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ISSUE 595: New economy- March 20 2001

The high-tech office


Photoshop still impresses with newest cool effects

"The King is dead; long live the King."

While there are other programs, from Corel Draw to Jasc Paint Shop Pro in the graphics software market, there's no doubt that Adobe's Photoshop is king. And with version 6, a new king inherits the throne.

Priced about $1,000 (around $350 to upgrade), Photoshop 6 is a program that has undergone continual fine-tuning, emerging as a mature product that can handle pictures aimed at both paper and the Web.

This latest version keeps its standard look and feel, now common to the whole family of Adobe pro-level applications, but takes a step towards tidiness. The plethora of palettes can be grouped, rolled-up and now docked onto a handy context-sensitive toolbar, getting them out of the way while leaving them available when needed.

While new to Photoshop, the toolbar will seem familiar to users of Quark Xpress and other page design tools, showing the customization features of the currently selected tool.

The biggest improvement of this version, however, is that you can draw vector-like objects and text. Unlike the standard bitmaps that Photoshop users have worked with since time immemorial (or at least since 1990's version 1.0), these always remain editable and print out at the best possible resolution. This isn't handled with the vector-graphics used in programs such as Macromedia's Freehand or Adobe's own Illustrator; instead, geometric shapes reside on their own layer. To move them, you need to move the layer. While somewhat clumsy, it's still a big improvement.

Graphics professionals will probably find they still need to accompany Photoshop with a real, full-featured vector graphics package such as Freehand or Illustrator.

Finally, you can enter text directly onto the page, with lots of typesetting-like control along with some neat special effects.

Expect to see Photoshop's new text warping and liquefying features everywhere over the next few months as they become this season's clich?.

A new Styles palette makes it easier than ever to apply a complex combination of effects to a layer, with premade gradients, shadows, glows and 3D effects calling out to be used on Web buttons. You can save your own styles, recyling your custom effects over and over.

Web designers will be pleased with PS 6's slice command, to cut a large graphic into more easily downloaded pieces, but may be less pleased that to use all the package's Web power still requires jumping back and forth to a separate program, Imageready 3.0. Like the previous version, Photoshop 6 bundles Imageready in the package. And while it's easy to jump back and forth between the two without even needing to save your file, I'm surprised that Adobe hasn't yet managed to merge the overlapping features of these two applications into a single program.

As it is, Web designers will need enough RAM to keep both applications open, building the basic picture in Photoshop, then jumping to Imageready for Web animation and rollover effects.

Current users of this king of graphic software will want to upgrade to the latest version, particularly to make use of its improved text tools. It remains the undisputed champion of its field, although the added features add to its bulk. (Expect that soon after upgrading to this software, Photoshop users will feel the need to upgrade their hardware.)

Not all of us need all this graphics power, however. Adobe offers Photodeluxe for home and nonprofessional office users; it is bundled with a number of scanner and digital camera models. As well, expected soon is Adobe Elements, offering a selection of Photoshop tools in an easier to use and more affordable package. We'll keep you informed.

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