Over the last few weeks, we’ve been testing out the publicly available beta of Adobe’s upcoming Photoshop CS6. Here are a few of the highlights, changes, and things to look out for when CS6 hits shelves.
At first glance, Photoshop CS6 looks markedly different from its CS5/5.5 incarnation. Why? For the most part, a new darker colour scheme that paints the workspace and toolbars in charcoal rather than Windows-XP-silver. Don’t worry; if you hate it, you can always switch it back to something more familiar.
Not so marked a change, the toolbar icons have had a bit of a redesign for clarity. This is particularly useful on modern high-resolution screens, where some of the finer details on the older icons were easy to miss. The interfaces for applying certain filters and corrections have also been updated, placing the controls in a ‘heads up’ manner on the canvas rather than in pop-up dialogue boxes.
None of the user interface changes are major enough to make the product unfamiliar to experienced users of previous versions, nor do they really change the way you use Photoshop at a fundamental level. However, they do provide an overall tightening up and streamlining of the interface that leaves a few more pixels on-screen for the images you’re working on, rather than toolbars and dialogue boxes.
Building on the ‘content aware’ features introduced in Photoshop CS5, CS6 adds Content Aware Move and Patch. The former is particularly nifty, letting you select part of an image and move it around the canvas, automatically filling in the area it was taken from and blending it with the area it’s dropped into.
Like CS5’s Content Aware Fill, these technologies provide a shortcut that handles most of the grunt-work in certain editing tasks, but still requires human attention to ‘clean up’ and refine the results.
Photoshop has always focused on raster graphics: photo editing, painting and so forth. Indeed, its Creative Suite sibling Adobe Illustrator exists to handle vector graphics. At the same time, Photoshop’s vector capabilities have been expanded and improved, as have the 3D functions exclusive to Photoshop CS6 Extended.
Vector Layers have been replaced with Shape Layers, which allow you to assign complex strokes and fills to any path on that layer. These move and reshape along with the paths, and aren’t rasterised permanently to a layer like strokes and fills in previous versions. This means that fairly complex vector-art tasks are now easily achievable in Photoshop, without having to switch to Illustrator.
Paths can be extruded to 3D with just a couple of clicks, and 3D manipulation is all done right on the image canvas in real-time. Extrusion (adding depth to a 2D path) is the only form of 3D supported – you can’t create polygonal models or ‘meshes’, but it’s a very quick and intuitive way to create 3D text effects or to add existing 3D models to Photoshop projects.
Video editing was one of the advantages of Photoshop CS5 Extended (over Photoshop CS5 standard edition), and returns in the Photoshop CS6 beta.
The features on offer don’t replace the advanced editing capabilities of Adobe’s Premiere or similar competing products. What they do provide is a quick way for anyone familiar with Photoshop to chop up and stitch together video, add text and overlay elements, and apply filters without having to retrain in video editing.
Each video clip appears as a layer, and are automatically concatenated into a simple timeline in whichever order those layers appear. Effects, 2D and 3D elements are added exactly as they would be to a still-image project, and the whole thing couldn’t be much simpler if it tried.
Photoshop CS6 does not represent a radical change from CS5 or the versions that preceded it. Instead it follows a tradition of gradual improvement and refinement, expanding its capabilities as the needs of its user base expand into areas such as 3D and video. It’s not hard to see what keeps Photoshop at the head of the pack, and that it’s unlikely to give up that position any time soon.