Photoshop CS3 review

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10 Best Buy We rate this 9 out of 10

  • Price When Reviewed: 485 . 139 . 775 . 329

  • Pros: Smart Filters make effects adjustment easier. Great selection of creative and timesaving tools.

  • Cons: New interface can be fiddly. Extended version expensive for few additional tools most creatives will want.

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Photoshop is the tool that unifies Digital Arts readers. Whether you work in graphic design and illustration, VFX, and 3D animation – for print, broadcast, disc, or Web – chances are you spend a significant amount of time using Photoshop. It’s also found its way into non-traditional areas such as architecture and even non-creative fields such as medical imaging.

From this perspective, it’s easy to see why Adobe has created the new Extended version of Photoshop for Creative Suite 3. The idea is that traditional print and Web designers will find all of the tools they need in the standard version, while the Extended release introduces tools targeted at visual-effects and 3D artists, radiographers and medical researchers, and architects and civil engineers.

The new 3D tools serve two core functions. They enable users to paint, edit and otherwise manipulate textures for 3D models using Photoshop’s standard toolset, with Adobe’s application previewing how the texture will look on the model. You can also use models in your 2D layered compositions, allowing you to position and transform models – though not modify their meshes – alongside the rest of your elements.

Models are transformed using standard rotation and scaling tools. There’s a wide range of viewing and rendering options including wireframe (above), shaded, and illustrative versions. The output is reasonable but not quite what we’d call pro-level – and for high-grade output you’ll need a plug-in from a proper 3D company such as NewTek’s Rendition or Strata’s 3Din, though these aren’t out yet (see page 76 for a preview). We’re hopeful for a Mental Ray plug-in at some point too.

The tools for viewing cross sections are nifty, and are ideal for many types of corporate and architectural presentations.

The addition of a timeline – called the Animation panel (below) – in Photoshop CS3 Extended is less useful. It’s designed to allow you to bring video into Photoshop and use it as a rotoscoping tool. However, most compositing applications – including Adobe’s own After Effects – are quicker to use for this task, and if you need specific tools, you’re better off with an application such as Bauhaus Mirage.

Photoshop CS3 Extended also gains support for DICOM medical scan images, better integration with the MATLAB data analysis software, and measuring and counting tools that will also appeal to those with a scientific bent.

This new Extended version is a good idea, but an expensive upgrade if you’re only interested in one of the areas it covers. Many designers and illustrators will be interested in the ability to incorporate 3D models more easily in their work, but Photoshop CS3 Extended or Creative Suite 3 Design Premium may prove prohibitively expensive.

Thankfully, the features added to the Standard version of Photoshop more than make up for Extended’s disappointing one-size-fits-all approach. By its tenth incarnation, you would have thought the creative’s workhorse would have gained every possible tool already – but there’s a worthwhile collection of additions.

The biggest new feature is the introduction of Smart Filters (above), which enable you to edit effects at any point after you’ve applied them – as users of other applications such as After Effects and Premiere Pro are used to. The workflow is a little odd – you have to ‘convert’ your image for Smart Filters – but when you’re playing with the interactions between multiple filters, or when working with filters that don’t have a preview, it’s really useful.

The only downside is that you can’t apply many third party plug-ins as Smart Filters, and you have to ‘rasterize’ your image to apply the plug-ins. The same is true for Photoshop’s own Liquify filter. We expect most of the major artistic Photoshop plug-ins to be updated to work as Smart Filters in the future.

Creating cutouts using Photoshop’s Magic Wand tool is painful at best – hence the popularity of plug-ins such as Mask Pro, Fluid Mask, and KnockOut – so the new Quick Selection tool (above right) is a welcome addition. Like many of its rivals, you paint onto areas you want to keep and the software automatically finds edges and adds it to the selection area. It works well for shots on single-colour backgrounds, but if you create a lot of difficult cutouts with fine details such as hair or multi-coloured backgrounds, you’re still going to want a plug-in’s fine-tuning tools.

Other new additions that impressed us include the Clone Source Palette, tools for working with multiple shots of the same scene, high-grade B&W conversion (above), and presets for Curves.

The Clone Source Palette provides extra controls for the Clone tool, Healing Brush and Spot Healing
Brush – and a five-box clipboard for sources.

New tools allow you to automatically align multiple shots, and with the Extended version of Photoshop you can even combine them into a single image. This is a feature that should have been in the Standard version, though.

As with much of the new Creative Suite, Photoshop CS3 boasts a redesigned interface that keeps the application’s palettes neat and tidy, allowing you to hide them at will. It works especially well on the widescreen displays that many creatives currently use, such as Apple’s Cinema Display, where you can have all of your palettes open and still be left with more than enough space to work on a high-res version of your image.

Our only complaint about the new interface is the way that Adobe has jammed the minimize, close and drop-down menu buttons together in the top right of each panel – making it very easy to click the wrong one on high-definition monitors.

Photoshop CS3 is also the first version to run natively in Intel Macs, and also introduces full support for Windows Vista. On our Mac Pro 8-core with 4GB of RAM, Photoshop CS3 took 1 minute 23 seconds to complete our usual test of 20 filters on a 200MB image; Photoshop CS2 took two minutes and 20 seconds – a massive boost. No real speed improvement
was seen running Photoshop CS3 on Vista over Windows XP.

That certain tools are only available in the Extended version is annoying – but Photoshop CS3 is an upgrade that every Digital Arts reader is going to want in their toolbox.

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