Tag Archives: content-aware

Adobe Releases Photoshop CS6 In Public Beta

The splash screen for the Photoshop CS6 pre-release, codenamed “Superstition.”

Adobe announced today the immediate availability of Photoshop CS6 as a public beta. Photoshop is expected to be one of the primary products in Creative Suite 6 (CS6) and in the past Adobe has released other Creative Suite products in public beta. The only version of Photoshop released as a public beta until now was Photoshop CS3.

Photoshop CS6 (and presumably other CS6 applications) will be paired with an Adobe ID rather than computer hardware, thus ending the old activation/deactivation method for license management. Fouled-up activations have always been difficult for users to deal with and often keep software from running at all without a call to Adobe customer service, so to do away with activation altogether is a nice improvement.

The change that I’ve seen leaked most is Photoshop CS6’s new dark user interface. Photoshop CS6 now has more in common visually with After Effects, Premiere and other video apps than the design apps including Illustrator and InDesign. You can actually change the user interface’s color in the Preferences menu to one of four shades of gray. I have usually preferred the old light gray, but I come from a background in design and that’s what I’ve been used to. I’ve used my Adobe video applications more in the past couple years though and now I’m keeping Photoshop CS6 with the default dark backgrounds. It looks more professional and the grays don’t compete with images, though technically none of the options will give your images a color cast.

The Photoshop team has made performance improvements in recent versions (the OpenGL support in CS4 comes to mind) but Photoshop CS6’s main performance improvement is the new Adobe Mercury Graphics Engine. Photoshop CS6 uses the MGE to accelerate filters and effects including Liquify, Lighting Effects and warping effects. I’ve worked with these tools in prerelease builds of Photoshop CS6 and they work smoothly most of the time. I hope public beta users have the same experience.

Note that some of Adobe’s video applications employ a “Mercury Playback Engine” for much-improved video performance with NVIDIA CUDA video cards. This is not the same thing as the Mercury Graphics Engine, and the MGE works with a variety of video cards.

Content-Aware technology has been behind many of Photoshop’s recent jaw-dropping features, and Adobe has expanded it into two new tools in Photoshop CS6:

  • Content-Aware Patch marries Content-Aware technology with the existing Patch tool. There’s now a Patch menu in the tool’s options, and selecting “Content-Aware” will help you patch regions more accurately.
  • Content-Aware Move is similar to the Content-Aware Patch feature but it behaves like the Patch tool’s opposite. Rather than select a region and fill it with another region, the Content-Aware Move tool lets you select a region and move it to another place on the image. It works beautifully when moving objects and backgrounds to other places on the image: backgrounds become seamless, usually without any extra work required.

There are a bunch of little improvements in Photoshop CS6 as well. According to Zorana Gee, Senior Photoshop Product Manager, the newest version of Photoshop has 62% more new features than CS5 and 65 enhancements requested by users. These include:

  • Multiple layers can be selected and then locked, labeled or have their blend modes changed at the same time.
  • Layer opacity can now be set to zero by typing “00.”
  • Layer > Rasterize > Layer Style has been added to rasterize layer styles in one step. Previously, users had to create a new layer and merge the two layers together.
  • Brushes can now be as large as 5,000 pixels.
  • The Eyedropper tool can now select layers current and below, and can also ignore adjustment layers.
  • Layer effects are now rearranged in the Layer Effects menus so they match the order they are blended together.
  • Windows users can now right-click on a document tab and open a new or existing file.
  • The hexadecimal field in the Color Picker dialog box will now accept a hash mark, which is useful when copying and pasting hex color values.
  • A new menu command, Type > Paste Lorem Ipsum, will generate placeholder text.
  • The Blur Gallery, which provides a new UI for tweaking blurs and also two new panels, Blur Tools and Blur Effects, for adding bokeh and other details. Note that this only applies to the three new blur filters—Field Blur, Iris Blur and Tilt-Shift.
  • Photoshop CS6 now auto-saves files and has an auto-recovery system.

The press release is on the next page. To download Photoshop CS6, visit Adobe Labs. Macintosh users will need OS X Snow Leopard or Lion; Windows users will need Windows XP or Windows 7.

Photoshop CS5 Review

ps_box

This review supplements Photoshop Extended CS5 First Impressions, which I wrote just after CS5 was announced. That article explains most of the new features in Photoshop CS5 like other reviews, but the goal of this article is to share my experience in the field with Photoshop CS5 and to tell what works and what doesn’t work for me.

The best upgrade in a long time

In my “First Impressions” article I said Photoshop CS5 could be the most exciting upgrade since Photoshop CS, and I think that’s turned out to be true. Photoshop’s performance is noticeably speedier for me, thanks to the rewritten 64-bit code that employs more memory and handles larger files. Of course, your performance will depend on the processor, memory and video card you are using so for some users the 64-bit change will not add much.

I find myself using Content-Aware Fill and the Spot Healing Brush with Content-Aware more and more, and it’s become my main retouching tool. Content-aware technology was jaw-dropping in Photoshop CS4 but the fill and brush are superior methods to apply it and it finally achieves a complete one-step retouching technique. The Clone tool, which Photoshoppers have used for years, is great but its one weakness is you have to replace the brushed area with something already existing in the image. Content-Aware technology naturally has to do the same thing—it can’t choose pixels that aren’t in the image—but it has an uncanny ability to mix things up and create a very natural replacement for what’s removed.

The one difficulty I have with the Spot Healing Brush is it will still make the same mistakes it has in previous versions—even when I’m using the Content-Aware mode. I often have to remove timestamps from point-and-shoot photos and the tool will sometimes replace the timestamp with bits from the same timestamp, even when Content-Aware is the selected mode. It seems Content-Aware works best with larger areas that don’t overlap with busy backgrounds or foreground elements, which is what all the retouching tools work best with.

I had also expressed some reservations about the Refine Edge feature, which I hoped would perform as a background removal tool like the Extract filter used to do. After testing, I’ve found that Refine Edge works well in some situations but in others the Background Eraser tool does a better job. What’s missing from Refine Edge is the ability to analyze how background contaminates fine edges such as hair, which the Background Eraser tool also lacks.

On an image with frizzy hair on a white background, I got a decent background extraction with Refine Edge but the hair’s edge was gray—a combination of white and the dark hair color. I got a much better result after applying a high radius and shifting the edge, but this also knocked out some of the foreground subject too. A two-layer approach would probably be the ideal Refine Edge workflow—one layer with aggressive Refine Edge to get the fine edge and another to restore the foreground as needed. This is not as precise as the Extract filter used to be, but it would be faster.

What I’m not using

Maybe it’s because I’m too used to my old working methods, or maybe it’s because I just haven’t needed them lately, but there are some things in Photoshop CS5 that haven’t proved useful to me:

  • I never got into HDR photography, mostly because the ghastly colors HDR techniques have created never appealed to me. The new Merge to HDR Pro is designed to get HDR back to its original intention of expanding dynamic range, but I’ve not used it much at all. Another reason why I don’t use it is because most of my imagery is either going to print—which doesn’t show maximum range—or being used as graphics on a website.
  • When I want to paint digitally, I use a Wacom tablet and Corel Painter. Photoshop CS5’s new Bristle Tips and brush engine work very well but I sometimes come across performance issues, especially when I’m mixing paint with other colors in a photograph, and I haven’t used the new brushes much except when I want to make some artistic effects. For all my retouching work, the usual soft-edged circular brush works well.
  • A few months ago I was used to docking Mini Bridge to the bottom of my screen as a quick and easy way to access files, but even at its small size it took up enough of my screen that I decided to close it and just access images with the Open Recent command. I am usually working on a small set of images over and over again during a project, and Open Recent gives me access to them without needing another open panel. I still think Mini Bridge is a great addition that makes things a lot handier.
  • I’m still not into Photoshop’s 3D features very much, including Repoussé, Photoshop CS5’s 3D extrusion tool. When I want to produce 3D assets I’m used to using Strata 3D, though if Adobe were to produce a standalone 3D application and include it in the Creative Suite I’m sure I would use that. But the 3D tools and panels in Photoshop CS5 don’t seem as intuitive to me despite the various improvements to 3D in CS5. The best thing Photoshop 3D has going for it is its compatibility with the other Adobe CS5 applications, such as After Effects.

Conclusion

No matter whether or not you use all of Photoshop CS5’s new features, every one of them works as advertised and I don’t have a major complaint about the upgrade. Professional Photoshop users will want to upgrade for the Content-Aware technology alone—it’s twice as useful when applied as a fill or a stroke instead of when scaled, like it was in Photoshop CS4. HDR enthusiasts will want to look at Merge to HDR Pro and 3D enthusiasts will really want to see Repoussé and the expanded 3D features.

Photoshop CS5
Adobe Systems
US$699/$199 upgrade

Photoshop CS5 Extended
Adobe Systems
US$999/$349

Rating: 10/10