Adobe Photoshop is now 12 years old–in software years, that makes it at least an octogenarian. It has a depth and maturity that few other applications can match, and its latest iteration, Photoshop 7, not only offers Mac OS X support but also makes the program even more helpful for OS 9 and OS X users alike. Digital photographers and fine artists will be pleased with Photoshop 7’s organizing and painting features, and longtime Photoshop users will find this upgrade essential.
The OS X Question
Photoshop 7’s most significant attribute is that it runs natively in OS X. Given this, you may guess that the interface has changed greatly, but it hasn’t–you’ll find the familiar palettes, toolbar, menus, and shortcuts. However, a welcome addition in Photoshop 7 is the ability to rename a layer or channel simply by clicking on its name in its respective palette and then typing–much easier than the option-double-click routine required in previous versions. And even though it may take you a while to get used to looking for the Preferences option in the Photoshop application menu rather than in the Edit menu, Photoshop 7 looks and feels like the Photoshop you’ve come to know and love.
Photoshop 7 runs almost as fast under OS X as it does under OS 9, and in our quantitative tests, we found that actual speed differences were slight. If you’re in a high-volume production situation where you’re running automated batch operations, you may be better off sticking with OS 9, to reap the accumulated speed benefits. But if you’re working interactively and using any Mac upward of a 933MHz or dual-500MHz Power Mac G4, the speed difference will likely be trivial. We performed standard operations such as Gaussian Blur, rotating, and resizing on a 100MB image, and the difference in elapsed time between OS 9 and OS X was generally only a couple of seconds.
Of course, there are other reasons, besides speed, to choose OS X; among them are improved system stability and the ability to run other applications concurrently with almost no negative impact on performance.
When we compared Photoshop 7 with Photoshop 6.0.1, both running in OS 9, we found that version 7 runs as fast as, and in some cases faster than, its predecessor. Mode changes, for example, are dramatically faster in Photoshop 7, mainly because they have been optimized for AltiVec acceleration, which was left out of Photoshop 6. But for the most part, when running in OS 9, Photoshop 7 doesn’t offer any major speed advantages over Photoshop 6.
Even given negligible speed differences, you can still work faster in Photoshop 7 than you could in Photoshop 6, especially using two new features in Photoshop 7 that have an enormous positive impact on productivity: Workspaces and Tool Presets.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a dual-monitor setup, you probably spend a good deal of time rearranging palettes in Photoshop. The new Workspace feature helps reduce the amount of time wasted on this activity; it lets you name and save different arrangements of palettes, including the current configuration of the Info palette. Saved workspaces appear on the Workspace submenu of the Window menu, so you can recall them quickly and easily. For example, when you’re working on text layers, you usually need access to the Character and Paragraph palettes, but the rest of the time those palettes just take up valuable screen real estate. But if you save a workspace, you can bring up the Character and Paragraph palettes while hiding, say, the Actions and History palettes with a single menu command.
Equally valuable is the new Tool Presets palette, which lets you name and save settings for any tool and then recall the settings with a single click. For example, you can make presets for the Crop tool that crop an image to 4 by 5 inches or 8 by 10 inches at 360 pixels per inch for ink-jet prints, and 4 by 5 inches or 8 by 10 inches at 266 pixels per inch for offset printing. This is much faster than typing numbers into the Options bar every time you use the Crop tool.
Find What You Need
Photoshop 7 also offers a new feature, the File Browser, that lets you find and organize your files much better than OS X’s limiting Open dialog box. Photoshop’s new File Browser means that you may never have to visit the Open dialog box again.
Like digital-asset managers Canto Cumulus and Extensis Portfolio, the File Browser shows you your volumes, folders, and subfolders, and it displays previews of the images contained therein. You can select one or more thumbnail previews and then double-click to open the actual images.
But there’s more to the File Browser. You can move files by dragging them to a different folder or volume in the hierarchical-folder panel at the left of the Browser window, delete them by selecting them and pressing the delete key (which moves them to the Trash), or rename them by clicking on the file name and typing a new name. For those pesky digital-camera files with obscure default names, you can use the File Browser’s Batch Rename feature to change the names “DCS00710.TIF” through “DCS00950.TIF” to something more descriptive, such as “Dahlias 001” through “Dahlias 024.”
The File Browser also lets you mark images for rotation, and Photoshop will apply that rotation when you open the image. You can sort images by file name, resolution, width, height, file size, copyright information, color profile, or creation and modification dates. You can also rank them from A to E, either by selecting a single image and typing the desired ranking in the Rank field or by selecting one or more images and choosing the desired ranking from the context-sensitive menu. This can be convenient if you want to see only your best or favorite images, to which you might assign an “A” rank, for example. The File Browser doesn’t let you perform the kinds of sophisticated searches you can perform in a dedicated digital-asset manager, but it has all the features most users are likely to need.
Last but not least, the File Browser displays metadata–literally, data about data–that’s embedded in the images, including Photoshop’s File Info, EXIF (Exchangeable Image Format) data embedded by many digital cameras, and information that Photoshop extracts, such as file format, resolution, width and height, color mode, bit depth, and color profile.
We encountered only one problem when using the File Browser’s metadata support. We’ve yet to see a camera that captures sRGB, but many cameras that embed EXIF metadata incorrectly tag photos as sRGB. Photoshop honors this tag and opens the image as sRGB. If the camera software also embeds an ICC profile, Photoshop honors the profile over the EXIF tag, but in the case of at least one camera, the Nikon D1X, it embeds the correct profile in TIFF files but fails to do so in JPEG files. As a result, even if you’ve set the camera’s software to convert images to Adobe RGB, if you save them as JPEG files, they’ll get the sRGB tag. This isn’t Photoshop’s fault–it’s a problem for the camera vendors to solve–but it’s something to watch for.
Heal It, Patch It
Retouching an image–spotting out defects such as dust, scratches, or digital-camera artifacts, or removing moles, scars, and wrinkles–has always been a tedious process. With the Clone Stamp tool, which remains in Photoshop 7, it’s easy to move pixels from another area to cover a blemish, but it’s also easy to produce an unnatural-looking result when the textures don’t match, particularly around the edge of the repair. One hard-won solution is to be very careful with your selection of source points, brush hardness, opacity, and use of the blending mode, but the new Healing brush produces seamless repairs with a minimum of fuss in much less time.
The Healing brush works by first making a Clone Stamp tool edit and then taking the result of that edit and blending it seamlessly into the surrounding texture in a way that’s simply impossible to replicate using the older tools. Using hard brushes seems to work somewhat better than using soft ones, but you can be much more casual about selecting the source point when you’re using the Healing brush than you ever could with the Clone Stamp tool.
For quick fixes on larger areas, Photoshop 7 offers the Patch tool, which shares a slot in the Tool palette with the Healing brush. To use it, just select the area you want to correct, choose the Patch tool, drag the selection to an area that has the approximate color and texture you want in the repair, and presto, you’re done. If you spend a lot of time doing retouching work, the Healing brush and Patch tools alone are worth the price of the upgrade. (For more on the Healing brush, see “The Wait Is Over,” April 2002.)
In the past, Photoshop’s various autocorrections have not been very accurate or finely controlled, but the new Auto Color option has real potential for making initial corrections for tone and color. We say potential because if you use it with its default settings, you’ll likely wind up with rather harsh, contrasty results (see “Auto Color Me Beautiful”). The beauty of Auto Color is that you can tweak the settings interactively and very quickly obtain good tone and color balance without fiddling with individual channels’ levels and curves .
Just Like the Real Thing
Removing the Brushes palette was one of the few unpopular moves Adobe made with Photoshop 6. Many users clamored to get it back, and the Photoshop team reinstated it as a much-enhanced feature. A boon for fine artists, the new painting engine doesn’t provide the wealth of natural-media brushes offered by Procreate’s Painter 7 (Reviews, December 2001), but it offers most of the tools you’d need to build those brushes, and it comes with a healthy collection of presets for various brush types both natural and unnatural.
The variety of brush options may be bewildering at first, but as you adjust each brush stroke, the preview area at the bottom of the palette shows you the result (see “Fine Art”). Graphics-tablet support has also been beefed up: Photoshop’s brushes now respond not only to stylus pressure but also, with suitably equipped styluses, to tilt and thumbwheel control, each of which you can set to control a large variety of brush parameters.
The More Things Change . . .
Photoshop 7’s lack of new color-management features could be called a feature in itself. Photoshop 5 and 6 both introduced sweeping changes in the way the application handled color, and the general consensus was that Photoshop 6 got color management right, so Photoshop 7 leaves well enough alone. The one major fix is largely invisible to the user–the Adobe Color Engine has been revamped to address a problematic situation that occurred with some CMYK profiles, where using dithering on 8-bit-per-channel images resulted in a “scum dot” (1 percent ink in one or more channels) instead of paper white.
Photoshop on the Web
Though Photoshop’s new tools and interface improvements will ease the graphics chores of all Photoshop users, version 7 builds on Photoshop 6’s export facilities for Web-graphics creation.
The first of these improvements is the ability to define one or more colors in a GIF or PNG-8 graphic as transparent. In the Save For Web dialog box, you can now tag any color as transparent simply by clicking on its color swatch and then clicking on the new Transparency button. This is a very simple mechanism that allows you to make any color transparent (and later remove that transparency) without affecting the colors in your original file.
GIF files don’t support partial transparency, but Adobe has come up with a clever workaround that lets you create the effect of partial transparency. If you select Transparency Dither in the Save For Web dialog box, Photoshop will render transparent colors in your graphic as a dithered pattern of color and transparent pixels. If you select a matte color–say, the background color of your target Web page–Photoshop will mix some of that color into the dither pattern to better blend your graphic into the background. Though this is a clever idea, the chunky, bitmapped-looking results leave a lot to be desired.
Photoshop 7 retains its predecessor’s facility for remapping color values when exporting a GIF image, but it improves on these features by letting you automatically favor the colors of text layers or vector graphics layers. For example, if you tell Photoshop to weight its color reduction in favor of any text layers, then the colors of those layers will be more accurate. For ensuring color fidelity in logos and other corporate imagery, this is a great feature.
You can also choose to favor a particular channel, such as an alpha channel. For example, if you want to prioritize the colors of a specific element in your image, you can create an alpha-channel mask of that area and tell Photoshop to weight its color reduction in favor of the colors within that mask. Before, doing these sorts of optimizations required maniacal adjustment of individual colors within a graphic’s palette.
Photoshop 6 added some handy Web features that let designers do many basic Web-authoring tasks–slicing, assigning URLs, naming files, and so on–within Photoshop, while a graphic was being created. Photoshop 7’s enhancements, along with the upgraded ImageReady (see “ImageReady 7”), provide a practical set of Web tools. But these features are no replacement for a full-fledged Web-authoring tool. They provide exactly the utilities you need to create Web-ready images.
The new Check Spelling command does a credible job of checking spelling on words you type in Photoshop 7. The Find And Replace Text feature also performs as claimed, but we’d find both features a lot more useful if Photoshop let us import text through a better mechanism than copy and paste.
Other enhancements include significant reworking of the Liquify and Picture Package features, support for PDF security, a new PatternMaker plug-in, and support for Adobe’s XMP (Extensible Metadata Platform) schema, which may one day do for workflow automation what PostScript did for page layout.
Documentation and Support
Photoshop 7 comes with a printed manual and HTML-based online help. The printed manual is considerably better than the one that accompanied Photoshop 6, with improved reference information. The online help has more detailed information, but it’s not very deep.
Free (but not toll-free) telephone technical support is available for 90 days from the date of your first call, for new purchases (30 days for upgrades). After that, you pay for support (through Adobe, from selected third-party help providers)–you pay a $25 fee, but only after the issue is resolved to your satisfaction. Adobe’s Web site also offers a searchable help database, and a wonderful resource in the form of the User-to-User forum.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Photoshop 7 is quite simply the best version of Photoshop ever. With the File Browser, the Healing brush, and the Painting Engine, Photoshop 7 provides something new and useful for just about every user, and the $149 upgrade price is less than the cost of many third-party plug-ins. If you use Photoshop more than a few hours a week, you must have Photoshop 7.