Adobe Photoshop 7: Get Ready to Paint

Latest release gets new painting tools, but isn't a critical upgrade unless your operating system is new

By Alan Stafford

Photoshop, Adobe's big-gorilla image editing application, traditionally has provided tons of tools for preparing photos. In Photoshop 7, Adobe adds a painting engine that offers effects previously available only from rival Procreate (formerly Corel) and its Painter software.

The Procreate application is designed more for artists than for occasional users. It stocks a bazillion "natural-media" tools that mimic real brushes, inks, crayons, and paints, approximating how they'd appear when applied to canvas, paper, or even cloth; you can "paint" with copied patterns, as well (think plaid or grass). Though Photoshop still doesn't provide anywhere near the number of painting tools that Painter does, version 7 greatly expands Photoshop's ability to customize brushes and patterns, and the results look very Painter-ish. However, Adobe insists that it isn't trying to horn in on Painter's turf.

I tried out a Photoshop 7 beta version, using a Wacom Intuos 2 graphics tablet. The tablet lets you enhance and manipulate images via a pressure-sensitive pen; the harder you press, the more "effect" is applied to an image or photo. The patterns (which you create within a new Pattern Maker dialog box) proved useful for enhancing photos and for creating new pieces (especially backgrounds).

Those familiar with cloning tools will rave about Photoshop's new "healing brush," which is similar to a cloner but adds a few tricks. While a cloner lets you copy a piece of an image and paint it elsewhere, the healing brush analyzes the lighting, shading, and tonal range in the destination area and adjusts the pasted material to match. The brush works especially well when it's cleaning up dusty scanned images or prettifying faces that have blemishes or razor bumps, and it's significantly faster than using the clone tool for those tasks.

The new Auto Color command works much like the program's existing Auto Contrast and Auto Levels commands--in other words, you can try it before resorting to manual controls. It worked well on some images (the ones for which I'd screwed up the color values), but it didn't work so well on images with hue or saturation problems.

Photoshop's new file browser creates thumbnails of the images on your hard drive slowly (understandable), but after the thumbnails are done, you can view, sort, and even rank them quickly. You can dock this file browser in the options toolbar, but you can't drag it outside the main application window, so it competes for space with Photoshop's many other palettes.

Photoshop 7 is now compatible with Windows XP and with Mac OS X, and that may make the program a must-have upgrade for some. Others might be forgiven for waiting to see what Adobe has on tap next for Photoshop.

From the May 2002 issue of PC World magazine

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