Adobe Photoshop 6.0

Photoshop 5.5 was a bit of a mess. It had some good points, certainly, but Adobe hadn’t quite figured out how to adapt the print-oriented Photoshop to the demands of Web graphics. The result was an untidy attempt to integrate Photoshop and its Web-graphics stablemate, ImageReady. But for Photoshop 6.0, Adobe has gone back to basics. There are new Web-graphics features, of course, but this upgrade primarily concentrates on improving ease of use and adding powerful image-editing features. Extra options
The first thing you’ll notice is the small, but effective, improvements to the interface. Running along the top of the main workspace is a new Options bar. This is used to display options and controls relating to the currently selected tool. It’s context-sensitive, so it automatically updates itself as you switch from tool to tool. For instance, if you select the Paintbrush, the Options bar will display controls for adjusting the size or style of the brush.Photoshop’s vast array of features and tools has caused it to become increasingly cluttered in recent years, with a confusing array of palettes floating around on screen. The Options bar instantly does away with many of these, and it also includes one additional feature that helps tidy up your working environment. However, you’ll need to have your monitor set to a resolution of at least 1024-x-768 pixels to use this feature. When your monitor is set to this resolution – or higher – a small window is displayed, on the far right-hand side of the toolbar, called the Palette Well. You can drag any of Photoshop’s tabbed palettes into the Well and the palette will automatically shrink down so that only its tab remains visible. When you need to use the palette, simply click on the tab, and the palette springs back to full size. Vector graphics
One of the other big advances in this upgrade is the addition of vector-graphics tools to Photoshop’s traditional bit-map tool-set. Tucked neatly into the main tool palette are two new options: a pen tool, for drawing freehand bézier-curves; and a Shape tool that allows you to create a range of standard geometric shapes, such as rectangles, ellipses and polygons. When you select the Shapes tool, the Options bar displays settings that allow you to fix the size and proportions of a shape, or to create more complex shapes by using the “custom shape” button. Clicking on this button opens up a sub-menu containing an assortment of vector-graphics clip art, such as stars, arrows, and simple button-shapes for Web graphics. You can select any of thesefor use in a document, and can also save vector-graphics files. When creating vector shapes you also have the ability to use “pathfinder filters” similar to those found in Adobe Illustrator. These combine vector objects in various ways, in order to create more complex shapes. Vector shapes can also be used as “clipping paths” to cut out parts of an existing image, or used as layers, to which you can apply gradients, patterns or other tonal effects. All-in-one
These new tools won’t have you throwing your copies of Illustrator or FreeHand into the bin just yet, but they will save time by allowing designers to quickly add a wide range of vector graphics to their work without having to leave Photoshop and create the graphics in a separate program. There’s been a problem with Photoshop’s text tools in the past. They’ve been so clumsy and limited that users were often forced to prepare text in a vector-graphics program and then import it into Photoshop. The other alternative was simply to give up on Photoshop and do all typographical work using the more powerful type tools in layout programs such as QuarkXPress. There are some good, third-party plug-ins developed for working with text in Photoshop, but these can’t compensate for the weakness of its text-handling features. But at long last, Adobe has completely rewritten Photoshop’s text-engine, making it more powerful and easier to use. The first – and most needed – improvement is the simple ability to type text straight onto an image, rather than having to enter the text into a clumsy dialogue box as we’ve had to do for ears. Clicking on the Text tool activates a cursor that allows you to draw a new text box onto your image. At the same time, the Options bar displays controls for selecting the font, size, style and anti-aliasing method. You can also activate two additional palettes that contain more detailed settings for character- and paragraph-level formatting, such as line spacing, indents and alignment. Text boxes can be rotated and resized simply by using the mouse to grab the handles on the corners and edges of the box. However, the text within remains editable at all times, so that you don’t have to go back and start again if you discover a spelling mistake or some other changes that need to made to the text. Finally, the Options bar includes a Warp button that allows you to apply a wide range of distortion effects to text. This button activates the Warp Effects dialogue box, which includes a series of predefined effects, such as bulge, fisheye and twist. However, each effect provides additional slider controls that allow it to be modified – altering the degree of distortion, rotation, or horizontal and vertical stretching. However, you can still edit the text simply by clicking on it with the text tool. Text isn’t the only thing that can be warped and distorted in Photoshop 6.0. One of the program’s most powerful new editing features is the Liquefy command. This is similar to some of the morphing effects found in MetaCreations’ Goo, but provides designers with much greater precision and control. Liquid gold
Tucked away at the bottom of the Image menu, the Liquefy command activates a window that contains a copy of your current image. This window has its own toolbar, containing a series of brush options, such as warp, bloat, pucker and twirl. The warp brush simply drags pixels in the direction of the brush strokes, while the other brushes push or pull pixels in a variety of other ways. You can alter the size of the brushes in order to increase or decrease the strength of the liquefying effect, and can also superimpose a grid over an image to act as a guide during editing.There’s a special freeze brush that allows you to fix areas of an image into place so they’re not affected by any of the liquefying brushes. This will be useful for creating caricatures, where you want to distort only specific features of someone’s face. If you decide to undo a distortion altogether you can use the standard -Z keyboard shortcut to undo an action, but there’s also the option of using the “reconstruction” brush to slowly reverse distortions. This allows you to rewind to just the right degree of distortion without having to start again from scratch. The Liquefy tools are great fun to play with, but they’re also very powerful editing tools. You can create exaggerated effects and caricatures, of course, but can also make more subtle changes to an image, such as tucking in someone’s double chin or giving them a digital nose-job. However, this sort of subtle retouching would be easier if there was a magnification control within the Liquefy window. Even so, the Liquefy command has great potential – as long as you can stop yourself getting carried away and wasting hours fiddling with pictures of friends and colleagues. On a more productive note, Photoshop 6.0 finishes off with an increased selection of new Web-graphics features, such as improved slicing controls and the ability to create and save “layer styles”. Admittedly, layer styles aren’t exclusively Web-oriented, but they work in a similar fashion to the styles found in Adobe LiveMotion and are ideal for creating Web-graphics, such as buttons and rollovers. You can create text or vector shapes on a new layer, and then apply one or more effects, such as a drop-shadow, emboss, or a gradient colour to the layer. Once you’ve achieved the desired effect you can save it as a “style” that can instantly be applied to any other graphics or text that you create. However, these styles don’t affect the underlying text or graphics, so you can still edit them at any time and the style that you’ve applied will automatically be updated to reflect the changes made. Like LiveMotion, Photoshop includes a selection of ready-made styles, but Adobe has been careful not to make LiveMotionredundant by limiting the number of ready-made styles in Photoshop. LiveMotion also provides a greater level of complexity in the styles that it can create, as well as having animation features that set it apart from both Photoshop and ImageReady. And, of course, ImageReady is the Web-specialist in this graphics double-act. Now upgraded to version 3.0, ImageReady has improved controls for creating image maps and rollovers. One nice feature is the ability to create secondary rollovers, in which a mouse action on one part of a Web page causes something to happen somewhere else on the page. And you can also save rollovers as a style in the same way as layer styles, allowing you to quickly create multiple rollovers. The rather clumsy image-map controls of ImageReady 2.0 have been replaced by a new Image Map palette, which allows you to simply draw circular, rectangular or polygonal hot-spots straight onto an image. You can also use layers to create more complex image-maps, as elements within a layer can be used to define the shape or appearance of hot-spots. We’re still not entirely happy about the way that images are swapped back and forth between Photoshop and ImageReady, as it’s still easy to get confused about which version of a file is being edited in which program. And with both programs now having so many features in common, you can sometimes grind to a halt while deciding which program to use for a particular task.

OUR VERDICT

Adobe needs to decide if ImageReady is going to continue as a stand-alone program, or if it’s going to be swallowed-up by Photoshop. But even as it stands, the Photoshop/ ImageReady bundle packs an awful lot of graphics power. Photoshop’s cleaner interface alone ensures this upgrade earns its keep. The improved text-handling and vector-drawing tools will also save plenty of time, while the Liquefy command provides new creative possibilities. Version 5.5 may have been something of a mixed bag, but Photoshop 6.0 is an all-round success that will appeal to Web- and print-based designers alike.

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