Adobe Photoshop 6

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The new Version 6.0 of Adobe's Photoshop is not just improved, it expands the application's capabilities into new realms. One of these is a vector layer which supports resolution independent type and graphic elements. On first try, with only a few minutes of work, I was able to add my comment in blue over a background of Photoshop's new packaging image, change the angle orientation and bend the type in an arch to follow the curve in the illustration in the background.
Photos © 2000, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

Probably the one computer product most closely associated with photography is Adobe's Photoshop. Adobe releases a major upgrade of Photoshop every so often that incorporates improvements the company's programmers have developed since the last revision. In the last few releases these upgrades have included new features that Adobe feels reflect the direction the users, its customers, are going. The Internet and web publishing, as well as changes in traditional publishing, are and have been at the forefront of these recent upgrades.

Improvements and additions which specifically relate to how a photographer typically uses Photoshop are mixed in and sometimes almost hidden among the rest of the changes. So, for those of us photographers who review and report on Photoshop, it is a bit of a game of hide and seek. We have to ferret out everything of photographic significance and gloss over the rest. That doesn't mean new type tools, a new vector capability, and web page building features are not used by photographers. I'll not ignore them. But first of all photographers use Photoshop to work with photographs, and then they do other things relative to the photographs. In that respect I'll reorder Adobe's list of new features and change the priorities to what I found significant.

One of the foremost new advantages offered in Photoshop 6 is a Print Option dialog window making printing to a particular image size for a given paper size much simpler and direct, and providing a visual thumbnail preview of how the image will appear as printed. Throughout this new Version 6.0 Adobe has made functions more intuitive and has reduced the number of actions required to achieve results, increasing efficiency significantly.

New Photoshop Features And Improvements
Once installed, the first time you run Photoshop 6 it will look pretty familiar. The Toolbox with its columns of icons includes a few more items, and the Menu bar is about the same, as well as the row of default Palettes down the right side of the screen. But then there is another bar under the Menu bar! This is the Tools Option bar. Click on any tool, like the Rubber Stamp, and all of its options, brush size, transparency, etc. are available. If you want the Tools Option bar at the top of the work space, in the middle, or the bottom, just move it there; or click on the vertical icon at the far left of the bar and it collapses, until you click on it again to expand it. At the far right of the Options bar is a rectangular space set off by a heavy outline. This is the Palettes Well. Now you can click on the tab of any Palette and move it into the Well, and you can place just the Palettes you work with in the Well. Only the Palettes tab with its name shows until you click on the tab, which opens the Palette. Besides keeping the clutter of palettes off your work space, the Tool Options bar provides a direct access to the adjustments and resources you use most with just one click. This greatly speeds up whatever you are doing with tools, layers, channels color selection, and just about any action you perform with a digital photograph.

Photoshop has provided a Thumbnail Page generation tool since the introduction of Version 5.0, but its usefulness has been limited, in part by not having a means to select the font size for the thumbnail captions, which is now included in Version 6.0.

Besides adding and modifying major features, Adobe has made using many of the tools and processes more direct and intuitive, reducing the number of mouse clicks needed to get things done. This makes it more apparent how to use a tool or function. For instance, now the pop-out selections from the tools have both icons, and also a text name that describes the function. In other words, the slope of Photoshop's learning curve is not so steep anymore.

Adobe is sometimes slow to add a feature like image warping to Photoshop, but when they do, like the new command function called Liquify, the flexibility and refinement of its ability to reshape characteristics in an image are of a high order. One of the primary creative capabilities of Photoshop has been its Layer capabilities. These are now enhanced with new features like the ability to apply Styles and add pre-defined effects from resources included with the application. You can also save custom effects so they can be applied with a simple click at any time and repeatedly. For these creative processes there is a new feature called Presets. For instance, there is now a Gradient Editor which includes both the ability to store preset gradient variations supplied with Photoshop 6, as well as a dialog to define new gradient fill attributes so they may be saved as a custom Preset. And, for those who input high-bit scans to Photoshop, the Mode feature has been increased to 16 bits per color channel. The editing options which can be applied now include a limited selection of filters including Unsharp Mask.

Adobe Photoshop 6.0 Web Photo Gallery is a utility that does exactly what its name describes very easily and simply. By choosing some options from the dialogs shown, click OK and the Gallery is generated in finished HTML format, and pops the result up on screen in your default browser. The Web Photo Gallery provides a column of thumbnails with file names or selected caption text. The thumbnails can be scrolled, and then you click on any thumbnail and the enlarged version appears in the larger adjoining browser space. This Web Photo Gallery is not just for web site builders, although many photographers have sites, but can be used to send a collection of photos attached to e-mail to anyone with a computer and web browser. You can also use it as a way to provide simple cataloging of the contents of images stored in a folder on your hard drive or on a CD.

Now that Adobe Acrobat PDF has a much wider acceptance and a broader range of uses, the PDF output capabilities of Photoshop have been enhanced and made more directly accessible and easier to use. Along with a new, more effective internal Photoshop color management engine (ACE), the actual use and maintenance of color management for input and output, as well as the initial setup, has been made entirely accessible from a Color Setting dialog window. And, when you first install Photoshop 6 a warning is given making the new user aware the default opening color management is set up for the web, so photographic users should be aware to set up color management for photographic use first thing before putting Photoshop to work.

Working With Adobe Photoshop 6
Upon receiving Adobe Photoshop 6, I immediately installed it on my new Mac G4. The process included getting Photoshop 6 set up with the preferences and color management relative to my photographic use as well as the attributes of my system. This took considerably less than an hour. I found I was working easily with Photoshop 6 even though it is the first new major application I have installed for test and evaluation on a Mac (I only recently began using the Mac extensively for my computing requirements). However, I must admit to having a guide supplied by Adobe to help identify and evaluate the new Photoshop 6 features, which to a large extent is replicated in the front of the new User's Guide supplied with the application. And, by the way, I am most appreciative Adobe continues to include a quality, well written, and comprehensive paper book User's Guide, even though I am sure it is one reason the application remains relatively expensive.

Photoshop has had a cropping tool for as long as I can remember. But now you can do more with it. Click on the Perspective Option and you can straighten an image or correct the perspective as you crop. In addition now you can select to have the area that will be removed grayed down so it's easier to see how the final result will appear before you click OK.

Once I had identified those new features I found to be of photographic significance, I went about typical tasks using images acquired and opened from my files to utilize them. This included adjusting color correction, refining images, cropping, applying filters, and modifying them with new tools like Liquify. In addition, I performed many tasks as part of the processing which did not relate to any new feature like cleaning up dust and dirt in a scanned image, but which did entail some experience with changes made in the Photoshop 6 interface that now makes work easier and more efficient.

I expect that for several more weeks, or even months, I'll find more advantages in the changes made to details in Photoshop 6 that are also positive efficiencies in one way or another. I also found some function tools like the Rubber Stamp are largely unchanged, although there is good reason to make this particular tool more friendly and efficient considering the fact that not just photographers but designers and web page creators often scan images and then have to clean and retouch them. That you still have to first set the Rubber Stamp pickup point and then move the cursor for another click to fill in dust spots is tiresomely slow and laborious. Surely a single action brush could be designed and installed to accomplish this frequent and mind-numbing task much more efficiently.

Although image distortion utilities (morphing tools) are not new, Photoshop's new Liquify is exceptional with a wide range of different kinds of options as well as adjustments for the size of the application brush, and the ability to freeze (red overlay) an area by painting it with a selected brush. The result is a very controllable way to alter image characteristics from subtle to bold, from surreal to absurd, and then have the result rendered in precisely refined image qualities.

On the other hand, improvements and changes to several distinct features also come in to play, affecting a frequent and common task like printing from Photoshop in this new Version 6. Now with an added File menu selection Print Option dialog, you can configure an image to print at a particular size and add all of the printing options, seeing what you are going to get, in one window with a preview thumbnail. In addition, the File/Auto-mate/Picture Package command supports more paper sizes and more combinations of image sizes to be printed on one sheet. Add to this more effective internal color management, including an easier to use "Profile To Profile" mode conversion that leaves the screen image as it should appear in the print. This is a vastly more effective and efficient process, resulting in even more exact and refined image print quality results.

As long as I can recall most image-editing applications provided pre-defined patterns as a content resource. Same with Photoshop, but in Version 6.0 you also have a slick new way with the Pattern option of the Rubber Stamp tool to create custom patterns from your own image resources.

Evaluation And Recommendation
The new features and improvements that affect printing alone are ample justification for upgrading to Photoshop 6. Add to that the more efficient arrangements of tools and resources that reduce the number of motions required to get editing, color correction, and retouching done, further increases the value. All of the other neat and cool additions like more creative type capabilities, the addition of vector elements and web page creation functions are cream on top of the core advantages just described. At a $199 upgrade, the $609 full version price including an upgraded ImageReady 3.0, and the option to acquire GoLive 5.0 for just $99, is a substantial value in productive capabilities. Adobe Photoshop 6.0 supports all versions of the Apple Macintosh OS from 5.5 through 9.0, as well as MS Windows 98, NT 4.0, and 2000. For more information call Adobe Systems at (800) 492-3623, or visit their web site at: www.adobe.com.

For photographers who are printing using fine art and other than proprietary print media, and using a custom color management profile created for that media, the most exact printing results have been achieved using Photoshop's Profile To Profile Mode option. In Version 6.0 this procedure has been made simpler and more direct. And, once the profile is applied, no longer does the screen image change to some horrible appearance, it remains unchanged and appears as the print should be rendered.

Photographer-Friendly Features In Photoshop 6
A new version of Photoshop is out with a great number of new features and a batch of changes to old features. Is that good news or bad news for digital photographers? Photoshop 5, with its radical color management changes, spelled disaster for many users who saw their old images take on strange new colors, but the update improved Photoshop in many other ways. With Photoshop 6, the color management system has been simplified and streamlined, good news for all Photoshop fans.

Improved Color Management
Finally, Photoshop has an easy-to-manage integrated color management system. All the controls for Photoshop 6's color management are in one dialog box (Color Settings, under the Edit menu), with a variety of presets including U.S. Prepress Defaults, Web Graphics Defaults, and even Emulate Photoshop 4. Advanced and standard modes allow you to have as much or as little control over Photoshop's color settings as you might like. You can set it and forget it, or you can fiddle with the dot gain and black generation controls to your heart's content. As you work in the Color Settings dialog box, a Description area at the bottom offers information and suggestions for each setting.

Photoshop 6 bundles all its color settings into one helpful dialog box.

Weighted Image Optimization
This innovative feature allows you to determine the quality of an image on a pixel-by-pixel basis, applying varying compression and dithering levels in different areas of an image. When you plan to save an image in JPEG or GIF format, you can first create an alpha channel whose white areas indicate the most important areas of the image and whose black areas indicate less vital parts of the image. The compression and dithering settings used on each pixel when the image is saved will vary according to the gray level of the corresponding pixel in the alpha channel. In an image of a tiger against a leafy background, for example, you might want to apply more compression to the leaves than to the tiger so that the animal who's the focus of the image remains sharp and clear. To do that, you'd create an alpha channel with a white silhouette of the tiger against a black or gray background, then you'd click the Modify Quality Setting button in the Save for Web dialog box (Photoshop) or the Optimize palette (ImageReady).

Improved Extract Command
The Extract command, for silhouetting images, was introduced in Photoshop 5.5 and has been upgraded in Version 6. Here's how it works: You use a tool like a highlighter marker to highlight the edges of the image you want to silhouette, and then a paint bucket tool to define the interior of the object. When you click OK, Photoshop deletes the image's background, leaving only the object--it's as simple as that. The new version of the Extract command has smart tools that help you stick to the edge of the object when you're highlighting and allow you to clean up and refine the mask that will be applied to the image before clicking OK.

New options in the Contact Sheet dialog box make it more useful to photographers.

Vector Layer Clipping Paths
While Photoshop has long supported the use of its vector drawing tools (the Pen and its associated tools) to create clipping paths that silhouette images when output, Photoshop 6 adds the ability to create vector-based layer clipping paths--meaning that you can see the effects of your silhouette path right in Photoshop. Like a layer mask, a layer clipping path masks parts of a layer, preventing those pixels from displaying or printing without deleting them. So, like layer masks, layer clipping paths are completely editable and completely undoable--with the added precision of vector paths.

Enhanced Contact Sheets
Photoshop 6's contact sheet feature, which produces an electronic contact sheet that you can print or post on the web, has been updated in several ways. You can now choose a font size for the photo labels in contact sheets, and you can choose from a variety of customizable templates for web photo galleries. The Picture Package command, which creates proof sheets in standard configurations (such as two 4x5s and eight 2x2.5s), now doesn't add borders to the images, so the final image sizes are what they're supposed to be. It also includes templates for both letter-size and tabloid-size pages.

The enhanced Extract command is the key to easy silhouetting in Photoshop.

New Web-Design Tools
These days it's a rare image that won't end up on the web at some point, and Photoshop 6 offers even more help in that area than did previous versions. The slicing tools from ImageReady are now built into Photoshop, so you can create image maps or break large images into segments that Photoshop can automatically reassemble into an HTML table. Image components on individual layers can now form the basis for slices that are updated behind the scenes as the layers are modified, and any image can be output as an HTML page with or without text. For more extensive im, ImageRage optimizationeady is just a click away, with a "Switch" button right at the bottom of Photoshop's Tool palette.

Streamlined Interface
Photoshop is a big, big program--if you haven't been using it for years, it can be hard to get a handle on all the things it can do and all the ways it can do them. With Version 6, Adobe has tried to simplify things a bit, streamlining Photoshop's interface and making controls more accessible. For example, instead of hiding in the Tool Options palette, settings for each tool are clearly visible in a top-of-the screen Options toolbar that changes to show the controls for each tool as you use it. Off to one side of the toolbar is a "palette well" where you can keep frequently used palettes out of the way until you need them--once they're tucked away in the well, you can get at them with a quick click, instead of digging through the Window menu. You can now change measurement units on-the-fly just by Control-clicking (Mac) or right-clicking on the rulers. And Windows users get a bonus feature: The Open dialog box now displays browsable thumbnail images.

Of course, Photoshop 6 contains many more new features--such as text that you can edit right in the document window and vector-based shape tools--that will be more or less useful, depending on your needs. Without a doubt, this is an upgrade worth spending your money on; whether your images are headed for print or the web, you'll find Photoshop 6 helps you on your way.

All in all, Photoshop 6 and its web-image companion ImageReady 3.0 are chock-full of good news for photo-savvy users. The program's new features will intrigue and assist digital photographers.

--Kate Binder

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