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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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