Photoshop is the most widely used application from the Creative Suite: it’s a primary tool of many designers, illustrators and digital artists, and an essential secondary part of the arsenal of motion-graphics, visual-effects and 3D artists and animators. It has also found favour with those creating scientific visuals for medical and biological research, and even police forensics.

With such a wide group of users, with wildly differing sets of demands, not all new functions will appeal to all users – but Adobe has a great job of boosting the application’s overall usability for everyone. It has added features targeted at Photoshop’s traditional user base of professional digital creatives, as well as those who’ve picked it up more recently.

Photoshop CS4 sees another interface overhaul, which sees both purely cosmetic changes – such as a move from curved tabs to faux-3D square ones – and workflow-assisting modifications. The CS4 version expands on the snapping panels of the CS3 version and mixes in the tabbed layout of documents from tools such as After Effects – with the guiding principle that it shouldn’t be fiddly to work with multiple images at once.

The Windows version sees the most obvious change – integrating the traditional top Menu bar (with File, Edit, Image and so on) with a series of shortcuts for access to Bridge, zoom ratio, the Hand and Zoom tools, screen mode, and a drop-down menu of Workspace layouts. On the Mac these tools sit below the Menu bar (as the Mac OS X’s Menu bar is inviolate). Up here are also two new functions: Arrange Documents and Rotate View.

Arrange Documents allows users to set how multiple images are displayed. By default, images appear across the full width of your workspace, with a grey background if they don’t fill the workspace. A new set of tabs sits under the toolbar to allow you to change between them much more quickly than using the Window menu or hiding windows. Using Arrange Documents, you can create two-up or four-up views to tile images in an orderly fashion, with each tile capable of showing multiple tabs if you’re working with loads of images.

In our beta version there was one obvious bug here: the Fit on Screen and Fill Screen commands didn’t work within each tile, zooming the image to match the size of the whole workspace, not the size of the tile – though this will hopefully get fixed by the time of final release.

Rotate Screen enables artists to rotate the entire workspace, without changing the image. This appears pointless at first glance, but is actually very useful to anyone who wants to paint with a sweeping motion down an image without having to contort their arms to get the precise stroke angle they want. Images rotate smoothly, as Adobe has tapped into the power of your graphics card to boost visual performance to dramatically improve how images are rendered on-screen.