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  • Price: £399 plus VAT; £315 plus VAT upgrade from LE; £125 plus VAT upgrade from 4.x

  • Company: Adobe

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Photoshop has long been Adobe’s flagship product: after all this time, it’s still the only professional-level heavyweight image manipulation software on the market. But the market has changed – it’s no longer made up purely of graphic designers working for print output – and Adobe has been slow to catch on to the expanding community of Web and multimedia designers. With the addition of image processing and preparation tools in the shape of ImageReady 2.0, Photoshop 5.5, released in June last year, was a tentative step towards giving Web and multimedia designers the tools they wanted. Now Photoshop 6.0 – which began shipping in late mid-October – consolidates that step with enhanced ImageReady 3.0 tools, and support for vector-based image creation: this is serious software for professional Web and multimedia users, with tools such as enhanced image-map creation, optimization of sliced sets, rollover definition, and selectively-optimized slice output. At last, designers who deliver electronically have no good reason to prefer Macromedia’s image manipulation software. Impressive though they are, the expansion of Photoshop’s Web graphics handling capabilities isn’t the only thing to admire about the new version. Adobe has overhauled the interface design with the aim of reducing on-screen clutter and making Photoshop easier for new users to get to grips with – adding features like the new toolbar flyouts that replace the Tool Options palettes, a more robust Print Preview, file annotation facilities that allow written or spoken notes, and the Preset Manager for storing custom brushes, shapes, gradients et al for ongoing use. There’s also a long list of useful enhancements to existing features, like the new on-canvas text entry feature (at last!), improved colour management, better image extraction, and a welcome removal of the 99 layers-per-file limit. New layer management tools make scrolling up and down the Layers palette in search of a lost layer a thing of the past. And although there’s still no official multiple undo feature, there is new keyboard access to the History palette in the shape of the Edit menu’s Step Backwards and Step Forwards commands – Adobe’s line has always been that the History palette is an upmarket multiple undo, but in a crisis, the instinct is still to grab for Command/Ctrl-Z, so the new Step Backwards/Forwards controls are a welcome addition. The new flyout toolbars are the most immediately obvious evidence that you’re using a new version of Photoshop and ImageReady, and unfortunately this is the only feature that works against the version 6.0/3.0 strategy of streamlining on-screen clutter. At least with the Tool Options palettes, you had the choice of whether to display options or not, whereas the new toolbars take up an extra non-negotiable 35 pixels of screen depth (and why can’t they be docked vertically as well as horizontally?). Still, it’s undeniably useful to have a constantly-active set of control parameters for some tools – especially the new on-screen text entry in Photoshop. The toolbox itself has been rearranged significantly, and there are some changes to the keyboard selection shortcuts: U, which used to access the now-deceased Measure tool, now activates the Ellipse tool; G, which was the Linear Gradient, is now Paint Bucket; K, ex-Paint Bucket, is now Slice,and N, ex-Line, is now Notes. By and large, these are intuitive changes – which bring the overlapping tools into line with the latest version of Illustrator. It’ll probably take even keyboard-fluent Photoshop power users a while to adjust, though. Great news for layer-hungry Web designers: the number of layers you can have in any one Photoshop file is now limited only by available memory. And to simplify the painful business of keeping track of thousands of layers, Adobe has introduced Layer Sets. By the simple expedient of creating a nameable, collapsible folder in the Layers palette – and storing related layers in it – hundreds of layers can be shown or hidden at a click. Layers can also be colour-coded in the Layer Properties menu. And here’s another excellent new feature to avoid annoying wrong-layer-selection hassle: layers can now be locked in various ways. Choose to lock transparent pixels, image pixels, position,or all the layers in a layer set using the checkboxes at the top of the Layers palette. One major improvement to the Web graphics side of Photoshop/ImageReady is to be found in the new image map creation facilities: there are now rectangle, circle and polygon image map tools in ImageReady 3.0, and a new Image Map palette for specifying URLs and ALT tags. Used in conjunction with the Slice, Animation and Rollover controls, the Image Map palette also assigns rollovers and mousedowns to image map areas. And like the layer-based slicing, there’s also the option to set up dynamic layer-based image mapping – specify an area on a layer as part of an image map, and if you later change the layers contents, the image map automatically adjusts to take account of the changes. This helpful feature is wishlist-fodder for busy Web designers. Integration of Photoshop 6.0 and ImageReady 3.0 with Adobe GoLive is as tight as you’d expect from a company hoping to boost a second-position Web authoring package on the back of its number one image editor: best-ever. At last, you can drop native .psd files into GoLive without optimizing them in Photoshop or ImageReady first; plus,any HTML/URLs written by Photoshop or ImageReady (while creating rollovers, image maps, etc) are automatically available in GoLive for editing if you select the Include GoLive Code option in Output Settings – and the edited details can even be written back to the original .psd file.If you drop a sliced image into GoLiveand then resize a slice, GoLive smartly calls up ImageReady to update the image, thus avoiding pixellation – it’s a great feature to have and use. Although there were some users who found the Contact Sheets function in Photoshop 5.0 more akin to a mass-market photo-editing program, other users found them handy, and in version 6.0, Adobe hasextended their functionality. Now, you can define the font size for the contact sheet’s captions, choose a set of customisable templates that include or don’t include the HTML frames for a Web photo gallery,and at last the puzzling white space around the contact prints has disappeared withthe advent of templates that don’t add borders. Using brushes, gradients, shapes, contours, patterns and layer styles is much simpler in Photoshop 6.0 than in previous versions, due to the new Preset Manager – this is a real boon for disorganized Photoshop users who love creating their own custom effects. If you create custom brushes, for instance, and store the brush set in the Brushes folder in the Presets folder (this is the default storage location), then those brushes can be accessed via the Preset Manager (under the Edit menu). Alternatively, once you’ve defined a custom tool or attribute, you can access that tool and any set you saved it in via the flyout toolbar for that tool. The frustratingly complex and user-unfriendly colour management tools of Photoshop 5.0 have been simplified and revamped in version 6.0, in the shape of the Adobe Color Engine (ACE). The ACE engine allows colour management protocols to be defined in advance (application-wide) or decided at the time of opening individual files. It’s ICC profile-based, which means that it’s consistent (or at least, in theory it’s consistent) with workplace-wide colour management measures throughout the workflow path, and includes soft proofing controls for more accurate on-screen document previews. And – at long last – Adobe has sorted out the colour consistency issues between Photoshop and Illustrator. And Photoshop has been tweaked in countless ways, too. Take, for instance, the removal of that arbitrary limit on the number of pixels by which a selection marquee could be expanded: used to be 16, now it’s 100. The Crop tool now dims the area outside the bounding box to help visualisation of the cropped image; and correction of perspective effects is made easier by a new calculation facility that works out a final rectangular area from a non-rectangular region, based on the size and aspect ratio of the original picture.