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Better handling of graphic files, image import, colour correction, filters, layer-based composition and text, allied with an overall boost to colour quality for high-end users, make this a must-have upgrade.

The crown jewel of all the Adobe applications is the photo editor's tool-of-choice, Photoshop. The program's dominance of the professional bitmap-editing market is near-total and Adobe says that 90% of all users of its software have a copy. As such, the new Photoshop CS isn't just the most important standalone app, it's also the most important component of the new Creative Suite. The good news stemming from this is that Adobe is offering a bargain upgrade to the full suite for all existing Photoshop users. The bad news is that the program now only runs under Windows 2000 and XP (or Mac OS X) and implements a product activation scheme - though at least this does allow for non-synchronous use on two systems.

When the program first loads, apart from the new Welcome Screen with its access to content, tutorials and the crucial colour management settings, there's relatively little that's obviously new. Dig a little deeper and you'll find that you can now customize your keyboard shortcuts - at last - but that otherwise the working environment is very familiar. However, don't let this fool you into thinking that this is a minor upgrade. Photoshop CS sees a serious overhaul throughout the photo-editing workflow.

This starts right at the beginning with the way you get your images into Photoshop. Version 7 introduced the File Browser palette, which lets you view thumbnails of your graphic files, but it was a relatively crude affair. Now you can adjust the interface and the size of thumbnails, view vector files such as PDF and store favourite directories for easy access. You can also temporarily flag those files that you are interested in, hide all others, and then drag the thumbnails into any order just as you would on a lightbox. Best of all, you can now perform actions such as rotation and batch commands to multiple selected files without having to open them first (though disappointingly JPEG rotation isn't lossless).

The File Browser has been improved.

The improved file management isn't just visual. Photoshop, like all the CS apps, supports the new XMP standard for the storing of text-based metadata. What this means in practice is that, using the File Browser's new Keywords pane or the revamped File Info dialog, you can quickly specify and apply keywords to your images. You can then search, sort and organize your images based on the embedded data. There's also an option to automatically store a text record of a file's editing history as metadata if you need to keep track of what's been done to it. Allied with the new suite-wide Visual Cue technology Photoshop CS really does go a long way to put you in control of your graphics, though I'd much prefer the File Browser to be floated off as a standalone utility.

If the files aren't already there on your hard disk, Photoshop CS still provides a range of new functionality to get you off to a good start. If you're scanning your images, the new Crop and Straighten command will save a lot of time as it allows you to scan more than one image at a time with each automatically straightened, cropped and copied to its own document. If you're producing work for video, Photoshop's reworked New Document dialog provides the most common video sizes as presets complete with automatic Action-safe and Title-safe guides. More importantly, Photoshop CS now supports the non-square pixels of video images. Thankfully, it also offers Pixel Aspect Ratio Correction as a new display option so that your images will still appear in the correct proportions within Photoshop just as they do on the external video monitor.

Non-square pixels and aspect ratio correction are useful for video users.

Professional photographers using high-end digital cameras are also well-catered for. Photoshop CS now includes the previously separate Camera Raw plug-in which allows direct manipulation of the raw image data exactly as captured by the camera. This means that you have complete control over factors such as white balance, exposure and contrast along with new tabs for controlling lens and calibration adjustment. You can also now apply Camera Raw settings to multiple images from the File Browser.

Another major advance that will be appreciated by all professional users is Photoshop's hugely expanded colour support for images with 16-bits per channel rather than the usual 8-bits. This has now been extended to include painting, text, shapes, styles, more filters and, most importantly, layers. Having a wider range of pixel values to work with results in richer and deeper colour all round, especially when it comes to highlights and shadows, and helps avoid undesirable posterization. And just to rub in the superiority of its number-crunching engine, Photoshop CS has massively increased the size of the images it can handle to a whopping 300,000 pixels x 300,000 pixels with up to 56 channels per file!

Once you've loaded your images into Photoshop, the most common requirement is to enhance them and here Photoshop CS adds a number of useful new features. To begin with, it provides a new palette: Histograms. This shows you live histograms of the current image and can be set to show both composite and individual channels so that you can see exactly how the pixel values are distributed in your image. Most usefully, when you're colour correcting, the palette shows both before and after histograms so that you can see exactly how your adjustments will affect the colour values (it also highlights the benefits of the new 16-bit handling).

Photoshop CS also adds three new colour correction options under the Image > Adjustments menu. The first, Highlight/Shadows, lets you quickly restore detail lost in over- and under-exposed areas of an image without affecting the overall colour balance. It's not more powerful than the existing Curves command but the basic control is a lot simpler. The second, Photo Filter, which is also available as an adjustment layer, is designed to simulate traditional camera-based filters to warm or cool the image or to strengthen particular colours.

16-bits per channel, the Histogram palette and new adjustments boost colour control.

Adobe is pitching the third new adjustment effect, Match Colour, as one of CS's killer features just as image healing was for version 7. Essentially it takes an image and applies its colour to another image or image area. This can be used to create eye-catching effects, but its main use is to create seamless compositions from images that were shot under different lighting conditions. Rather less exciting, but probably more regularly useful, is the new Colour Replacement tool which lets you interactively paint colour onto the image while retaining the underlying texture and shading.

If you want to get a bit more creative with your images it's time to turn to Photoshop's Filters menu. This provides a new Lens Blur option, which enables highlights in an image to take on the shape of a simulated lens aperture, but what really makes the difference is the complete reworking of the way in which all filters are applied. In the past each effect was a standalone affair with its own awkward dialog, but now you can access and control all filters from the new central Filter Gallery. This single dialog provides thumbnail previews of all available effects. Select one and you can change its parameters to the right while seeing the effect on the large resizeable preview pane to the left. Even better, the centralized control means that you can apply more than one filter at a time and customize all parameters to get exactly the effect you want - though strangely there doesn't seem to be an option to save and load filter stacks.

The Filter Gallery completely rethinks the application of filter effects.

The Filter Gallery is a massive improvement, but initially I was still slightly disappointed as I'd hoped that Adobe would bring in a non-destructive effects system like the one in Illustrator. I wasn't disappointed for long however as I began to appreciate just how much extra flexibility and creative freedom Adobe has managed to graft on to Photoshop CS's layer handling capabilities. To begin with, Photoshop CS extends the idea of layers sets by allowing them to be nested up to five deep - absolutely essential for managing layered units of a composition such as navigation bars comprising multiple button and text layers (these nested sets are also recognized when a PSD is imported into Illustrator).

This flexibility and control fades into insignificance however compared to the most exciting new feature in Photoshop CS: Layer Comps. Using the new Layer Comps palette you can instantly record the current combination of layer visibility, position and appearance, including blending and effects, and this appears on the palette list. You can then change any of these properties to create completely new looks and store any that you, or your client or boss, might like. You can then quickly cycle through each of your alternative designs or, alternatively, output them all as individual files or as a multi-page PDF. In many ways the Layer Comp palette acts like the History palette, enabling you to take snapshots of your work, but the real beauty is that the different states are saved with your file and so remain permanently available. Compared to the old process of saving multiple versions, and then trying to keep them in synch, this is absolute bliss and a major encouragement to creative experiment.

Layer comps provide exciting creative flexibility.

Photoshop CS also sees an improvement to the handling of one type of layer in particular: text layers. Adobe says that Photoshop CS now shares the same underlying typographic engine as Illustrator. In practice the difference isn't that obvious - the core handling of fonts, spacing and so on is largely unchanged- but what it does mean is that the text layers imported into either program remains fully editable. In fact you might well not need to use Illustrator at all as the shared engine also allows Photoshop CS to offer the most requested new feature of them all, text on a path.

Another new feature that was undoubtedly high on the wish list is the new PhotoMerge command. This takes multiple sequential photos and then applies perspective adjustment, cylindrical mapping and advanced blending to produce a single seamless panoramic image. The end results can't compete with dedicated stitching software, but they aren't bad. There's also an option to leave each image as a separate layer so that you can blend manually, but it's very rare that this will be your best option.

When you've finished working on your image, or images, it's time for output. Unlike Illustrator and InDesign, Photoshop CS sees no major changes to its print dialog or capabilities. However the Picture Package command for combining multiple images ready for print has been thoroughly overhauled and now lets you interactively edit layouts to precisely control position and spacing. And you can now send your photos and packages to online printing and sharing services directly from within Photoshop CS. The Web Photo Gallery command has also been given a makeover with a range of new professionally-designed templates and the option to collect end-user feedback by e-mail. And of course, for the most advanced web image control, Photoshop CS includes a new version of ImageReady (see boxout).

And finally, Photoshop CS offers a range of new PDF-based functionality. You can save images directly to PDF format while retaining all functionality and take advantage of new PDF 1.5 features such as JPEG2000 compression and advanced security. The fact that there's no option to view or hide Photoshop layers within Acrobat 6 as there is with Illustrator was originally a surprise, but largely makes sense as layers in Photoshop are rarely used to organize separate image versions. Instead Photoshop CS offers script-based commands to copy all layers, or more usefully all layer comps, to separate pages within a single PDF. In the same way you can copy multiple images to a PDF presentation and set up optional page transitions to create an emailable slideshow. Best of all, when dealing with multiple images to create presentations, packages or galleries, you can now select and order your images directly in the File Browser.

Photoshop CS can turn multiple images into picture packages or PDF presentations.

This brings us back full circle and shows just how comprehensive this upgrade is. Photoshop CS radically improves the entire image editing workflow right through from first opening your image to final output. And it wasn't exactly bad to start with.

Tom Arah

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ImageReady CS Boxout

Photoshop made its reputation handling photos for print and that's still its main focus, but these days it's also important to be able to produce web graphics. This is where ImageReady comes in.

New features designed to boost usability include faster jumping between applications and, thanks to the inherited overhaul of layer handling, the ability to select and manipulate nested object groups which is virtually essential in a web environment. The new Web Content palette also makes life easier by providing pick-whip functionality to control rollovers and you can even try out different layouts using the layer comp feature. Particularly handy is the GoLive-style Smart Guide feature which makes it simple to align objects.

More advanced features include the ability to load text-based data sets to automate the production of web graphics and improved control over the generated code including XHTML support. The biggest advance is the ability to output to Flash SWF format. This is useful even for all-bitmapped compositions, as layers can be maintained, but is most powerful when text and shape layers are output as vectors. Sometimes though it's preferable to rasterize richly-styled vectors which means that you need to be able to specify exactly how each layer is handled. And this means that what should be a simple task soon becomes a complicated headache.

Sadly that's always been true of ImageReady and, if anything, this CS version just makes things worse. Photoshop's layered bitmap approach to composition was never well suited to web layouts which typically consist of multiple objects and, when you add in trying to manage different image states, slices, rollovers, frames and now even completely different layer comp layouts and individual layer settings, it can easily become a nightmare. If Web graphics are important to your work then do yourself a favour and look into Macromedia's object-oriented Fireworks.

ImageReady CS now even offers Flash vector support - but the complexity can get out of hand.

System requirements Pentium III 600MHz, 256Mb of RAM, 280Mb of hard disk space, Windows 2000 (SP3) or XP, CD-ROM.

Tom Arah

Nov 2003

Full Photoshop CS2 review
Full Illustrator CS2 review
Full InDesign CS2 review
Full GoLive CS2 review
Full Acrobat Professional 7 review
Full Creative Suite 2 review

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