Price: £450 plus VAT
Photoshop 7.0 includes many new features, but from the hype you’d think the release is all about support for Apple’s Mac OS X. There’s an impression in some parts of the media that this release is the last stumbling block before the mass uptake of Mac-flavoured Unix across the whole design market. With most designers using Photoshop for some, if not all, of their daily tasks, Adobe’s tardiness in moving its flagship title to the new operating system may have held some people back from leaping on to the new OS. If that’s the case, expect to see OS X uptake skyrocket among designers. Photoshop 7.0 is full of goodies that go beyond the speed benefits you’d expect from a new OS, and make it an essential upgrade for users. Photoshop 7’s new interface has been subjected to the full Aqua makeover. Not that this changes the look-&-feel of the program drastically, or in fact at all. Basically, everything is where it was before, it just looks prettier. Cosmetically, the icons in the various palettes have been given a subtle 3D relief, which on the whole looks polished. 3D interfaces can look clunky and awkward, but Adobe has done a good job. The tool icons also highlight in colour when you mouse over them. Healing tools The Tool bar now has a slightly different tool arrangement to accommodate the new goodies Photoshop 7.0 has to offer. Gone is the Airbrush icon, which has been integrated into the Brush tool and can be found in the Brush Options palette. In its place is the all-new Healing pop-up – featuring the Patch and Healing Brush tools. These mark a substantial improvement to Photoshop’s image-retouching capabilities. The Healing brush (its icon is a plaster) lets you paint out imperfections in an image very quickly by cloning from an unblemished area. This might sound like the Clone Stamp tool, but the Healing brush takes the idea a step forwards. While the Clone Stamp tool lets you clone pixels wholesale and drop them into a new position, the Healing brush performs an extra magical step of blending the original and cloned pixels. This is not simply fading the opacity, but a more complex process that intelligently keeps certain details while removing others. It does this step after each time you release the mouse. So initially, the effect doesn’t seem too magical, but when you let go, ping (or maybe that should be whirr-ping, since it can take a few seconds), the melding process takes place and your image is healed. The Healing brush has a number of modes, including Normal, Replace (which works very much like the normal Cloning method), Colour, Luminance, Multiply, Screen, Darken and Lighten. You can’t set the opacity of the effect, like the Clone Stamp tool, but you can choose the clone from a sample or alternatively use a predefined pattern. The Patch tool goes about things differently. Rather than painting, the Patch tool uses selections to perform its healing. You marquee the pixels to be fixed, then drag them onto the part of the image you’d like to fix them with. As you release the mouse, the floating selection snaps back from where it came and the pixels are healed. A converse mode allows you to drag the source pixels onto the destination pixels to fix them. Patching up images The Patch tool works very well for fixing larger areas, or for intricate shapes with foreground elements you don’t want touched, since you can utilize any of Photoshop’s selection tools to define the area to be healed. Both tools work very well, so well that a complete novice could use them quite effectively. Some may feel that no-brainer additions of this kind dilute the professional appeal of the program, but Adobe is justified because the Healing tools save so much time, and – unlike other easy-to-use features such as Extract – produce excellent results without relinquishing control. The Liquify tool has been given a boost in this update. Now you can view the liquefied version over the unaffected image in varying opacity, so you have a reference. You can also view other background layers in the document as you work, plus multiple undos are now supported inside the filter interface. Distortion meshes can be saved and reapplied to different documents while a new tool, the Turbulence brush, can be used to create random, swirly distortions more effectively. Photoshop’s whole painting system has been redesigned thankfully, as this was one area that the software should have been strong in but was, in fact, seriously falling behind with. Now brushes feature a large number of extra attributes that can be set and/or controlled with input device parameters, such as pen tilt and pressure if using a Wacom tablet, though we couldn’t quite get it to work properly. Brush parameters include Shape and Colour Dynamics that allow you to vary the size, shape, angle and hue, saturation and brightness of a brush using Jitter sliders. These parameters vary randomly as you paint, with the amount controlled by the Jitter slider. Other parameters include Scattering, which takes the base brush shape and scatters multiple copies of it as you paint – an essential ingredient to creating natural-brush behaviours. Other neat features include the ability to use a pattern to mask the brush tip adding yet more detail to the brush. The result is wonderful – though not quite on a par with Corel’s Painter 7 for natural media effects since it’s limited to 2D paint strokes (no impasto and relief effects). It works brilliantly and offers a sumptuous palette of brushes for you to experiment with. The only problem was that painting was very slow. Under Mac OS X many of the filters were blazingly fast. Gaussian Blur ran nearly twice as fast on a 400MHz G4 running Photoshop 7 under OS X compared to Photoshop 6 under Mac OS 9 on a 500MHz G4. This is likely a combination of OS and Altivec optimization of the filters. Another improvement with filters is that the preview windows are larger. There are some backward steps too though. The Free Transform tool, for example, is disastrously slow, thanks to interactive updates as you make transformations. It’s actually no great benefit unless you’re doing very fine adjustments and don’t want to let go of the mouse button to see the update. This should be provided as an option, as there’s no way to turn it off. Another new addition is the File Browser. This is a Windows Explorer-like panel that you can use to traverse the file system and view folder contents graphically. Images are displayed as previews and you also get a larger preview for selected items, plus associated info. Icon status Files that Photoshop can read that don’t have icons can have them generated automatically, so you can see what the image is without having to open them. It can take a while to do this if you have a folder full of large images, though. At the left is a hierarchical display of the file system and to the right is the main contents display. The Browser can be opened as a floating window or docked into the Palette Well with any other palette. One of the most joyous aspects of Photoshop on OS X is the benefits of true preemptive multi-tasking. This is not like the pseudo-preemptive-works-when-it-feels-like-it-multi-tasking of Windows, but the real deal. Applying a rather CPU-intensive filter to a very large document? Don’t feel like staring at the progress bar because Photoshop has hogged the processor? No problem. Switch to the Finder and do some file tidying, check your mail, play chess. Photoshop 7 on X will continue to chug away in the background while you do something more interesting with those spare CPU cycles. Add to this the fact that Photoshop 7 crashed once during the few weeks we’ve been using it, and you have wonderfully hassle-free user experience. When it did crash of course, the rest of the system was unaffected. Stability issues Photoshop 7.0 also has protected memory and much better memory management. However, because Photoshop has always done its own thing with virtual memory there is still a memory allocation feature in the program. You don’t have to worry about setting a memory allocation for Photoshop like you have to in OS 9, but in the Preferences there is a setting to determine the percentage of available RAM Photoshop will ‘acquire’ for its own use. You will still need a lot of RAM to keep Photoshop and OS X running smoothly, but despite this we had no problems with 768MB. There are issues with Photoshop on OS X. The first is that many third-party plug-ins simply won’t work in Photoshop 7 running in OS X. They will work if you run the Classic version of Photoshop, but not the carbonized one. This will be an issue for those that rely on a lot of third-party plug-ins for their work, and in this case they’d better hold off from switching to OS X fully until their plug-ins are Carbonized too. Likewise with scanner and some printer drivers. In all, Photoshop 7 will make many pro users very happy. Those who can’t wait to dump OS 9 for X will be very happy campers indeed – and the other tools will keep OS 9 and Windows users more than satisfied.