Photoshop’s forthcoming 6.0 upgrade is "one of the most significant in years", according to Adobe.

In addition to yet another batch of user-interface tweaks, Photoshop 6.0 will offer integrated vector-drawing tools and new layer design-features.

Version 6.0 builds on 5.5’s savvy Web features, and includes ImageReady 3.0 for advanced Web-production tasks. Adobe also claims to have made Photoshop "faster and easier" for image-editing novices.

Always thought about as the premier bitmap editor, Photoshop will now include vector shape support, allowing users to add editable lines, rectangles, ellipses, and polygons to images. Add, Subtract, Intersect, and Exclude commands combine to make basic shapes. Vector shapes can be edited freely, and custom shapes can be saved for on-going use and sharing.

These vector capabilities are actually the result of sophisticated layer-clipping paths, but the effects are largely the same.

Text message The much-longed for vector text support means that users will be able to incorporate vector text into images. Text can be styled using extensive new character and paragraph controls. Twisted and warped text remains fully editable. The text effects and built-in styles are eerily close to those of Strider Software’s TypeStyler III program. Interestingly, a new Liquify command is highly reminiscent of Kai’s PowerGoo, allowing users to distort or warp an image by interactively pushing and pulling image pixels.

Image layers can be masked with vector-based layer clipping paths, which are intuitive to edit. Images can be output with resolution-independent text and vector shapes as PDF files or directly to PostScript.

Adobe has increased the layer limit to take account of the power of your Mac. While the company has squeezed over 8,000 layers on one of its pumped-up test Macs, Adobe believes that the typical computer should be able to handle "several hundred".

Photoshop 6.0 can apply editable gradients, patterns, and solid colours, as well as colour adjustments, to other layers. It can specify a variety of layer settings in one dialogue box, including layer effect options (drop shadows, glows, bevels, strokes, overlays, and satins), blending modes, transparency, and other settings. These settings can then be saved as layer styles.

Enhanced PDF support allows Photoshop 6.0 users to produce compact PDF files that support duotones, spot-colour channels, and transparency. Resolution-independent text and graphics, as well as Photoshop layers, can be exported as PDF files.

Web graphics improvements There’s also tighter integration with Adobe ImageReady3.0. Files can be moved back and forth between Photoshop and ImageReady more quickly using Jump-to buttons. Automated file saving further streamlines the process. The new vector drawing tools and layer styles allow for faster creation of Web graphics, such as buttons, and navigation bars, according to Adobe.

Slice tools enable the creation of complex layered images directly in Photoshop. Appropriate format and compression settings can be applied to each slice before exporting them as an HTML table.

Don’t look back Adobe’s product manager for imaging products, Karen Gauthier says that users of earlier versions will find it "very difficult" to go back – as Photoshop 6.0 is so much cleaner and more powerful.

"Version 6.0 includes some very, very, cool changes to the interface," she told Macworld. But she allayed fears that there would be the usual chop and change on shortcuts, etc. "Most keyboard shortcuts will remain the same," she promised.

Gauthier was keen to point out the "much-improved" print previews and new top-of-the-screen context-sensitive Options bar, which makes it easier to access the dockable palettes.

What you need Adobe Photoshop 6.0 requires a PowerPC processor, at least Mac OS 8.5, 64MB of RAM (with Virtual Memory on); 125 MB of available hard-disk space. 128MB RAM is required to run Photoshop and ImageReady concurrently.

Costing £450 (excluding VAT), Photoshop 6.0 is expected to ship in the third quarter of 2000. Customers can ugrade from version 5.5 for £90. The bundled GoLive 5.0 trial can be upgraded to the full version for just £65.