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Photoshop CS6 Beta: What You Need To Know

Today Adobe announced the public beta for Photoshop CS6. If you haven’t already downloaded it, you can check it out on Adobe’s website. Photoshop CS6 introduces several new features and UI changes which will take some getting used to, so I decided to write this article detailing those which I believe are the most important. I’ll also give my thoughts on Photoshop CS6 as a whole, at the end. If you want more info on the new features of Photoshop CS6 and how to use them, check out Deke McClelland’s FREE Beta Preview Course at lynda.com.

1. The New Dark Interface


The dark interface (ala Adobe Premiere) is being introduced in CS6 for the first time… Personally, I love the new dark interface. I think it really draws your eyes away from the surrounding application and forces you to engage with your work. However, I realize not all of you will be enamored with this change. Lucky for you, Adobe has provided an easy path back to the old look. Go to your Preferences (cmd/ctrl+K) and navigate to the Interface Tab. Once inside the Interface Tab you choose your color preference from the options along the top row… Bingo. You’ve just reset Photoshop to look like its old self!


2. The Layers Style Dialog Box Rearranged

If you jump into the Layers Style Dialog Box, you’re in for a nice shock. All of the items you’ve known and loved for (basically) the few versions of Photoshop have been completely rearranged (see pic below). I’m all for UI changes, if they serve a purpose… What purpose this change serves is beyond me though. Unfortunately there is no way to turn this off or rearrange the options yourself, so it’s best if you start committing the new order to memory now.

3. Mini Bridge Relocated

For those of you who are fans of the Mini Bridge, don’t panic, Adobe didn’t do away with it… They just moved it. Mini Bridge, by default, is now docked to the bottom of the UI with the Timeline Panel. As is the case with all panels in Photoshop, the Mini Bridge can be ripped out of this bottom position and re-docked anywhere you like. If you don’t see Mini Bridge on screen, go to Window>Extensions>Mini Bridge to bring it back up.

4. Repousse is No Longer Repousse

In CS5 Adobe introduced 3D Repousse, a feature which allowed you to extrude text into a 3D shape. In CS6 Repousse has been killed. The feature still exists, but the weird name is gone. Now in order to extrude your text into the third dimension you go to 3D>New 3D Extrusion From Selected Layer. Yeah, that’s SO much easier to say/remember… Right?

5. The Filter Menu is Streamlined

One of the great things about the CS6 interface is the filter menu… Adobe has completely streamlined it and put more of the “commonly used” filters towards to the top for easier access. You’ll also notice a new filter called Oil Paint which used to live in Pixel Bender filters which were available on Adobe Labs. Filter Gallery is at the top of the list because Adobe feels many people do (or should) use it more often because it’s a great one-stop-shop for adding multiple filters to an image or for finding the most common filters easier.

6. The Crop Tool is Way Different

Another quirky, yet awesome, feature of Photoshop CS6 is the revamped Crop Tool. You really have to see it in action to truly appreciate its awesomeness, but basically you get a realtime preview of your crop as you go, and you’re able to control what type of grid/guide system you use to crop as well (see below). Like I said, you’ll have to see it in action, but don’t freak out if it doesn’t work the same as the old version.

7. All-New Vector Layers

Photoshop is traditionally a raster-based image editor. This means that it deals with pixels and is completely resolution dependent. However, in CS6 Adobe has come up with Vector Layers which are meant to replace Vector Shape Layers and they give you the ability to change both fill and stroke of objects that you draw inside of Photoshop. Be sure as you’re drawing shapes in CS6 that you check out the options bar. This is where you’ll change both the fill and stroke of shapes you draw, as well as have the ability to add dashes to lines… Awesome.

8. Character and Paragraph Styles

This is something that every designer has been clamoring for Photoshop to add for years… Well, it’s here. You now have the ability to use both Character and Paragraph Styles in Photoshop CS6. These work much the same way that they do in InDesign, so if you’re familiar with that, you’re all good. In order to find the Character and Paragraph Style Panel you should go to Window>Character Styles or Window>Paragraph Styles and both boxes will then pop up on your screen.

9. Revamped Adjustments Panel/Properties Panel

One of the things that drove me nuts in CS5 was the Adjustments Panel. The thing was huge and clunky and I found myself not using it very often. Now, in CS6 the Adjustments Panel has been streamlined to be nothing more than a series of buttons (which I like) and when you add a new Adjustment Layer (like Levels for instance) you will be able to control the settings of that layer by using the properties panel, which is very well done. Both of these panels can be found by going to Window>Adjustments and Window>Properties.

10. New Blur Tools In Filters

I’d have to say that one of the killer features of Adobe Photoshop CS6 are the new Blur Tools. Unfortunately, Adobe has nested these awesome filters in the standard Filter>Blur Menu structure. In my opinion these should be prominent on the top level of the Filter Menu just like Liquify or Filter Gallery. Until they do, you can access them by going to Filter>Blur and then selecting between the top-most options to see what kind of new awesomeness is available to you.

So… What do I think about Photoshop CS6 Beta?

For a beta release, Photoshop CS6 is actually pretty solid. No, I wouldn’t put it into use in a production environment right away, but it is stable enough to use on a regular basis for testing. All-in-all I’m happy with the changes Adobe has made in regards to the interface of Photoshop, but I’m not happy with a few things as well (the Layers Style Dialog Box for instance). As far as the new features go, here are my favorite new features (in order of importance).

  1. Autosave/Recover – This is something that Photoshop has been lacking for such a long time and now we FINALLY have it. Basically if you’re working on a file, Photoshop now creates and saves a temp file as you work. If the program quits unexpectedly or your computer crashes (theoretically) Photoshop then allows you to recover this file upon reopening the program, thus allowing you to get back to work without starting all over again… Hallelujah!
  2. New Blur Tools – These are killer features that save users a TON of time creating things like depth of field and tilt-shift looks on their photos. This proves that Adobe is listening to the market and following trends in the industry. Bravo.
  3. Improved and Simplified 3D Tools – For a guy like me, who isn’t a 3D artist, I appreciate the fact that Adobe is making these tools easier for everyday folks… Thanks!
  4. Character and Paragraph Styles – When they work, they’re awesome. Hopefully the mild bugginess that exists now will subside and the shipping version will be everything I dreamed it could be. Until then, it’s a nice start!
  5. The Interface – Yeah, it’s not really a feature, but c’mon… It’s AWESOME. This really makes Photoshop look slick and more of a joy to work with. My one hope is that they translate this dark UI to all of the apps in the Creative Suite.
  6. Content Aware Move – This one makes the list for one reason… It’s cool. I’m not sure how practical it is, and it still has a LONG way to go before it becomes a serious part of anyone’s workflow, but again it’s a step in the right direction.

As you can see, I’m not thrilled with anything in this release, but I think we all have to come to a realization that Photoshop has reached a point where we can no longer expect earth-shattering innovation with each release. Instead, I think we can expect more evolution than revolution from this point forward, and I’m ok with that. I say this because I firmly believe that Photoshop has become bloated and Adobe is trying to make it do way too many things. What I would like to see them do is to put more effort into refining the tools that already exist in Photoshop and make them even better. I love it when they tweak an algorithm for Content Aware Fill or change the way Shadow/Highlight works so that it doesn’t destroy my images… Why can’t we just focus on making this program do what it was originally designed to do, but do it better, faster, and more efficiently than before?

I’d love to know your thoughts as well. If you’ve downloaded and used the Photoshop beta or if you just have an opinion on Photoshop overall, please feel free to drop me  a line in the comments.



  1. Thanks for the thorough run-down, Justin. Perhaps Adobe will either explain the rationale behind changing the Layer Styles dialog, or switch it back. I’ll hold my breath on the latter. The Blur tools do sound pretty awesome, though– can’t wait to play around with those. Anyway, thanks again for a well-written and concise article. Kudos! ~Russ

    1. I doubt we’ll ever get a rational statement about why the change was made, but maybe we’ll get some kind of explanation… I see NO logical reason to do this other than doing it for the sake of shaking things up… Sad.

      1. They are rearranged so they are in order on how they sit on a layer. Bevel is on top which covers stroke, which will cover inner shadow which appears above inner glow and so forth. They all work this way already, but they are making it more consistent with function. In other words, how they affect the layer is mirrored in this ordering. It’ll still be weird to not go to the top for drop shadow and the bottom for stroke after all these years, but its not arbitrary.

  2. Justin,

    I’ve heard (a long while ago when CS6 was first mentioned by Adobe) that it would be a subscription service and would not have a stand alone install for your home system. I also heard that it would require you to have CS5 (or higher) to be eligible for the upgrade path vs a full installation. Is there any word if either of these rumors are true?

    I’m concerned considering I am currently running CS4 (Web Premium) and am looking at upgrading to a content-aware featured CS (either 5.5 which I can upgrade to now, or 6 when it comes out) but because of cost am not willing to upgrade to 5.5 and then 6.


    1. While I can’t comment in specifics (pricing etc.) I can tell you that you will still be able to buy a box copy of Photoshop for now. However the cloud model does make things more affordable in the long term.

      As for upgrades, Adobe revised this policy after the public outcry, so yes, they are providing an upgrade path from CS3-CS6… But in case they change that again, I’d upgrade ASAP!

    1. No, the beta does NOT replace CS5… It will install right along side of it just fine. When the beta period ends, you will need to uninstall CS6 and most likely run a cleaning script on your computer to get rid of all of its components. Then you may resume using CS5 as you normally would.

  3. Hi Justin.
    Do you think that the deblur filter plugin will be included in shipping version? It would be so useful for my shakiness lol

  4. I’ve found the beta to be quite nice so far. The one thing I’m loving is that I used to have problems with CS5 when switching between different color profiles or different printers. So much so that I’d use CS5 for the content-aware features and then switch back to CS4 for printing. Now CS6 prints just like CS4!! When printings multiple copies it does send them one at a time instead of telling the print driver the number it needs, but I’m hopeful that will be fixed in the full release.

  5. This is very informative Justin. There are some things in here I didn’t understand why it changed but I didn’t know about the 3D change. Thanks for that.

  6. Eye opening Justin, I think I really agree with you on the evolution photoshop is taking in recent time. The combination of too many things will make it weak on certain concentrations. I am just downloading the new CS6 but from your guide up there, I have a map to ride around already. When I have fully tried it out, I’ll form a better opinion then I guess. Thanks Justin.

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