BOOK REVIEW: Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual

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Who misses the printed manuals that use to come with Adobe’s applications? I used to read those things, but now they’re only online. The last Adobe Creative Suite product that shipped with manuals was CS3 Production Premium, which came in a large, satisfying box full of manuals. Well, it seems David Pogue missed the manuals and began the “Missing Manuals” line of books designed to fill in for those manuals.

Lesa Snider King has written Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual and it’s worthy of the title. The book is over 750 pages and has a massive amount of information about almost all of Photoshop CS4’s functions. Lesa does a good job of writing clearly yet with a little humor, which is easy to overdo. The interesting thing about Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual is that it’s not just a dry technical manual but also combined with some simple tutorials that illustrate some of Photoshop CS4’s best and most important features. These tutorials are relatively simple and aren’t as satisfying as the advanced things you’ll find in books like Adobe’s Classroom in a Book series, but for beginner and intermediate users they work just fineā€”and that’s the audience this books serves most.

When is a manual not a manual?

When I first started reading this book for review, I had to decide whether to judge this book as a “tips and tricks” book or a true manual, which has a different purpose and structure. I decided to judge it as a manual, and in that regard Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual has some gaps. I think every good manual must make it easy to find out how to operate something when it’s needed; however, this book doesn’t group things together to make them easy to find. I went to the index to learn more about the Adjustments panel, one of Photoshop CS4’s most important new features. I learned the panel itself is given little notice because its functions are explained throughout the book in various sections. A user needing to decipher the Adjustments panel’s icons would be hard-pressed to do so with this book.

Not everything about Photoshop CS4 is covered in the book. Some things like Color Settings are mysteriously not covered at all, which I think is a shame. Others are covered but maybe not as thoroughly as the online Adobe help docs. But most Photoshop CS4 tools and commands are indeed covered, so I would bet Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual stands as the most comprehensive “missing manual” in the bookstore today. It’s not perfect, and it’s not exactly a manual for good or for bad, but it’s still a fine resource.

Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual
Lesa Snider King
Published by Pogue Press/O’Reilly
US$49.99
Rating: 8/10