The Creative Toolbox: Photoshop 6.0 Vectors in on One-Stop Solution

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Even in its early incarnations, Adobe Photoshop was known for its powerful features and endless possibilities. It emerged as one of the first "killer apps," and through the years it has grown more powerful release after release. With an application already so sophisticated and accomplished, it's natural to pose the question of whether or not Adobe could really add much in the way of new features. The answer, judging by the late beta copy we tested for this preview: Oh, yeah. Version 6.0 boasts more than 100 new features, including fully integrated vector-drawing and text features, and Web-specific enhancements practically build your artwork and rollover effects for you. The improvements go a long way toward making Photoshop easier to use and more powerful for both first-time users and seasoned professionals.

One of the evident trends at Adobe these days is the concept of product integration across the workflow. This trend has been most obvious in Adobe Illustrator, where Adobe has worked not only to make the interface match Photoshop's, but also to give Illustrator a practical selection of Photoshop's features. Illustrator now sports transparency, soft drop-shadows, and feathering -- all once the exclusive domain of Photoshop. Turrnabout is fair play, of course, and with version 6.0, pixel-based Photoshop implements a respectable range of capabilities from its cousin in the vector world. Granted, the blending of vector and pixel-based art in one application is not a new approach -- Macromedia's bi-lingual Fireworks burst on the scene several months ago, and Deneba's Canvas has been mingling vector and bitmapped images for years -- but to see vector abilities incorporated in true Adobe form is something altogether different. Adobe has done a marvelous job keeping what could easily be a rather confusing blend of features fairly clean and simple.

Type in Photoshop has finally made its way over to the vector world -- and in a big way. Not only can you now enter your text directly on the canvas (sans annoying dialog box), but you can also produce text in paragraph format. (Everyone can now stand up and cheer!) Paragraphed text can be wrapped and re-wrapped at any time with a simple adjustment to a handle, and the feature even includes InDesign's superior (Single- and Multi-line) hyphenation composers. Any letter or word can be selected and have its own color or font attributes applied. Better still, even after endless transformations and distortions, type remains in vector format and is easily editable. A "warp text" feature provides 15 presets of enveloping effects, each complete with its own distortion settings. These effects can even be automatically tweened using ImageReady 3.0's Animation features.

Photoshop 6.0 forges further ahead as a premiere Web tool, not only with the introduction of vector artwork but also with the integration of comprehensive Layer Styles and slicing abilities available before only within the ImageReady component.

Furthering Photoshop's "street cred" as a Web graphics app, slices have found their way into Photoshop 6.0 from ImageReady 2.0. It is now possible to create, edit, and name Slices directly within Photoshop. You can even produce Layer Based Slices, which automatically resize their dimensions as the layer's elements change.

With the new Slice features in Photoshop 6.0, you may be wondering why ImageReady is still around. Good question.

Photoshop requires you to go into a dialog box to enter name slices, while ImageReady provides a Slices palette for slice name entry. Additionally, ImageReady is still necessary for creating rollovers and animated GIFs, and Adobe has made those tasks much easier with ImageReady 3.0.

Photoshop 6.0 delivers smoother integration with ImageReady 3.0 than past versions of the two. This is apparent the first time you click the Jump To button. Gone is the annoying dialog-box hopscotch necessary until now to save and/or update changes to your file, and now ImageReady will dim the Photoshop image as you edit it within ImageReady (and vice-versa), avoiding confusion about where the file is actually active.

Rollover styles now can be created and then incorporated into a "Layer Style" within ImageReady. Where the workflow for creating a series of buttons for your Web site used to involve first creating a "mouseover state," and a "down state" for each button, with ImageReady 3.0 it's as simple as designing a single button and its various rollover states, making a Layer Style out of it, and then applying the rollover styles to all your other buttons. A true time-saver. When you're done, you can even preview your rollover button states directly within ImageReady.

To further ease migration to the Web, all Photoshop and ImageReady code can be designated as GoLive compatible. And both Photoshop and ImageReady include a new Weighted Optimization feature that allows you to specify a Channel as an area of importance in a Slice. This powerful feature almost seems to be too much work for what it's worth. But it is good to know that it's there, in case you have a specific image you want to keep crisp but still want your page to load quickly.

Adobe faced a daunting challenge with Photoshopo 6.0: Users were crying for more power, flexibility, and options while at the same time wanting better ease of use. Many power-users may despise the idea of a simplified Photoshop interface, but being accustomed to an awkward workflow process doesn't in itself justify its continuance. Refinements such as the new contextual Options bar and the extensive tool labeling and tips should help ease users into the hundreds of options presented to them at once. The Layers palette even has been turbo-charged for better management of complex files.

All pull-out tools now include their tool icon, label, and shortcut key. The Crop Tool has been brought back to the top-level of the tool bar. Tool tips have been enhanced as well so that you can hover your mouse over almost anything you have a question about and be given a simple answer.

The Layers palette finally includes the ability to group related layers into a Layer set, something Web designers have wanted for years. The number of layers has been upped from the measly ceiling of 99 to about 8,000. And you can now lock a layer's painting, transparency, and transformation individually or all at once.

If I had to nit-pick any part of this great release it is the awkward inclusion of ImageReady 3.0, rather than the outright integration of all ImageReady features. Were Adobe to bundle LiveMotion with Photoshop, I would hardly complain, but Photoshop and ImageReady share enough functionality that stopping short of full integration seems somewhat nonsensical.

Photoshop 3.0 changed the way we worked with the addition of Layers, and Photoshop 6.0 does it again by integrating vector capabilities. New Web tools and instant Layer styling should help you spend more time creating your images and designs, and less time jumping through various applications and applying the same look and feel to different buttons. And while these new features inevitably add complexity to an already complicated application, Adobe seems to be striving to keep Photoshop as intuitive as possible, and all in all the effort is paying off. Improved workflow means jobs take less time, which in turn means artists have more time to devote to other projects or other pursuits, and the possibility of more money or more free time are each reasons to jump for joy. The bottom line? Adobe has given us a superb, feature-rich upgrade to look forward to.

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