Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 review

Better late than never, as the saying goes. Every year we go along to the launch of a new version of Photoshop Elements, and every year we complain about the murky grey interface that seems to suck the life out of even the most memorable and colourful of photos.

Thankfully, the first thing we noticed about Photoshop Elements 11 is that Adobe has finally given the program’s interface a bit of a makeover – one that makes it both more attractive and easier to use.

The dark grey backgrounds and panels of previous years have been replaced with a lighter colour scheme and larger, more colourful icons that, frankly, are just nicer to look at. However, these interface changes are more than just cosmetic. The program’s three editing modes – the simple Quick mode, Guided mode for creating special effects, and the freeform Expert mode for advanced users – have all been reorganized too.

There are now three large tabs sitting right at the top of the editing window, labeled Quick, Guided and Expert, so that you can quickly decide which mode you want to work with. The tool icons in all three modes are larger and give you a better idea of what the tools actually do, and a Tool Options button at the bottom of the screen allows you to show or hide additional options for each tool, such as a set of grids for the Crop tool or size and opacity settings for the paint brush.

The Quick mode in Photoshop Elements is even simpler and more straightforward to use.

The clutter of palettes that used to occupy the right-hand side of the screen has been reduced to a single palette that provides a different set of tools for each editing mode. Quick mode now looks more approachable, with a smaller set of basic controls for lighting and colour settings, along with the Smart Fix option that attempts to adjust these settings for you automatically.

Guided mode has been slimmed down too. The daunting list of filters and editing effects has been thinned out, to make room for larger icons that simply help to make this mode look a bit more user-friendly. We were worried about losing some of the filter effects from the list here, but the full range of filters – along with a handful of new ones – is still available from the main Filter menu at the top of the screen.

Even Expert mode gets a bit of a revamp. To make this mode a little less daunting most of the program’s more advanced features, such as the layers and masking tools, have now been hidden from sight. Instead, there’s a new Action Bar running along the bottom of the screen that contains a simple set of buttons for activating layers, effects and other advanced features.

The overall effect of these interface changes is simply to make Photoshop Elements 11 look and feel less intimidating for new users, and to encourage them to experiment with their photos more freely. That’s certainly a welcome improvement, but it’s a little disappointing to see that this upgrade doesn’t offer many major new features for more advanced users.

The Vignette tool allows you to focus on the face of a subject.

There are a few new photographic effects, with the most useful probably being the vignette effect that allows you to blur out the background of an image and focus on the main subject. There are some other effects too, including a number that attempt to make photos look like comic-book artwork. However, these generally struck us as being rather underwhelming and there’s a distinct lack of ‘wow’ factor that might make existing users want to rush out and upgrade to version 11.

OUR VERDICT

If you’re still mostly using iPhoto and are looking for something with a bit more editing power then Photoshop Elements 11 is an excellent choice. Its editing tools are much more advanced than those found in iPhoto, while the revamped interface is easier for new users to get to grips with. However, people who already own a previous version of Photoshop Elements will find that there are few major new features that make this a ‘must-have’ upgrade.

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