Photoshop's New Frontier

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The evidence is out there: Adobe is plotting a conspiracy.

Paranoia would make me imagine that people are trying to harm me. Rather, I've got a profound sense of pronoia: the uneasy suspicion that Adobe is trying to make my life better.

Adobe Photoshop had nigh on zero competition-everyone who's anyone already uses it-yet Adobe still came out with Photoshop 6, one of the most innovative upgrades in the app's ten-year history. The company didn't need to work that hard; it has released several upgrades that were only reasonably good but flew off the shelves anyway.

Photoshop 6 blazes new trails by including Adobe Illustrator-like tools and vector type that stays vector type to the end. Version 6 also blurs the lines between Photoshop and Adobe ImageReady and GoLive. Why did Adobe go so far beyond simply responding to users' wish lists? Why has the company unleashed an upgrade that can make us so much more efficient and open the door to new frontiers of creativity? In a search for the truth, I'll detail the conspiracy feature by feature. (For more on version 6, see Reviews elsewhere in this issue.)

The Interface Cabal

Photoshop 6 includes a host of interface changes that increase efficiency but take almost no time to learn. The new Options bar (which replaces and surpasses the Options palette) offers context-sensitive options depending on the tool you're using (see "Belly Up to the Options Bar"). You can put this bar anywhere, though it fits best at the top or bottom of your screen. If your screen resolution is more than 800 pixels wide, the Options bar becomes a palette well where you can store palettes you use occasionally-just drag the palette on top of the well. However, palettes in the well expand only when you're using them, so store your Color and Swatches palettes here, but not the Info palette.

A Better Crop   The Cropping tool now provides visual feedback by shading areas you're cropping out. It's a big improvement over the old dashed lines. The Cropping tool can now draw trapezoids, not just rectangles-useful when you need to adjust for keystoning (the perspective you get when looking up at a tall building).

High-Bit Color   In another important evolutionary move, Photoshop 6 lets you work with high-bit images in more ways, including applying Unsharp Mask, Gaussian Blur, and Add Noise to these files. High-bit images (16 bits per channel) are more flexible than those with the more common 8 bits per channel (also called 24-bit), especially for adjusting tone and color. Unless your scanner software is better than Photoshop, I'd recommend scanning in high-bit mode.

But these interface tweaks are little fish compared with the real power of this upgrade.

Lines at Last

Photoshop is a bitmapped editing program, right? Not anymore. Photoshop now lets you combine raster data (pixels) and vector data (Bézier lines) in one image. Because raster data is just a grid of pixels, it always has jaggy or fuzzy edges. The only good way to print a really sharp edge from a high-resolution imagesetter is with a vector, because these mathematical curves always give you the highest resolution possible from your printer. Earlier versions of Photoshop had vector tools for making clipping paths, which let you snip off the edges of a bitmapped image to create a clean silhouette. But that doesn't help when you need sharp edges within your image.

Bézier Type   Say you're making a logo, and you start by setting type. In Photoshop 6, the letters are Bézier shapes. You can fill those shapes with raster data (such as a scanned image) or apply layer effects to them (such as Emboss or Inner Shadow), and the inner and outer edges of your logo type stay sharp, even if you composite the type with another raster image or scale it in QuarkXPress (see "It's a Vector, It's a Raster!").

Tons of Transparency   The debut of vectors in Photoshop also means you can drag line art from Illustrator or Macromedia FreeHand into Photoshop and make it transparent so you can see other layers behind the line art. And because Photoshop can now retain the sharp edges you used to find only in vector drawing programs, we may see many more documents laid out in Photoshop (see "Words, Words, Words" below).

But what really blows my mind is Photoshop 6's ability to place semitransparent raster data on top of vector shapes. For example, you might be working on a magazine cover with a raster photo of a sports figure partially overlapping the crisply rendered vector title of the magazine. In previous versions you had to make a clipping path, and the athlete's hair wouldn't blend in with the type. Now, to reach this publishing Holy Grail, you just do some tweaking in the Layers palette.

Still Basic   But don't throw away Illustrator or FreeHand yet. Photoshop's rectangle, oval, pen, and polygon/star-burst tools are basic-not nearly powerful or intuitive enough to replace a full-fledged illustration program. For example, there's no easy way to mirror, layer, or run vector effects on the paths.

Of course, you can drag and drop artwork between Photoshop and either Illustrator or FreeHand, but I'd like the ability to drag headlines from QuarkXPress or InDesign into Photoshop. Well, maybe next year.

Words, Words, Words

Photoshop's weak type handling has long been an embarrassment, so Adobe overhauled the whole thing, building a type engine that almost rivals InDesign's. You can now type text directly on screen (instead of in a cumbersome dialog box), and the new Character and Paragraph palettes let you adjust formatting such as kerning, paragraph alignment, and even hyphenation. Following in InDesign's footsteps, Photoshop now has a Multi-Line Composer, too, with a paragraph justification algorithm superior to QuarkXPress's.

Editable Warps  In some ways, Photoshop's text tools surpass those of QuarkXPress and InDesign. You can stretch, twist, and curve your text into wavy fish eyes while keeping it editable. You can apply effects such as drop shadows, inner shadows, and embossing, and your text is still editable. Best of all, if you save your images as EPS, DCS, or PDF files, the text outlines remain vectors, so you get a crisp edge when you print to a PostScript printer or open your file in Adobe Acrobat (see "Photoshop 6 Throws Type for a Curve").

Realistically, though, because of the way Photoshop saves the text to an EPS file (turning it into long, complicated PostScript paths that can clog a printer's RIP), you should use this vector type feature only with small amounts of text, perhaps one or two words. This limitation-and the fact that you can't import or export text-means Photoshop won't replace your page-layout application anytime soon.

Loads of Layer Tools

Photoshop 5 had a perfectly functional Layers feature. Photoshop 6 leapfrogs 5 by including layer sets (folders in which you can group layers) and fill layers that can fill a layer with a solid color, a gradient, or a pattern. A new adjustment layer, called Gradient Map, actually maps the colors of a blend to the colors in your image-a fantastic way to colorize your picture quickly or create psychedelic oddities (see "A Horse of a Different Color").

Given Photoshop's new penchant for vectors, perhaps it's not surprising that you can use vector artwork as a layer mask. Do you want a particular image to show through your logo? Just drag the logo from FreeHand or Illustrator to Photoshop as a path (hold down the 1 key while dragging), then click twice on the Add Mask button in the Layers palette. The first click adds a regular layer mask; the second click adds the vector mask.

Interface Improvements   The Layers palette is more powerful, and its interface is more obvious. It offers four different ways to lock a layer, the ability to color-code layers (this is especially helpful if you want to see all the layers in a set at a glance), and a pop-up menu approach to applying layer styles such as Drop Shadow, Emboss, and Color Overlay.

When you want to use several layer styles together repeatedly, you can save them as a group in Photoshop's new Styles palette. Perhaps your Web buttons always have a certain embossing with a certain texture, or your text is always a specific color with a particular amount of glow around it. Just create the style once, and then save it in the palette. I hope future versions incorporate layer styles for filters and adjustment layers as well.

Color Me

Nothing the folks at Adobe can do will make color management a pleasant experience. Designers who value predictable color are likely to use device profiles to get consistent color for scanners, monitors, ink-jet printers, and final press output. These profiles are a big step in the right direction, but they're still no fun to use. Photoshop 6 goes a long way toward lessening the pain.

Color Spaces   In a move that's making service bureaus cheer, Photoshop now gives each image its own working space, so you can keep an sRGB image open at the same time as an image in the Adobe RGB space. (In Photoshop 5, all documents had to conform to one user-defined space.) Photoshop 6 also shows you what profile (if any) is embedded when you select Document Profile from the pop-up menu in the lower left corner of the document window.

Better Soft-Proofing   One of the most important benefits of color management is the ability to proof your images on screen (called soft-proofing). As more files are printed direct to plate, making a conventional printed proof impossible, soft-proofing is becoming an essential feature. Photoshop 6 has bolstered its soft-proofing capabilities significantly, especially in letting you simulate how your image would look on newsprint or printed by an RGB ink-jet, or by any other printing device for which you have a profile.

Perhaps best of all for color novices, Adobe has combined all the color-preferences dialog boxes into one and offers several presets. Advanced users (and anyone who wants great color badly enough to learn what the knobs and buttons do) can skip the presets and customize the settings-especially the CMYK working space's settings for dot gain, ink setup, and so on.

Don't Forget to Profile   No matter what Adobe does with its color-management tools, however, only you can take one of the most important steps: creating a custom monitor profile for your screen. There's no way to see accurate color without this profile. (You can use Adobe Gamma to create a reasonable one quickly, or a commercial suction-cup device to make a great one even faster.)

A Web of Tools

Image slicing lets you cut an image into portions that a Web browser can later piece together with an automatically generated HTML table. This way, you can save some slices as JPEGs and others as GIFs to maximize file compression. In the Slice Options dialog box, you can assign tags, URL links, and even message tags, which show up at the bottom of the browser when you roll over the slice area.

Automatic Slices   Even better, just leave each section of your Web graphic (type, images, and so on) in its own layer and rely on Photoshop 6's Autoslice feature. That way, when your art director tells you to move all the buttons from one side to the other, the slices update automatically.

Liquid Assets

Liquify is a completely new ability that lets you push, warp, twirl, and expand an image as if it were fluid. You can edit images in ways that were formerly almost impossible without using Kai's Power Tools plug-ins (now KPT from Corel). But you should use Liquify with great restraint (at least in a professional environment).

Let's say you have an image of a bowl of raspberries, but a few don't look as juicy as you'd like. You could use the Bloat tool in the Liquify dialog box to plump them up, but it's easy to bloat too much and make the whole picture look unrealistic. Fortunately, the Freeze tool lets you apply the effect to one specific part of an image while leaving the rest of the image alone.

The Liquify feature is clearly a work in progress. You can access it only through a separate dialog box. You can't zoom in and out in the dialog box, nor can you use Bézier curves for precise adjustments. And Liquify can't change vector data.

Output Options

Photoshop 6 lets you save TIFF and PDF images with layers, spot colors, and other "extra" data. Previously, you needed third-party QuarkXTensions to import a TIFF image into QuarkXPress or InDesign and then open it in Photoshop to still see your layers, spot colors, and so on. But while maintaining this information is sometimes helpful, there's a good argument for keeping 100MB layered Photoshop files separate from their much smaller, flattened TIFF or EPS versions, especially when you're sending files to a service bureau. Ultimately, your workflow needs and the size of your removable media should dictate what's reasonable.

Adobe has also strengthened Photoshop's support for the Acrobat PDF file format. In previous versions, Photoshop's PDF files were raster-only. Photoshop 6 can include vector shapes, text, and embedded fonts. You can also tell Photoshop to convert all text to outlines, though I don't recommend it-typically your file size gets enormous.

The Last Word

Photoshop 6 includes a torrent of other improvements, including better connection with GoLive 5 (for instance, drag-and-drop images you can optimize in GoLive); the ability to add annotations to an image (these are also visible in Acrobat if you save the file as a PDF); a Print Options dialog box (for previewing before printing); the chance to save Photoshop actions as batch processes called droplets; and some extremely tweaky and technical tools to squeeze out every last bit of fat when you're saving Web graphics.

Of course, none of this stuff comes cheap. The upgrade alone is expensive ($199 from Photoshop 5.X), not to mention the cost of buying more RAM and a larger hard drive. While the minimum requirements aren't too cumbersome-Photoshop 6 requires Mac OS 8.5 or later, at least 64MB of RAM, and hundreds of megabytes of hard-drive space-realistically you want more, faster, stronger, better. For the small-time user, Photoshop 6 might be like using a rock drill to open a walnut. However, if you work in a professional environment (either prepress or Web), the upgrade is a no-brainer. I may not fully understand Adobe's wicked intrigue, but now that I've worked with Photoshop 6 for a while, I'm happy to enter its new territory.

DAVID BLATNER is a coauthor of the upcoming Real World Photoshop 6 (Peachpit Press).

Belly Up to the Options Bar   The Options bar not only lets you adjust the settings for whatever tool you're using, it also replaces the Brushes palette, making it easier than ever to choose a brush size A. It's a Vector, It's a Raster!   Photoshop lets you add true vector (outline) type to your images and even styles such as Emboss and Drop Shadow. Here, the bitmapped image not only sits on top of vector type-but also blends in using semitransparent antialiasing. A Horse of a Different Color   Gradient Map adjustment layers offer a great way to map a blend to an image. Here the masked effect covers only part of the graphic.
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