved images.

Ember: Auto-Import

The second method, my favorite, is to create a folder for the Ember’s auto-import feature. I have an empty folder called Ember which is used for this purpose. You can tell the folder to move the original to trash after it has imported the images to your main library.

Ember: Smart Folders

Organizing your library is easy with the folders and smart folders. I recommend smarts folders where you can create rules to filter images by colors, sources, or tags.

Ember Smart Drawing

Ember is not only a visual scrapbook, but also a wonderful photos editing tool. In additional of the common cropping and rotating tool, you can also find blurring, pixelating tool to hide certain area images — perfect to hide sensitive information. Smart drawing can automatically detect the line you’ve drawn and change its shape to match the drawn area. For example, a circular line will create circle surrounding your drawn area, a straight line will turn into an arrow. Combine it with text tool to leave comment in the design before sharing them to your colleagues or clients. These tools are priceless.

Take your library everywhere with Ember for iPhone and iPad. Save your works from your Mac and present it to your clients. Are you a fashion designer? Take the picture of the dress you find in one of the store between the alley of your city. Are you an architect? Remember to save the inspiring home design during your vacation overseas. Build your inspiration bucket wherever you go.

Ember is an amazing tool to help you creating a visual scrapbook. It’s suitable for all kinds of profession. The basic editing tools are great for collaboration, Ember for iPhone is great for people who actively take photos, and Ember for iPad is perfect for presentation.


You can use Ember or Pixa to manage your images, but which one is the best? It depends on your answer in the beginning. Do you need the images accessible in Finder? Do you need the editing tools?

It’s not about choosing one and forget the other. In fact, I use Pixa and Ember together. It’s a matter of what you want to do with those images.

  1. You can leave a comment on a file by pressing Command-I and expand the Comments section.