ISSUE 456: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE- July 21 1998isman

Latest version of standard-setting Photoshop
offers significant upgrades and new features

Adobe Photoshop is the standard photo-editing application for most graphics professionals. It's also the program of choice for a large number of dabblers -- like me -- whose pretensions make them want more power and control than they can get with the easy-to-use alternatives that come bundled with digital cameras and scanners.

As the standard, a whole industry has grown up around it, providing hardware and software add-ons. And it's become the benchmark that's used to demonstrate product improvements. In introducing the new Macintosh product lines, Steve Jobs used Photoshop to show off that hardware's superiority to seemingly comparable PCs, while in introducing Windows 98, Microsoft vice-president Brad Chase similarly (though less dramatically) showed off how it could load Photoshop faster than an otherwise identical Windows 95 PC.

A new version of Photoshop is news. While the last major upgrade provided a few new features, mostly it served to allow Adobe to standardize its user interface between Photoshop and its other major releases, Illustrator and PageMaker. The new version 5.0, however, provides a collection of new features, responding to user demands and keeping up with (or staying one step ahead of) the competition.

Among my favourites:

* A Magnetic Lasso tool -- sort of a combination of the existing Lasso and Magic Wand tools -- lets you more or less outline an object and then tries to snap to outlines based on colour contrasts. This goes a long way to simplifying the task of creating clean selections. The pen tool can also be set to work the same way.

* A History Palette lists the last 100 actions you've performed. Clicking on an action from the list returns your picture to the state it was in at that time, letting you instantly undo all the changes in between. The History Brush tool lets you apply these changes to parts of your picture only. (If we had that in real life, we could remove wrinkles while keeping our fashionably statesmanlike grey hair.)

* The Text Layer gives you much more control when add-
ing text to your images. And since the text is on a layer of its own, you can always go back and make changes to it. You can create vertical text, mix fonts and styles, and set kerning, tracking and baselines -- all things you previously had to do in a separate program.

* The 3-D Transform option lets you draw a 3-D shape around an object, set a centre point and rotate the object in virtual three dimensions. (Well, you can't really turn it around or anything, but you can make interesting small changes this way.)

Other features include an improved Actions Palette that lets you record almost all program operations for later automated playback. Spot colours can be used along with process colours. Support for ICC standard colour management helps ensure that your picture will print out the way it looks on screen.

And in case the 16.7 million colours provided by 24-bit colour depth aren't enough, there's support for 48-bit and 64-bit colour models. You can add effects such as dropshadows, "glow" and embossing to individual layers. And, as in the previous version, special effects applied to a layer are applied to the layers underneath without actually changing the underlying images.

For added performance, you can edit a low-resolution screen view, applying your change to the high-resolution (and slow-displaying) original.

Some users, however, may feel left out in the cold. Unlike previous versions, Photoshop 5.0 can't be used with pre-PowerPC Macs or with Windows 3.1. And if you're looking to work with pictures for Web pages, this may not be the tool for you. Adobe is now preparing a separate program, ImageReady, aimed at Web designers. (Pre-release beta versions of ImageReady can be downloaded from We'll take a closer look at it when Adobe releases the final version.) And Adobe fans may want to keep an eye out for Illustrator Version 8 -- The Next Generation, expected late this year and currently being tested under the code name Elvis.

With all its high-end power and features, Photoshop sports a high-end price. Count on paying about $900 for a new copy, or about $300 to upgrade an earlier version. (Image-
Ready will be priced much lower, and Adobe is promising pricing deals for users who buy both Photoshop and ImageReady.)*

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan