Photoshop 6 In-Depth First Look

From cubic computers to the impending release of OS X, there's been a lot of exciting news in the Mac community recently. But few events are as anticipated as Adobe's forthcoming upgrade to Photoshop. Whether you're a print professional, Web designer, photographer, animator, special effects creator, or just a hobbyist, Photoshop 6 proves to be the most exciting Photoshop upgrade in years.

Not since version 3, when Adobe added Layer support, has Photoshop seen as broad and significant an upgrade as version 6. Whether tweaking the interface or adding features, Adobe's improvements range from huge changes -- such as the addition of vector tools -- to simple changes -- such as a crop tool that actually displays your crop.

No matter what you use it for, Photoshop 6 has something new for everyone.

The most anticipated new feature in Photoshop is probably the addition of Vector layers. While previous versions of Photoshop provided a bézier pen tool for defining paths and selections, Photoshop 6 now lets you actually draw and edit vector shapes that remain vectors -- that is, they're never rasterized into bits. In addition to their editability, vectors are ideal for those times when you need shapes that print sharply at any resolution.

Though you can still use the pen tool for defining paths, you can now also use it to create a new Vector layer, where vector shapes are stored and edited. Each Vector layer has a color assigned to it and any shape drawn in that layer is filled with that color. The shape itself is defined by a clipping path linked to the Vector layer.

In addition to the pen tool, Adobe has added basic shape controls (rectangle, rounded rectangle, ellipse, and polygon) and converted Photoshop 5's Line tool into a vector-shape tool. They've also included some nice automatic Boolean controls. You can click on mode buttons to cause Photoshop to automatically union, subtract, or exclude shapes that are drawn on top of each other, a feature we'd love to see in Illustrator.

And, like any other type of layer, you can add Layer Effects such as drop shadows, bevels, and embosses to any Vector layer.

Although it's no replacement for a full-blown drawing program like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop 6's vectors will save you a lot of trips into Illustrator.

It took six versions, but the company that invented PostScript has finally added good text controls to Photoshop. You can now enter text directly onto the canvas rather than working through a dialog box.

As in version 5, text is entered into a special Text layer, but version 6 actually provides support for paragraphs and typographic controls. Everything from text color to kerning and leading controls are provided, as well as Adobe InDesign's excellent single and multiline composers.

Adobe has also added a good selection of type-warping filters that allow you to create effects that normally require Strider Software's TypeStyler or text-styling plug-ins.

Though far overdue, Adobe has done such a good job with Photoshop's type upgrade that it was almost worth the wait!

With version 3, Adobe added support for layers, allowing you to keep separate parts of an image on separate, discreet layers. Version 4 saw the addition of adjustment layers, which allow you to apply many image-processing functions -- such as Levels and Curves controls -- through editable, changeable layers.

To version 6, Adobe has added powerful layer-management capabilities. You can now group layers together in Layer Sets, which appear as folders inside your Layers palette. In addition to reducing clutter in your Layers palette, Layer Sets allow you to easily apply complex effects to multiple layers simultaneously.

Just as you can apply a Layer Mask or Adjustment Layer to an individual layer, you can now apply such effects to an entire set of layers. Thanks to Layer Sets, you no longer have to merge layers when you need to process them as a single layer.

Photoshop 5.5's Layer Effects features have been improved with the addition of a Styles palette. You can create combinations of Layer Effects that can be stored as Styles and easily applied to any layer of a document.

Adobe continues to move more functionality from ImageReady into Photoshop. Version 6 provides a comprehensive set of tools for Web designers.

Photoshop 6 includes a Slice tool which lets you create and edit slices, with full support for defining everything from slice name to associated URL. Photoshop 5.5's excellent Save for Web dialog has been updated to support the exporting of slices, complete with corresponding HTML code.

The latest upgrade to ImageReady (version 3) is bundled with Photoshop 6. Together, the package provides a very good facility for simple, automatic creation of Java rollover buttons and animated GIFs. Photoshop 6's vectors, Layer Effects, and Styles palette make it easy to create and manage multiple button-state graphics. These graphics can be exported to ImageReady to create rollovers.

Photoshop 6 sports hundreds of subtle little changes, both in features and in interface, yet one addition is apparent as soon as you launch the program. A toolbar-like palette now extends across the top of the screen. Serving as a context-sensitive replacement for a number of different palettes, the toolbar displays all the options and settings for whatever tool is currently selected.

When you choose the Brush tool, for example, the toolbar displays pop-up menus of brush shapes, as well as mode controls, an opacity slider, and a Wet Edges check box -- that is, everything that used to be spread between the Brush Shapes and Info palettes. You may find that the toolbar (which reduces screen clutter) takes a little getting used to, as things that used to involve a click on a palette, now involve a menu selection from a toolbar.

As one would expect from such a substantial upgrade, many menu options and keyboard commands have had to change to facilitate new tools and controls. Fortunately, Adobe has given a good deal of thought to these changes, and even longtime users should quickly adjust to the differences.

Finally, Adobe has not forsaken their pre-press roots. Photoshop 6 provides extensive support for PDF-production workflow as well as eliminates the color shift that used to occur when moving images into Illustrator 9.

Despite all its great new features, Photoshop is still not a perfect product. I'm still waiting for filters that can be applied as layers, for example. But Photoshop comes closer to perfection than most software. Any one of version 6's major new features would be worth the price of an upgrade. The fact that you get them all means there's something new here for everyone who uses Photoshop. I'm tempted to say that I can't wait to see version 7, but the fact is, I'm still having too much fun with version 6.

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