This week Adobe officially unveiled the latest version of Photoshop and the rest of their Creative Cloud applications. Now that I’ve had a few days to digest all of the new features and explore them in-depth, I thought I’d give you my full review here on my blog. This release of Photoshop seems to be mostly design-focused, but there’s actually quite a bit in this release for just about any creative professional.
Multi-page PSD files have always been a pipe dream for designers, but with the release of Photoshop CC 2015 it appears Adobe has finally heard their cries. I must admit that when I first saw the new artboards in action, I was less than impressed. In fact, I thought they got the implementation wrong altogether. Having been an Illustrator user for so long now, I just didn’t get the choices they had made, but once I got my hands on it… Wow.
The best way to describe artboards in Photoshop is to liken them to the way groups worked in the layers panel in previous versions. Each dartboard acts as its own group and can contain a completely separate set of layers within it. You can open and close the contents of each of your artboards just as you would a layer group as well. This is very intuitive for those that’ve been using Photoshop for several years, and they’ve even made it easy to convert your existing documents that use layer groups into an artboards document.
In order to manipulate and add new artboards you must use the new Artboard Tool, which at first is somewhat difficult to find. It’s nested within the same toolbar slot as the Move Tool, and in order to access it you must either use the keyboard shortcut (v) or press and hold on the Move Tool and then select it from within. I’d say this is the one complaint I have about this new feature right now. Adobe needs to do a better job of making this tool visible to new users, and with artboards being such a big new feature I think it should have its own dedicated slot on the tools panel just like the artboard tool in Illustrator. Granted this isn’t much of a complaint, but it was a significant paint point when I first started using the feature.
Alongside the artboards in Photoshop comes a whole new group of document presets, and for once they actually include most of the modern devices you would expect (even the Apple Watch). This is a far cry from previous versions of Photoshop where the “web” preset contained screen sizes that might have been suitable had it been released in 1997. There are two categories for screen designers called “Web” and “Mobile App Design”. Both of these categories contain a nice variety of screen sizes and devices, so it should be relatively easy for designers to jumpstart their next project without having to worry about plugging in arbitrary numbers into the width and height fields.
The second big ticket item in the Photoshop CC 2015 release is something called Design Space. Before we get into what it is and how it works, I think it’s important for you to understand that this is what Adobe calls a “technology preview” which basically means it’s a beta feature that may not be feature-complete right now. That being said, Design Space is a completely reimagined UI design aimed at web/mobile app developers, and while it’s limited right now, the possibilities of this new approach from Adobe are really exciting.
In order to use Design Space you must first enable it through your preferences (see above). Once enabled Photoshop will then jump you into this new user interface that might be a little alarming at first. The interface is very flat and dark with a minimal set of tools that are meant to eliminate clutter and reduce the normal friction that designers face when using Photoshop proper.
What I like about Design Space is the easy access it gives me to the tools that I use most for wireframing a project. I can draw vector shapes like rectangles and ellipses without having to click and hold any toolboxes or remember keyboard shortcuts, and I love the fact that the selection tool triggers a series of contextual style panels depending on what kind of object you have selected. This makes it transitioning between objects and tools super simple.
Another amazing feature of Design Space is the ability to swap locations of objects. Let’s say, for instance, that you had several buttons laid out in your UI, but the client comes back to you and says he wants Button A swapped with Button B. Traditionally this would require quite a few moves within the layers panel and possibly the alignment panel as well. Now it’s a simple click of a mouse and those buttons instantly swap places. This alone is enough for me to start using Design Space more often.
My only real issue with Design space is its lack of functionality. I can’t quite put my finger on what it’s missing, but it feels a bit incomplete. That being said, I’m well aware that this is just a preview, so I’m sure that this will get better over time as new iterations emerge. For the most part I think this is a solid first start, and I think designers should give it a try if they’re looking for a faster way to work with Photoshop.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the Save for Web dialog box, Adobe delivers a catastrophic blow with its all-new exporting features. They’re touting this as a modernized Save for Web experience, and it truly does deliver on that promise.
You can choose to export single layers, entire artboards, or whole documents using this feature, and it’s accessible either by right clicking on the object you want to export in the Layers Panel or by going to File>Export>Export As. This is the method that gives you the most control because you can specify file type and compressions settings, but there’s also a Quick Export feature that allows you to simply right-click an object in the Layers Panel and instantly save it out as PNG, JPG, GIF, or SVG (depending on your preference settings).
What really impressed me was the new compression capabilities of this feature. In a small test run I was able to cut the file size of a JPG image in half by using the new export features in Photoshop CC 2015 versus that of the Save for Web dialog in Photoshop CC 2014. That might not seem like a huge deal to some, but to web designers who are constantly monitoring file size and trying to trim it down, this is going to be a game changer.
If you’ve ever wanted to add multiple instances of the same Layer Style to an object in Photoshop… Congratulations, today is your lucky day! There’s not much to say here, honestly, but it is worth noting. Now you can add up to 10 instances of select styles to your Layers. The feature is currently limited to Strokes, Inner Shadows, Color Overlays, Gradient Overlays, and Drop Shadows, but for most people I think that’s more than enough. I would’ve been happy with just multiple drop shadows alone, so the rest just feel like a bonus to me.
If you want to apply these new styles simply double-click on the right-hand side of your layer to open up the dialog above, and then click the plus sign next to any of the supported styles to add another instance. Each new style is independently configurable and you can add/delete styles at any time as well. While it might not be the flashiest feature in the 2015 release, this is still a welcomed addition in my book.
Finally, Photoshop has a Glyphs Panel! For people who are serious about typography, this is a major addition to the 2015 release, and I am definitely excited about it too. I’ve heard many people gloss over this feature when talking about the latest version of Photoshop, but this feature is something that I’ve been hoping to get for a while now.
The main reason I’m excited about this feature has little to do with traditional typography, however. I’m more interested in its ability to enable me to work more efficiently with icon fonts like Font Awesome. Up until now my Font Awesome workflow consisted of me opening up a web page that contained all of the icons within the font and then copying and pasting them one at a time into Photoshop. This, as you can imagine, was less than ideal, and it was another motivating factor for me to move to Illustrator for my web projects. Bravo to whoever finally pulled the trigger on this one!
Content-Aware Filled Panoramas
Ever since the iPhone gave me the capability to shoot panorama photos, I’ve been hooked. I take panos on al of my vacations and business trips to help me capture more of the scenery around me. Recently, however, I’ve been toying around with shooting panoramas with my digital SLR, which is a little bit more labor-intensive than just shooting with my camera phone. With a DSLR I have to take individual photos and then stitch them together in Photoshop. Don’t get me wrong, Photoshop does a tremendous job of stitching the photos and manipulating the images that it looks like one giant scene instead of several snapshots, but there’s always several areas around the photo that appear unfilled, and that’s always been disappointing to me.
Generally when this happens I would just make a selection of the unfilled areas and then use the content-aware fill option by using the Edit>Fill command. Well, now there’s a little checkbox that allows me to tell Photoshop to automatically fill any empty areas using the content-aware fill method. This is just another way that Adobe is trying to streamline common workflows within Photoshop, and while the content-aware fill isn’t always as accurate as I’d like it to be, I think this little checkbox is a great addition to an already powerful feature.
In every version of Photoshop there’s always at least one “holy s%$!” feature that makes me wonder whether or not Adobe has engineers or actual wizards working in their laboratories. In this release, that feature is the new Dehaze setting that has been added to Camera Raw. Basically this allows you to take an image that normally would look like complete crap and transform it into something a bit more usable. Just take a look at the example above. The original shot almost looked like a complete washout, but after the Dehaze and a little vibrance, the image started to come back to life, much to my amazement.
I’ve found that this feature works really well on RAW images (naturally), but it also does a fairly decent job with JPG images as well. The only difference being that I saw some slight banding in the JPGs that I tested, but that was easily smoothed out by other means later. For wildlife, nature, and street photographers this is going to be a nice little addition to your digital tool belt, and the best part is that you can add it non-destructively as a Smart Filter.
I first saw this feature demoed at one of Adobe’s MAX conferences, and I remember thinking that it was cool, but that it probably wouldn’t ever ship. Well, once again, I’m wrong and this feature is right on the money.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the new features of Photoshop CC 2015. You can check out the full release notes here for more information. These are simply the features I was interested in and had time to try. For the most part I think that Photoshop CC 2015 is a solid upgrade for just about any Photoshop user. However, designers were the clear winner this year with all of the new and exciting features that were geared towards their workflow. That is why I said on Twitter recently that this is the most significant update to Photoshop for designers in a very long time, perhaps even since Layers were introduced. Adobe has laid a great foundation on which to build new and exciting things for the design community, and I fully expect that to continue in the future.
I’ve seen many people discount this release because they didn’t feel like Adobe added anything for them specifically. What you have to understand is that Photoshop has become a bigger animal than we ever imagined it could be. You might even argue that too much has been added to the program over the years, and I’d have a hard time disagreeing with you. That being said, look at all the enhancements Adobe has added to Photoshop and the Creative Cloud as a whole over the past two years. They’re iterating at a faster pace than they ever have before, and I think they’re doing one hell of a job at keeping up with today’s creative workforce. It’s also important to remember that while this is the official 2015 release of Creative Cloud, we will undoubtedly see more updates before 2016 rolls around. That’s the beauty of the Creative Cloud platform, really. Adobe can drop features whenever they want, so don’t be surprised if you open up your apps later this Fall and see a whole slew of new updates waiting for you.