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Adobe Photoshop 7

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In: Reviews > Product Reviews

By Jesse Nieminen

Published on July 30, 2002

Adobe Photoshop 7 I was wowed by Photoshop 6's numerous improvements, and had figured that it might be quite some time before we saw another version packed with such useful new features. Well, version 7 is already here with a number of enhancements that professional designers will greatly appreciate. While there are numerous new features to consider, here I tried to concentrate on those appropriate to the DWM readership.

Adobe's dedication to its flagship product is a great thing. There are plenty of companies like Quark who let their major products languish in dust between "improvements" or companies that rush out unworthy upgrades to try to keep up with competitors. Where Photoshop is concerned, a new version means powerful new tools that you need.

Sure to make owners of newer Macs happy, Photoshop 7 is OSX compatible (10.1). This should mean greater stability and less crashing, although I can't say that myself as the DWM test machine is still running OS 9.2.  On the Windows side, it supports XP, 2000, ME, NT 4, and 98.

Interface

The interface has remained relatively unchanged, which speaks for the power of the interface and should be a relief to those afraid of the relearning process inherent to many software upgrades. There is one very noticeable change, though: running your cursor over tools in the toolbox now makes them light up in color. I find this to be somewhat annoying and distracting, but have gotten used to it over time.

If you share your computer with another user, or need different interface configurations depending upon the types of work you are doing, you can now save the locations of your palettes with the Save Workspace feature. Selecting which configuration you'd like to use is as simple as clicking it in a pull-down menu.

The layers palette now offers greater control.  Renaming layers is as simple as double-clicking the layer name, which is far better than the previous method (although calling up the layer styles dialog is now a bit more challenging). A new Fill Opacity slider allows an object's fill transparency to be set without affecting the opacity of layer effects, thus expanding the way vector shapes can be used without first rasterizing. Also, there are several new blending modes to aid in experimentation with how layers interact.

Brushing Up

As you are looking at the toolbar, you will notice that the Airbrush tool has disappeared. Don't worry - they haven't really taken anything away. Instead, Photoshop's brush engine has been revolutionized to make it much more powerful and more realistically simulate natural media effects.

Brush Palette

Taking a cue from Procreate's Painter application, Photoshop's brush control is vastly improved and varied. The new Brushes palette houses controls for various aspects of brush dynamics, including shape, scattering, texture, color and jitter. Each factor can be set separately to be influenced by such things as pressure and direction. A dynamic preview at the bottom of the palette reflects changes made to these dynamics, giving you some idea of how the brush will be applied to your canvas. Another great feature is the Dual Brush, which lets you blend your original brush with a second brush.

While the artistic effects that can be achieved with the new sophisticated brushes available in version 7 are pretty amazing and offer a new level of creative choices to Photoshop users, they do not match up to the natural media simulation offered in Painter. If you are looking for a dedicated digital painting application, check Painter out. But Painter's major fault lies in its incredibly steep learning curve and idiosyncratic interface. I have long wanted some more artist-minded brush capabilities to be introduced to Photoshop, and these new additions have far surpassed what I could have expected. It has changed the way I use brushes in Photoshop entirely.

Tool Presets

If you have a brush that you like and want to keep reusing, a smart new feature is the ability to save it as a Tool Preset. In fact, this is possible to do for every single tool in the toolbar. Brushes can be saved along with both size, dynamics and even color. The Tool Presets palette allows easy access to these as you work. It might be nice in the future to see the ability to assign keyboard shortcuts to these presets somehow.

You are Healed!

If you spend a lot of time trying to repair flawed or damaged images with the Rubber Stamp tool, then you have much reason to rejoice. The new Healing Brush and Patch tools will amaze you with their power and ease of use. Where the Rubber Stamp tool required much patience and offered results of varying quality/realism, the Healing Brush is quite easy to use and does an incredible job. In simple terms, the Healing Brush samples the texture of the source area and blends it with the colors surrounding the destination area. So, instead of having to hunt down an unblemished area of your image that is exactly the same color as your destination area, you just need to pick a low-contrast area with the desired texture.

Healing Brush

This is a fantastic tool for things like removing wrinkles, blemishes and stray hairs from a portrait, or fixing problem areas and artifacts in other images. You do have to be very careful, though, around the edges of your image and areas of high contrast, or you may end up with undesired results.

The Healing Brush's companion tool, the Patch tool, works more like the Rubber Stamp tool. The difference is that you use a Marquee tool to select the area to be altered, then drag that marquee with the Patch Tool to the area that you would like to clone. While not as precise as the more brush-like tools, it is very useful for repairing large flaws in areas of identical tone/color.

Auto Color

Photoshop's color correction tools are extremely powerful but sadly underused because often users don't understand some of the tools' complexities. It is a fact of life that often we are dealing with images from multiple sources that have problems in contrast and color casting. In the past, whenever bringing in an image from the scanner or a digital camera, I'd immediately run Auto Levels to see what kind of improvements could be made. Version 7 adds Auto Color, a command that impressively corrects the color of your imported images in one step.

While professional color correctors will undoubtedly want to use the more precise controls, a combination of Auto Color and Auto Levels will quickly transform dull and casted images into usable results in most cases. It really has to be seen to be believed.

Just Browsing

One of the best new features in version 7 is the File Browser. Designers and photographers have wanted this functionality built into Photoshop for years; third party products like Extensis Portfolio have filled the gap in the meantime.

File Browser

Most useful when docked into the palette well, the File Browser is by default a four-pane palette that allows the user to quickly navigate through hard drives, disks and networks to locate, preview, catalog and rank image files and their accompanying file information. Nicely, each pane is resizable with a quick drag on the pane edge, effectively allowing for a fairly large preview of a selected image.

The File Browser is the best way to bring in image files, especially when you want to quickly compare images without having to open them in Photoshop. For example, say you have several different shots of a subject taken with different settings and angles on your digital camera's memory card. With the File Browser, you can compare all of the shots against each other, even rotating the previews so you don't have to tilt your head between portrait and landscape shots. Once you make your decision, you can double click on your chosen image and it will open in Photoshop at the selected rotation without altering the original file. You can also select and open several images at once from the File Browser. You will wonder how you ever worked without it.

The only improvement I would suggest is to add the ability for the user to make custom cataloged sets pulling from multiple disk locations without having to physically change or copy the file to a new location.

Text Improvements

Photoshop's text features are also improved. A new multilingual spell-checker has been integrated. Also, anti-aliasing now includes four options compared to the previous three.

One thing I seem to have noticed with this version is the Type palette's somewhat inconsistent behavior regarding color selection. Sometimes the Type palette's color follows the toolbar color selection, and other times it does not. Perhaps there is some new methodology at play that I have not yet recognized. This is the only stumbling point I have run into while working with this version.

Filters and Plugins

There aren't any new filters included with Photoshop 7, but the filter previews have been enlarged due to popular demand. It would be nice if filter dialogs had resize handles on them, though, as sometimes these preview windows can never be large enough. Another thing I'd like to see in a future version is a plugin manager, that lets you select which plugins to load either dynamically or upon startup. With thousands of plugins available combined with Photoshop's limitation on the number of filters that can be loaded at any one time, this would be a useful consideration.

You can read about several Photoshop 7 - compatible plugins here.

Liquify and Extract

Previously under the Image menu, Liquify and  Extract have appropriately been relocated to the Filter menu.

The Liquify tool has been improved in several ways, including the ability to preview the backdrop image instead of just the target layer. Also added are additions to the toolset, multiple undo and the ability to apply the warp to a low-res version of the image first to make sure that the results are desirable. While it's inevitable that the Liquify tool will be used by some as a toy, the refinement and addition of more precise controls encourage its use in professional situations.

So far as I can tell, the Extract tool is unchanged from the previous version. I just have one question: if the Liquify tool can preview the backdrop, why not add the same ability to the extract tool? This would be immensely helpful.

A Disturbing Pattern

The most useless new feature in this new version is the Pattern Maker. Found in the filter menu, grouped with Extract and Liquify, the Pattern Maker dialog allows the user to create randomly-generated patterns based on a rectangular selection of the image. Unfortunately, "randomly-generated" typically means your selection is turned into unpredictable, fractalized mulch.  If the desired effect is a seamless tiled pattern, good luck--most of the time you end up with obvious chunky blocks. If you must use it--for example, if some evil client rides a time machine from the year 1996 and forces you at gunpoint to create a nasty tiled background--then you will at least be somewhat cheerful that the dialog stores up to 20 variations of your generated patterns to choose from. If I'm not mistaken there are other software options out there that offer more control and better results. This garish toy would better be left off in future versions.

Web Improvements

In version 7, Photoshop continues strengthening and enhancing its web-centric features, both built-in and in the companion application ImageReady, the version numbers of which are being tied to those of Photoshop with this release.

When optimizing a GIF image for the web you now have the ability to re-map transparency based on color selection, even multiple colors simultaneously. Prior versions required actually hiding layers to ensure transparency worked correctly.

Another new nifty transparency trick is the ability to create a semi-transparent image that will work with any background color. Gone are the agonies of ragged, mismatched edges and having to create multiple images from the same source for different background possibilities. This offers greater flexibility for color changes to web pages down the road, and reduces the need for time-consuming revisions. Photoshop/ImageReady accomplishes this through dithering the image in one of three methods, selectable by the user: diffusion, pattern and noise. It is likely that experimentation will be necessary to find the best fit for your needs. While the results do eat into your image very slightly, the flexibility this method affords is worth it.

With the rise of graphics use in wireless devices in mind, Photoshop/ImageReady now includes the ability to preview and save in the wireless bitmap format, WBMP. This feature handily reduces your image to a dithered monochromatic version suitable for delivery on such devices as cell phones and PDAs.

ImageReady's new Rollovers palette enables the designer to view all rollovers, animations and image maps at a glance rather than the previous method of one slice at a time. Adding to the simplification, layer-based rollovers can now be created by the click of a button on this palette. I think there is still some room for improvement in how all of these things are organized and visually presented, but this is a step up and somewhat easier to use than in previous versions.

Another interesting addition to rollovers is the Selected state. ImageReady generates the code necessary to create such things as navigation bars with simultaneous rollover effects. Generally speaking, though, I am not a big fan of letting an image editor do the coding for you.

ImageReady's new Variables feature lets a designer create templates and define specific objects as variables. Automated graphics are then created based on database or script information. I'm not exactly sure how this works, but I'm excited to give it a try. For larger companies, Adobe is promoting its own expensive dynamic image server application called AlterCast--probably suitable for large e-commerce sites and the like.

Ship It!

Photoshop's evolution has been consistently strong and focused on features that help professionals get their work done better and quicker with each release.  It is a deep, robust application that is fairly intuitive to use. Adobe has done a great job with each new
version, adding a combination of innovation and features that users request. Every time a new version comes out, I wonder how they could possibly cram more features into it without causing it to lose focus and die under its own weight. Thankfully, they seem to get it right every time, balancing abilities and performance very well.

If you have been apprehensive about upgrading, don't be. It may take a few hours to get used to some of the new features (like the new brush controls), but once you are past that you'll enjoy the enhanced workflow and creative control. Now that I have been using Photoshop 7 on a daily basis for a while, I can't imagine having to go back and work in previous versions.

Adobe Photoshop 7
Full: $609
Upgrade: $149

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