My Thoughts on Photoshop 13.1

Yesterday Adobe officially announced an update to their flagship product, Photoshop, which was exclusive to customers who subscribe to the Creative Cloud. Within that update you will find a few useful things and a few not-so-useful things (depending on your computer setup). All-in-all I think it’s a good update to the program, but I think the best is still yet to come. What you have to understand is this is merely an iterative update for Photoshop. This is not the full next-generation version of Photoshop by any means whatsoever. You won’t see the full breadth of Photoshop’s new capabilities until Adobe ships (presumably called) CS7 someday in the future. I digress, let’s talk about what’s actually in the new Photoshop update…

Retina/HiDPI Support

Basically this update is for all of you who own a new MacBook Pro with Retina Display (I sure don’t). You’ll be glad to know that Photoshop (and Illustrator) will now play nicely with your high-res display and should make your pixel pushing experience all that much more enjoyable. If you’re not a “Retina Mac” owner, this update means bupkis to you, and as I’m not sure how many of us starving artist’s have the funds to shell out $2K+ for a new laptop these days, I’m not so sure this is a big deal at all.

CSS Features

Yes, you read that correctly, Photoshop now has the capability to generate CSS code. If you’re a web designer or even web-curious, this is a big deal because now you won’t have to worry so much about tediously typing out attributes for portions of your CSS docs. The new CSS copy feature in Photoshop will allow you to copy certain CSS properties from your shape layers like fill color, location, and size as well as properties for layer styles like drop shadows, gradients, and strokes.  I find this to be extremely useful, especially when it comes to drop shadows and gradients, two areas of CSS which can be sort of time consuming to write out manually. In addition to the shape layer CSS copy you can also use CSS copy on text as well, which will allow you to copy things like font family, size, weight, etc. The final piece of CSS integration revolves around the swatches panel. You can now import a CSS document into the swatches panel and it will load all of the colors that it locates within the document as swatches for use in Photoshop. I’m not sure how useful that last one will be, but overall this is a killer feature for web designers. Oh, and yes, I’m aware that Fireworks has had similar capabilities for some time now… So please, put down your pitchforks!

Default Type Styles

When Adobe introduced type styles into Photoshop in CS6, I was excited. Seriously, excited. This is something Photoshop had lacked for far too long and so it was a breath of fresh air to finally have it. Well, now in addition to the normal type style capabilities, you also have the ability to set a default type style in Photoshop. This is great if you find yourself using the same fonts for everything (Helvetica, anyone?). This isn’t one that I’ll use all that often, as I tend to mix up my typography quite a bit, but I certainly see it as being useful to many people who simply can’t get enough Gotham in their life.

Smart Object Changes

Perhaps the biggest update in Photoshop 13.1 is the change that Adobe has made to the behavior of Smart Objects. If you’re not familiar with a Smart Object, basically it’s a wrapper that goes around your layer, thus protecting it from any harmful pixel pushing you might throw at it during the editing process. Designers and photographers love smart objects because they allow you to non-destructively edit your images without losing quality or pixel data. The problem with Smart Objects has always been their limitations. For instance you weren’t able use the new Blur Gallery Filters on them… Until now, that is! That’s correct, you may now run the CS6 Blur Gallery Filters like Iris Blur, Tilt-shift, and Field Blur on your Smart Objects. In addition to that bit of coolness, you can also run Liquify on Smart Objects now too! I think this is a big push forward for Smart Objects, but I’m still clamoring for a few things in this arena. First and foremost, I want ALL filters to be usable on Smart Objects. Second I’d like for each Smart Filter to come with it’s own mask, so that I can control it independently of the other filters. Limiting me to one mask for all filters is just painful.

Conditional Actions

Out of all of the updates to Photoshop in 13.1 I’m probably most excited about Conditional Actions. Conditional Actions are going to give you an amazing amount of control when it comes to automating your workflow, and I’m super excited to create some tutorials using these things. While I find the conditions to be somewhat limited out of the gate, I think that Adobe will continue to expand on these capabilities, so this is just the beginning. Right now you can have an action recognize things like whether or not an image is portrait or landscape, if it’s RGB vs CMYK, or even if you’re currently working on the background layer of a file. All of these are going to make it so much easier to create Actions in Photoshop and will (hopefully) help Photoshop determine which action should be played, and when, based on the criteria that you set. A+ on this one, Adobe.

Crop Tool Enhancements

If you’re like me, then the changes to the Crop Tool in CS6 really threw you for a loop at first. Well, Adobe has (seemingly) heard our cries for help and has added some functionality into the Crop Tool that will hopefully alleviate some of our pain. Now the Crop Tool offers options for setting a ratio based crop (i.e. 16:9 or 4:3) or doing a Width, Height, Resolution crop wherein you control the width of the file, the height of the file and the resolution of the file independently. There are also some new presets in the Crop Tool including something called “Front Image” which allows you to use the current image you’re viewing to determine the crop for all other images you have open. While these refinements are small, I think they were much needed for this tool that almost everyone uses on daily basis.

3D Improvements

Last, but not least, are the changes to the 3D capabilities of Photoshop CS6 Extended. I’ll just tell you up front, I’m not a 3D guy, and these tools mean very little for my day-to-day workflow, but I can see how 3D artists would be interested in such things. The new enhancements include improved raytracing support, improved refraction, and a 32-bit color picker. Again, this is really outside my realm of expertise, so I will reserve judgement on these features.

Bottom Line…

The bottom line is that Photoshop remains one of the most powerful and popular image editing programs in the world, and Adobe is doing whatever they can to keep it at the front of the crowd. The only problem I have is that Adobe may be trying to ask too much of its flagship image editor. Photoshop now does pixel imagery, vector art, 3D, and even video… There are several pieces of the Creative Suite that do those things already, and they do them quite well. My fear is that Adobe runs the risk of Photoshop becoming a “Jack of all trades” and a “master of none.” If they would focus on improving the core functionality of the image editing portions of Photoshop and deliver on some more “magical” features that we’ve come to expect over the years (i.e. Content Aware Fill, etc.) then I think that Adobe and the Photoshop product would be much better off.

If you want to view some of these new features in action, head on over to the official Photoshop YouTube Channel.