Adobe CS6 Arrives

Photoshop CS6 dazzles with technical prowess and artistic inspiration

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Adobe CS6 Arrives

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Photoshop CS6 includes two new brush tips that make digital painting more realistic than ever before. The new Erodible brush tip wears down as you use it (like real chalk or a pencil), and the new Airbrush tip works less like a can of spray paint and more like a professional airbrush rig. You’ll also find new customization settings in the Brush panel that let you introduce color changes to individual brush marks within a brushstroke (look for the Apply Per Tip checkbox in the Color Dynamics settings), while Texture settings now include Brightness and Contrast sliders.

You can use CS6’s new layer filtering feature to view layers that match specific conditions that you set. This is extremely helpful when you’ve got a gazillion of layers (like the document shown at left) and you need to find, say, all the Type layers in order to change fonts.

Video editing

Photoshop Extended has included video-editing capabilities for years, but in CS6 you also get the full suite of video-editing controls in the Standard edition. Using the new Timeline panel (called Animation in previous versions), you can easily import, trim, split video clips, add transitions, text and other graphics, and apply special effects using familiar tools. Photoshop CS6 also lets you add and control audio.

Photoshop’s video layers are similar to image layers and can be converted into a Smart Object in order to apply filters non-destructively or to make the filter affect each frame in your clip (instead of just one). You can use Adjustment layers to correct your clip’s color or apply a creative color effect, like a black-and-white or sepia-tone, and add layer styles (an Inner Shadow makes for a striking, dark-edge vignette effect!). And adding transitions between clips is a simple, drag-and-drop affair.

You can add text to your video with the Type tool and by using keyframes—the way Photoshop marks a moment in of time in your video—you can animate layer content like text, graphics, and layer masks to make them appear to fade in or out or move from one location to another within your clip. You can even create an animation from scratch (a process called rotoscoping), by turning on the Onion Skin feature so Photoshop displays a ghosted image of the frames it creates to produce the desired motion. With enough patience, you could create an animated masterpiece, but the process is tedious.

When you’re finished, you can export the final piece in a slew of video file formats or a Photoshop Image Sequence. The program includes several handy new video document presets for iOS devices, too.

Top: Trimming a video clip is as easy as dragging its start point or end point. Photoshop also opens a preview window that shows exactly which frame you’re trimming the video down to. Bottom: To add a darkened-edge vignette effect to a video clip, apply an Inner Shadow layer style. Any layer styles you add apply to the entire length of the video clip.

3D Enhancements

If you work with Photoshop’s 3D tools (Extended edition only), you’ll be treated to faster performance as well as a more fully integrated 3D workspace thanks to the new 3D panel and a minimized toolset available in the Options bar. Instead of using a complicated dialog box to manipulate objects, you can click an object to rotate, reposition, and adjust its geometry (on-image tools let you extrude, twist, and so on). Repositioning light is as easy as shift-clicking the object and then dragging its shadow elsewhere. You can also use the Character panel to change the properties of 3D text, and you can render a portion of your project by selecting it first (a huge time-saver).

Everything else

There are also a ton of little changes in Photoshop CS6, too, that are the direct result of Adobe’s customer feedback initiative called Just Do It (JDI). For example, the Contact Sheet II and PDF Presentation plug-ins are back (both were removed in CS4); you can apply custom scripts to introduce randomness into patterns made with the Edit -> Fill command; you can increase Brush tool size to 5000 pixels; record strokes made with the Brush or Pen tools in actions; the new Migrate Presets command lets you easily import and export actions, workspaces, and tool presets; the Eyedropper tool’s Sample menu lets you snatch color from the current layer and any layers below it (you can make it ignore Adjustment layers, too); Photoshop automatically chooses the best resampling (interpolation) method when you use Free Transform, the Crop tool, or the Image Size dialog box; holding the Shift key while you launch the program disables third-party plug-ins; the Auto button in a Levels and Curves adjustment uses new and improved math; the Color Range command includes a new option for helping you select skin tones; and more.

Improved Camera Raw and Bridge CS6

The newest version of the Camera Raw plug-in also got a substantial overhaul, but for unknown reasons it didn’t get a coat of dark gray paint. Take a peek in the Basic panel and you’ll find a re-ordered set of sliders with a wonderfully consistent starting point of 0. The Recovery, Fill Light, and Brightness sliders were replaced with Highlights, Shadows, and Whites sliders, respectively, which should let you do a much better job of correcting the color and lighting in images while preserving details in the shadows and highlights. You can also apply these new settings selectively using the Adjustment Brush, wherein you’ll also find new sliders for Noise and Moire Reduction (all the new sliders are available for use with Graduated Filters, too).

The newest version of Bridge—Adobe’s importing, organizational, and batch processing powerhouse—also sports a dark-gray interface and zips along more quickly now that it’s optimized for 64-bit. The Mini Bridge panel in CS6 also has a simplified interface and a new filmstrip mode that lets you view images in a single row at the bottom of your screen.

Adobe Camera Raw launches automatically when you open a Raw file in Photoshop, Bridge, or the Mini Bridge panel. Here you can see the new and reordered sliders in the Basic panel.

Macworld's buying advice

Photoshop CS6 is overflowing with new features and productivity enhancements. The auto-save feature plus the blur filters alone are worth the upgrade price and the Camera Raw enhancements produce better-looking images faster than ever before. If you dabble in video, CS6 relieves you of the burden and expenditure of learning another program just for video-editing. If you don't work with 3D, medical imaging, or quantitative analysis, you should be fine with Photoshop CS6, which will save you $300 off the price of the extended version. Regardless, if you’re a professional designer or photographer, you simply can’t afford to miss this upgrade.

[Lesa Snider, author of Photoshop CS6: The Missing Manual and coauthor of iPhoto ’11: The Missing Manual (Pogue Press/O’Reilly) is chief evangelist of and founder of Twitter: @PhotoLesa.]

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Faster performance
    • Bridge and Lighting Effects filter now 64-bit
    • New blur and Adaptive Wide-Angle filters
    • Layer filtering
    • New Content-Aware Move tool
    • Non-destructive Crop tool
    • Dark color scheme reduces eye fatigue
    • Auto-save and recovery
    • Easier-to-use adjustments in Camera Raw
    • Video editing in Standard edition


    • Crop tool missing resolution field in Options bar
    • Text labels hard to read on dark background
    • Character and Paragraph styles can’t be imported
    • Running Smart Filters not named properly
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