Software Review: Photoshop CS5

Although Adobe just celebrated Photoshop’s 20th anniversary, it still has some nice tricks up its sleeve in the latest version of this popular image-editing program. See this video demo for an overview of Photoshop CS5.

One feature in particular, Content-Aware Fill, has been getting a lot of hype for its “magical” ability to remove unwanted objects from images, and this is one of those rare instances where the hype is justified. When you select an area of the image, Content-Aware Fill automatically replaces it with a fill pattern sampled from the surrounding area (see the video demo). Its usefulness depends on what kind of image you’re working with, and in some cases you might have to tweak the result. But for many images, it can do in seconds what used to take hours with the Clone Stamp and other tools—and with better results.

Another big time-saver is the Edge Detection feature in the revamped Refine Edge dialog box, which makes it easier to mask subjects with tricky boundaries such as hair or fur (see the video demo).
A more mundane addition—but one you’ll likely be using on a day-to-day basis—is Mini Bridge, a stripped-down version of Adobe Bridge that lets you browse and open files from within Photoshop (it’s also part of InDesign CS5). Longtime Photoshop users might see some irony here, because Bridge actually began as a Photoshop feature before Adobe beefed it up and made it available as a standalone program. Mini Bridge is no replacement for Bridge, but you still have the option of opening Bridge from within the program (see this video demo for a look at Bridge CS5).

The new Mixer Brush and Bristle Tips allow you to create a wide range of natural-media painting effects (see the video demo). The Mixer Brush is a new tool that lets you paint with multiple blended colors, whereas “Bristle Tips” is a new option that adds multiple tips to the Brush and Pencil tools in addition to the Mixer Brush.

More Updates
These are just a few of the useful additions in this solid upgrade. Others include Puppet Warp, which lets you reshape objects by dragging on “pins” that you place on top of them. The new Lens Correction feature automatically fixes geometric distortions and other common lens errors (see the video demo). The upgrade also enhances CS4’s ability to work with high-dynamic-range (HDR) images created from multiple versions of the same photo, and a new HDR Toning dialog box lets you apply HDR photo effects to any photo (see the video demo).

Photoshop CS5 also adds a host of small but useful productivity enhancements, my favorite being the new Straighten button—you can use the Ruler Tool to drag a line across a crooked image, and Photoshop will automatically rotate and crop the image so the ruler line is horizontal.

3D Tools
Along with the standard edition of Photoshop, Adobe offers Photoshop Extended with features for 3D artists and other specialized users. The big addition here is Repoussé, a new option in the 3D panel that converts text and other objects into extruded 3D models (see the video demo). These are true 3D models—with user-definable textures and lighting effects—that you can rotate in 3D space. Easy-to-use controls in the dialog box let you define the extrusion and bevel depth, and you can also apply a variety of distortions, such as twisting or bending the object. It’s no replacement for a standalone 3D program, but offers an easy way to create 3D type effects from within Photoshop. Maybe too easy—I’m bracing myself for some horrid-looking twisted extrusions from inexperienced designers.

Heavy Hardware Requirements
Unfortunately, it has some steep hardware requirements. At a minimum, you’ll need a hardware-accelerated OpenGL graphics processing unit, but low-end GPUs may not be sufficient even if they support the minimum specs. If you don’t have the necessary hardware, Repoussé doesn’t offer a “software only” or “draft quality” mode—it just refuses to run and displays an error message. Since Photoshop’s listed hardware requirements aren’t clear on which GPUs make the grade, the only way to know for sure is to download the trial version and see if Repoussé will run on your system.

For Mac users, this is the first version of Photoshop to support 64-bit processing, promising better performance on systems with more than 4GB of memory (the Windows version added 64-bit support in CS4). Third-party plug-ins will have to be rewritten to function in the 64-bit version, but the package also includes a 32-bit version that you can run in its place. Because Adobe’s software license allows you to run the program on up to two computers, you also have the option to use the 64-bit version on one machine and the 32-bit version on another. Although most plug-ins should run OK in the 32-bit version, Adobe says it has also identified a small number of these that will require updates.

Adobe said it is working with vendors to make the necessary changes, but it might be a while before 64-bit versions of some plug-ins are available. And in some cases, 64-bit support may be part of larger upgrades you’ll have to pay for (see this note from Alien Skin Software as an example). If you depend on any third-party plug-ins, you should check with the vendor to verify CS5 compatibility and their upgrade plans.

Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop CS5 offers the seemingly magical ability to remove objects by sampling the surrounding area. You can even use it like I did—to clean up CD covers for my MP3 collection:

Repoussé, part of Photoshop CS5 Extended, offers an easy way to create extruded 3D type
effects, but it has steep hardware requirements.

Stephen Beale has been writing about computer technology since before many current Adobe employees were born. His first computer was an Osborne 1 powered by steam turbines and illuminated by gaslight, though his memory is somewhat hazy on this point. He’s the author of seven books on computer applications in the graphic arts and a former news and reviews editor for Macworld.  He’s currently editor of a website for public relations professionals in health and medicine. For more information,
see his website.

Other CS5 reviews:

InDesign CS5
Illustrator CS5
Flash CS5
Fireworks CS5
Flash Catalyst CS5
Dreamweaver CS5
Back to Creative Suite 5 Overview

Adobe Evangelists, including Russell Brown, will be on hand during the HOW Design Conference,  June 6–9 in Denver, to demonstrate the new Creative Suite 5 tools. 



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