Adobe Photoshop CS3

Photoshop CS3You wouldn’t expect a lot of big changes with Photoshop CS3. Surely Adobe’s software engineers would have spent the last couple of years too busy stitching their stable of page layout tools and web development tools after inheriting the Macromedia’s darlings. But from the possibilities that arise from every major web and design application in the one box comes a Photoshop no less advanced than its predecessors.

It seems Adobe’s always had an ear to the ground listening for users’ wish lists, and it’s easy to forget how welcome several of the tools were that we now take for granted — like editing text after you’ve graphically manipulated it.

Out of all the CS3 applications Photoshop’s had perhaps the smoothest evolution and set the benchmarks by which the others are frequently adjusted in terms of usability, palette layout, etc. Each version builds on the last with new features that are smart, lean and modular every time.

If there’s any new direction the program’s going to offer aside from its core toolset, it’s the new offerings in the 3D world. Vanishing point and the new measuring tools form the vanguard.

No, vanishing point isn’t new, but it’s been greatly expanded. You can now take a flat 2D design and drag it onto a 3D image that’s been manipulated in vanishing point. After changing the angle of vanishing point’s direction — for example on a 3D picture of an open book cover — just drop your 2D image onto the vanishing point grid and it wraps around the 3D image, letting you get the placement just right.

Somewhere in the Adobe literature it mentions tools that can now help people in science and engineering. Presumably those are the 2D and 3D measurement tools. After finalising an image you’ve created using vanishing point, you can click and drag with a measuring tool and get information on precise distances in the real world. After setting the scale of an image, the measuring tools not only display all the figures you measure, but you can record and export them into text and other formats like a spreadsheet.

Don’t get rid of your shares in AutoCAD and the other high-end architectural and industrial design applications just yet, but if Photoshop’s growth has taught us anything, the measurement tools are a brave new world it will undoubtedly make its mark in if not conquer.

The last major 3D feature is the compositing of 2D pictures onto a 3D surface. After setting texture, angle, lighting and other parameters, you can slap your 2D image onto the surface to see how it looks, then continue to spin it, relight it and more. Several years back Desktop looked at Quark Wrapture, Quark’s specialist 3D packaging application. The performance didn’t justify the $12,000 price tag even then, and Photoshop’s 3D integration would make it even less attractive today.

Just one word of warning about the 3D capabilities of Photoshop; without some of the latest and greatest gear in graphics cards not all the features will work.

Bringing the former Macromedia’s web applications into the Adobe fold has wrought several changes on Photoshop from the outside. Not only is the whole suite very tightly integrated, but their melding together has resulted in some double ups.

Gone is Image Ready, now replaced by the animation palette Photoshop shares with Flash. It’s a stripped down, timeline-based applet that makes any kind of motion editing uniform. Speaking of video, one of the intriguing new capabilities is video editing. Just open your Quicktime, AVI or Mpeg file in Photoshop and make changes to any frame of the movie by moving along in the animation palette and using your usual tools. Hollywood CGI never had it so easy…

With Dreamweaver now in the box, there’s no more GoLive, which means two things. First, one wonders if the entire reason for the takeover of Macromedia was for Adobe to get its hands on the leading web development tool — GoLive never enjoyed anything near the market share. Secondly, the Dreamweaver that came with Studio 8 had tools for development that were ahead of their time. It was the dawn of a new era when web content wouldn’t just appear on screens.

We all know the advent of the mobile web has been a long time coming in Australia, waiting for simpler and more affordable pricing plans, and with the rollout of several third generation networks, developing content for every sized screen you can think of might be a reality designers will face from now on.

Many of the applications in Adobe CS3 have made allowances for alternate content platforms, and in Photoshop it’s the ability to preview in Device Central, a new part of the suite. You can preview your design on dozens of popular mobile phone model simulations, manipulating backlight and viewing conditions such as direct sunlight.

Close support between applications becomes apparent in other areas too. Slicing up your design and exporting it as HTML has been around for a few versions, although it’s still patchy when it comes to producing compliant code. But Flash is a different story. After doing your banner or website design in Photoshop and using layers for your on/off states, you can import it in Flash with all the layers and editable text intact for later editing after you write your .swf file.

It’s something of a mystery why Adobe would release two versions of Photoshop. Some of the above features are only part of Photoshop Extended, so make sure you’re buying the right version.

Photoshop’s additions can feel a little gimmicky at first, and some of them become more essential than others. Some are abilities we’ve been longing to have for ages, some are tricks we hadn’t dreamed until we saw how the application could do them.

But most of them have a way of becoming indispensable. The simpler your needs, the longer you can last with an old version, but after seeing what new versions can do, it invariably makes Photoshop addicts of us all. Photoshop CS3 will do the same…