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Photoshop Alternative: Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0

Let’s get this out of the way up front. If you are doing professional graphics and image processing you need Adobe Photoshop. There is a reason it is the industry standard program for setting up images for pre press or the World Wide Web. It has all of the tools you’ll need and then some. There are only two downsides to the full version of Adobe’s flagship product, it can take a long time to learn everything it can do and it retails for about $600. Small businesses and amateur photographers may have a hard time justifying that kind of expense and learning curve. For that rapidly growing segment of the market Adobe offers a toned-down version, Adobe Photoshop Elements, now on version 2.0.

Now don’t be put off by me calling Elements a ‘toned-down‘ version, the things Adobe has removed from the full version of Photoshop to make Elements are the most confusing tools and the ones most used in the commercial printing field. Gone are the Curves, CMYK color mode and Layer Masks…but many users of the full version of Photoshop don’t even use these. The tools that the average user wants are still there in abundance and in many cases made easier to use and understand. Adobe even makes Elements 2.0 into a learning tool by providing the user with Recipes on a How To palette (Fig.1) and great documentation written in concise language. The easy-to-access help system is plentifully cross-linked and richly detailed.

Fig. 1

Naturally you get the standard Photoshop toolbox (Selection tools, Brush, Pencil, Gradient, Dodge and Burn, etc.), but you also get new tools like the Red Eye Brush, Auto Straighten and Auto Crop, Fill Flash and Adjust Backlighting. Don’t be fooled by the nomenclature of these tools targeting a mass market, this is a powerful program.

Take the Quick Fix dialog box for instance (Fig. 2). It shows you a before and after thumbnail of your image and allows you to preview a host of image adjustments before you actually apply them, everything from Auto Levels and Brightness/Contrast to Hue/Saturation to Blurring, Auto Focus and Rotations. This is a great, centralized location for doing many of the common adjusts to your images.

Fig. 2

So if you are the jaded Photoshop user that I am, this may not be enough for you. But check this out. Photoshop Elements can capture a still frame from a video file, create GIF animations for the web, merge multiple photographs to create a seamless panoramic image, and build cross-platform PDF slide shows—complete with transitions—viewable by anyone with the Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader software (Fig. 3). That’s a lot of power in a ‘consumer-level’ product; Photoshop 7 doesn’t even make PDF slide shows!

Fig. 3

Professional features abound in Photoshop Elements. Features like editable vector-based type, vector shapes and full Plug-In support. Photoshop add-ons like Eye Candy 4000, Splat! or Mask Pro will work with Elements. You can even set a second Plug-In folder in the preferences so you can use plug-ins that you already have without duplicating them.

Want more? This program, which retails for a mere $89, has a full-featured Save for Web dialog box that shows the original and the web preview of your image and allows you to adjust the Image Size before saving it as a GIF, JPG or PNG file.

Have you every wanted to share your digital photographs with friends and family? Elements includes a Create Web Photo Gallery feature which will turn a folder full of images into a professionally formatted web page using your custom information, colors and specifications (Fig. 4). Photoshop Elements will also attach an image to an email message using your standard email program.

Fig. 4

Want to share those images in a more conventional manner? The Picture Package feature will print multiple copies of the same image or all the images in a folder in a variety of standard sizes to get the most images on one page (Fig. 5). If that’s too much trouble for you, you can simply click on one of the little preview images to swap it for another. This takes a lot of the pain out of what can be a cumbersome process.

Fig. 5

Adobe Photoshop Elements requires Windows 98 or higher (including XP) or Mac OS 9.1 or higher (including Mac OS X), at least 128MB RAM and 350MB hard disk space. The program is readily available for $89 and Adobe has a liberal $30 rebate policy for upgrading from the previous version or many other competing programs. The CD in the box is cross-platform for both Windows and Macintosh and you can often find the program bundled with scanners or digital cameras. You can learn more about Photoshop Elements at Adobe's web site (, they even have a downloadable 30-day trial version.

This program is a real winner. Great power for a modest price. It is a very viable alternative for those who want to avoid the high price or complexity of Photoshop 7.

Paul Vaughn is a freelance graphic artist, writer and web designer. I cannot believe how good Photoshop Elements is…and at that price! If you would like to see the Graphics Guy address a specific topic email Paul Vaughn at


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