Photoshop Elements 10 full review

The murky grey interface of Adobe's Photoshop Elements fills me with gloom every time I look at it, and I was disappointed to see that the gloom persists in this latest version. However, that's my only real criticism of Elements 10, as this upgrade combines some powerful new tools with the program's traditional ease of use.

There are two main areas of improvement, focusing on the program's painting and photographic effects features. Three new 'guided edit' options allow you to create a depth of field effect, the hazy 'Orton' effect (named after the photographer Michael Orton), and a 'picture stack' effect that splits a photo into a collage overlapping smaller images.

Like all the other guided edit tools in Photoshop Elements, these new options allow you to create quite complex effects in a matter of seconds. In traditional photography, the Orton effect works by combining two versions of the same image – one that is clearly focused and a second that is out of focus and over-exposed. You'd normally need to shoot the two images separately and combine them by using the program's blending tools, but the guided edit option in Elements applies this effect with just a single click of your mouse. It also provides additional tools for modifying settings such as blur and brightness so that you can further fine-tune the effect if you need to.

The depth of field effect is just as easy to use, and allows you to put the emphasis on one particular part of an image while blurring everything else into the background. The guided edit option starts by applying a uniform blur to your entire image and you can then quickly bring one area back into focus with a single stroke of your mouse, or use the Quick Selection tool to create a more precise selection for the effect. These two effects will appeal to more experienced photographers, while the new 'picture stack' collage effect will be fun for beginners to play with when they're creating calendars and photo albums.

The painting side of the program has been improved too. There are a number of new artistic effects that you can paint onto your images, including pencil sketch and oil pastel effects that make your photos look like hand-drawn sketches. The Smart Brush tool has also been enhanced and allows you to paint these effects just onto specific areas of a photo - so you could make one person look like a drawing while everyone else in the photo is left untouched.

And, at long last, Elements' text tool has been updated so that you can now type text along curved and irregular paths, rather than just typing in a straight line across the screen. You can create geometric shapes such as ellipses and rectangles, or draw freehand shapes using the pen tool. You can also select the outline of a person or object within a photo and have the text follow that outline too.

Those are the key areas of improvement, although there are a few smaller additions as well. The Crop tool now displays a 'rule of thirds' grid to help you compose your photos, and there are some new templates for creating photo albums and other documents. The new features in this version do tend to lean towards more ambitious and creative users who really like to experiment with their photos. However, Adobe has done a good job of ensuring that those tools are quick and easy to use, so you don't need to be a real expert in order to get high-quality results.

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