Adobe Photoshop CS3 is brimming with so many image-editing tools that the biggest challenge facing it seems to be where to stuff them all. This latest version of Photoshop adds even more tools and enhancements to the mix, but it cleans up its act with a simple yet effective approach to palette organization.
I tried out the software in beta form; this is the first time Adobe has offered the public a nonfinal version of its image editing program. (Existing Photoshop CS2 users can download the free trial version.) Photoshop CS3, which will be Microsoft Windows Vista-compatible, will anchor Adobe’s full Creative Suite, expected later this year. On its own, the shipping version will sell for $649.
Many Photoshop users opt for dual-monitor setups just so they’ll have a place to stow the application’s seemingly endless array of screen-hogging palettes. Photoshop CS3, however, introduces an important interface upgrade: resizable palette buttons with fly-out capabilities.
Both single-monitor and dual-monitor users can benefit from this upgrade. You can reduce the buttons to tiny size, or you can tear off the palettes and park them around your screen, as with previous Photoshop versions. A third option is to arrange them in one or two columns and choose only the palettes you want. At their smallest, the buttons are narrower than the tools palette (which also got a minor makeover–now you can resize it to be one column or two, as well).
The redesigned setup makes using those palettes easier, too. For example, to switch layers, just click the palette’s tiny icon, and the full palette pops open. Click the layer you want and then click back to your image, and the palette automatically closes. Other Adobe apps already have similar fly-outs; they’re long overdue in the company’s flagship application.
With Photoshop CS3’s new Quick Selection tool, choosing the portions of your image to act on is simpler, too. With this tool, you don’t have to hold down the Shift key to add to your selection; instead, click the areas of your image that you want to select, and you’re done (perfect for making a complicated selection while holding a cold beverage in your off-mouse hand).
I found that the tool works very well with sharp, high-contrast color images, where it functions as a smarter, faster magic wand tool. But unlike the magic wand, the Quick Selection tool (at least in beta form) lacks a tolerance setting, and as a result it often selected the entire image after a few clicks.
I was more impressed with Photoshop CS3’s new Refine Edge tool. After making a selection, you can adjust its radius, contrast, and smoothness by using the tool’s sliders. Refine Edge is great for clearing away rough edges and extraneous pixels, even if you do take the trouble to create pixel-level selections.
CS3’s Auto-Align Layers let you combine multiple images (which you arrange as separate layers in the same file). The tool matches up common elements in the images; then you can use other tools to choose portions of whichever image you want. So if Bob’s got his peepers open in one and closed in another, you can bring forth his baby blues instead of his eyelids. This function works best with pictures taken in rapid succession by a digital SLR mounted on a tripod.
Adobe’s Camera Raw utility gets beefed up, too–so much so that you may spend less time in the main Photoshop window than in the Raw one. The final version will even have the main application’s spot-healing brush, though the beta lacks it.
Every year, Photoshop gets better tools. But this year, the refinement I liked most is the new palette treatment. Tools work better when you have room to use them.