Adobe Photoshop CS6 is largely an under-the-bonnet release, bringing a few new tools and filters but concentrating on greater speed, efficiency and ease of use. But the improvements are great, and this Photoshop CS6 review will reveal all! Those looking for the much-heralded Deblur filter will be disappointed: it’s far too early for inclusion this time around. In fact, those looking for big splashy show-off features in Photoshop CS6 will also be looking in vain.
Photoshop CS6 makes full use of your computer’s Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), which provides tremendous acceleration in many areas. So the Liquify filter, previously a sluggish experience, is accelerated to provide smooth, real-time smearing even with brushes up to the new maximum limit of 15,000 pixels; the new Oil Paint feature adds a paint-like texture, with controls that operate on the full-screen preview in real time. Of course, all this depends on you having a fast enough processor and graphics card; although CS6 will run on Windows XP/Mac OS X 10.6 with just 1Gb RAM, you do need a hardware-accelerated OpenGL graphics card to get the most out of it.
The first thing you notice about Photoshop CS6 is its new interface. You now have the choice between four base colours, from near-black to pale grey – so Photoshop can look more like Lightroom if you choose. Everything has been subtly tweaked, from the hundreds of redesigned icons (the Pen and Lasso tools now indicate their active hotspots more clearly) to a crisper, more consistent layout.
A new Head Up Display system (HUD) in Photoshop CS6 provides key information right at the cursor. This is context sensitive, so will show dimensions when dragging out a marquee, angles when rotating a selection, and so on. It also applies to the three new Blur filters, each of which provides a different type of blur – Field, Iris and Tilt Shift – with strength and radius controls directly on the image, rather than just in a side panel. All three new filters are also GPU accelerated for real-time previews.
There’s just one new tool in Photoshop CS6, the Content-Aware Patch tool, which takes the technology introduced in CS4 (Content-Aware Scaling) and CS5 (Content-Aware Fill) and extends it to a tool that allows us to select and move or extend objects in a scene, patching their original location more or less seamlessly. In practice, the results depend very much on having the right image; it’s a great idea, but doesn’t always come up with the goods. A major new filter is Adaptive Wide Angle, which allows you to correct camera distortion simply by drawing over lines that should be straight. A hugely powerful tool, it allows even stitched panoramas with multiple perspectives to be corrected into a single landscape shot.
Also good for photographers is the enhanced Camera Raw dialog, which now has more powerful versions of tools such as Clarity (there’s now no halo effect, even at maximum strength) and Defringing (the controls are gone, replaced by a single checkbox which just does the job). For the first time in Photoshop CS6, it’s also possible to apply localised noise reduction. The Lighting Effects filter has had a major overhaul, ditching the previous tiny preview in favour of a full-screen, GPU-accelerated preview that shows changes in real time. It’s of particular benefit to Mac users, for whom Lighting Effects disappeared in Adobe Photoshop CS5 unless they were running the program in sluggish 32-bit mode.
Designers will love the new Paragraph and Character Style panels in Photoshop CS6, which allow favourite combinations to be set and adjusted at will – as well as the fact that Shapes layers are now true vector objects, which means you can now apply strokes inside, outside and centred on paths, as well as being able to stroke open paths. Those strokes can now be dotted and dashed, and can be filled with gradients. Adobe Photoshop CS6 will now not only save in the background, allowing you to carry on working while it’s saving, but will also auto-save a version avery few minutes so that, in the event of a crash, you can pick up from where you left off. If you still manually revert to a saved file, though, it will always go back to the one you deliberately chose to save, rather than its own intermediate version.
The Crop tool has been reworked so that cropping now pans the image behind the crop window. It seems a little unintuitive at first, until you rotate a crop, when it suddenly makes sense: now, the image rotates behind the window, so you can see how it will look without having to crane your neck as you did previously. The Select Color Range tool now has an option to select skin tones – and, within it, a separate option to select faces. In practice, it works remarkably well: it’s not perfect, and when used in conjunction with a mask on an Adjustment Layer it will require some manual fine-tuning, but it’s a big help.
Photoshop CS6 includes a lot of small enhancements that will generally make much life easier for those working on complex artwork. The Layers panel now has built-in filtering, so you can choose to view just layers set to Hard Light mode, or those containing text, or Smart Objects, or Adjustment Layers – or just about any parameter you can think of. It’s now possible to change opacity, light mode and colour coding on multiple layers, so if you search for all the text layers in a document you can change them all to yellow for easy reference. The Mask and Adjustment panels have now been combined in a new Properties panel, which is resizable for ease of adjustment. It’s also now possible not only to use Layer Groups as the basis of Clipping Masks, but to apply Layer Effects to an entire Group – previously, they could be applied only to individual layers. And the Eyedropper tool has now been tweaked so that it can sample underlying layers as if intervening Adjustment Layers weren’t there, which makes patching and retouching very much easier.
Users of the Regular edition of Photoshop CS6 will be delighted to learn that movie editing capability has made the leap over from the Extended edition. This means everyone can now edit movies right inside the app: you can apply all the standard selection of filters and distortions to moving images, as well as adding animated layers on top. You’ll still need to buy the Extended edition if you want to use the 3D Layer tools, which have had a major overhaul in this release. New HUD controls allow you to extrude, revolve and twist 3D objects directly in the middle of the artwork, as well as adding bevels and inflation.
Changing light direction is simply a matter of shift-clicking on a shadow and dragging to where you want it. There are many more 3D enhancements, including text and Bezier outlines on extruded shapes that can be edited after extrusion has been applied, and the ability to define a Ground Plane inside the Vanishing Point filter, and then use it as the basis for snapping 3D objects and locating shadows.