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Adobe Photoshop 6.0

Every time there is a new update to a major application I think, "Is this actually necessary or is the software company just trying to boost their bottom line?" I often view software with a new box, new logo and new features of dubious benefit with a very skeptical eye. With a program like Adobe's Photoshop, version 5.5 was great and I would be hard pressed to find more than two minor things to improve. Fortunately for me and anyone else working on photos, graphics or the web, Adobe's software guys are much more forward-thinking. Photoshop 6 is packed full of new features that are convenient, much needed and address real needs of end-users. This month I want to highlight a few of these changes.
The first thing that experienced Photoshop users will notice is the new Options bar at the top of the screen. The Options bar is context sensitive, featuring all of the options for the currently selected tool, including some that were previously available as key combinations. This puts frequently used information in a convenient location. There is even an area to dock other palettes for easy accessibility. The Options bar can also be moved to the bottom of the screen.
The coolest feature for me is the Layer Styles. Often I would apply the same effects to several layers (glows, embosses, drop shadows), Photoshop 6 allows you to save these Layer Styles. They then appear as icons in the Styles palette (fig 1) and you can drag-and-drop them on to new layers. Libraries of custom styles can be saved and shared with other users. The way Photoshop handles the layer effects has also been improved. There is a more coherent Layer Style dialog box which includes setting for all of the possible layer effects. New effects include Satin, Color Overlay, Gradient Overlay, Pattern Overlay and Stroke.

Fig. 1

Also with a high "Wow Factor" is the Liquify command (fig 2). Liquify allows you to interactively push, pull, and warp your entire image or just select parts. You can fine-tune the amount of your changes by varying the brush size.

Fig. 2

Adobe has improved Photoshop's text handling features in some intelligent ways. Text can now be edited directly on the image without going to a dialog box. There is an expanded Character palette (fig 3) where you can apply horizontal or vertical scaling, baseline shifts, color and special features like superscripts, subscripts, small caps and all caps. There is now a Paragraph palette allowing you to specify alignment, spacing before or after, indents and leading. These palettes are very similar to the ones in Adobe Illustrator or InDesign. Text can also be distorted using the Warp Text feature into special shapes like arcs and waves.

Fig. 3

As with most of Adobe's software lately, there is a strong emphasis on working the Web. Photoshop now allows direct slicing of images for web graphics (slicing is used to divide a larger image into smaller ones, that are then placed into a custom table on a web page). The user can create his own slices, or slices can be created automatically from layers. Slices can each be assigned URLs, filenames, Alt tags and messages. They can also be compressed at different levels depending on their content. Photoshop also allows the use of an 8-bit alpha channel to vary the amount of compression of web images to preserve the integrity of critical parts of the graphic. Photoshop will write the HTML code and is tightly integrated with Adobe's web authoring program, GoLive 5.
Photoshop 6 is a worthwhile update to the industry-standard graphics editor. With a plethora of new features and improvements to old tools, Adobe has assured its continued dominance in this field.
Paul Vaughn is the Director of Digital Services at River City Silver, the premiere photographic and digital imaging laboratory in San Antonio and South Texas. If stranded on a desert island with only one program, it would have to be Photoshop. He can be contacted at

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