Adobe brings 3D printing to Photoshop CC

In the update now available, Creative Cloud subscribers will see a boatload of enhancements to Photoshop -- including some interesting support for 3D printing -- and some minor changes for InDesign and Illustrator.

Adding to the program's existing 3D capabilities, the latest version of Photoshop CC will import files with user-selectable scales and dimensions. Screen capture by Lori Grunin/CNET; 3d model by Yowan 2008 on deviantArt

Watching 3D printing evolve reminds me of the nascent days of desktop publishing -- now complete that deja vu with Adobe jumping into the market. The company thinks 3D printing is on the cusp of going mainstream and sees a coming inflection point in the consumer market once full-color printers, full-color content, and a robust marketplace for third-party downloadable models emerges. Adobe sees its role as providing the tools for helping generate the full-color content -- that makes sense given its users and applications.

Yes, Windows 8.1 now has built-in support, but here's the rub: the 3D API in Windows 8.1 expects a well-formed model. Per Microsoft, "The 3D model and texture data are considered an opaque stream by the API, and there is no validation or parsing of any kind." Basically, it's treating 3D printing the way it treats modern 2D printing, but 3D printing is still at the primitive state 2D printing was when one needed to understand PostScript to figure out why things weren't working.

The 3D print settings panel. Screen capture by Lori Grunin/CNET

Photoshop's current 3D tools are primarily designed for prettying up existing 3D models, not for creating models themselves. Adobe's potential value-added to the workflow: automatically make a model printable. When you send it to a 3D printer, Photoshop will find holes in meshes, walls too thin to print, and can automatically generate necessary support structures. Through partnerships with Shapeways, MakerBot, 3D Systems and Zcorp, Photoshop includes profiles for selected output devices that allow it to apply and preview applicable materials. You'll also be able to share the models on Behance using Sketchfab. However, it doesn't yet work with the Windows 8.1 3D print API.

Updated January 24, 2014: Adobe also offers an Action for creating Lithophanes, among other downloadable 3D content.

Other new features
While 3D printing is probably the buzziest new feature, there's a host of other new features for people still operating in two dimensions.

Probably the flashiest is Perspective Warp, which, as its name implies, allows you to sort of change an image's perspective by pushing and pulling corners of a mesh overlay. This feature reminds me of the initial rollout of the Content Aware technology: it demos well, but can be tricky to use, and only works well under limited conditions. It seems more optimized for compositing.

As you'd expect from a first version, the Perspective Warp has some bugs, like the inability to get to pins that have fallen outside the work area. Screen capture by Lori Grunin/CNET
The new Perspective Warp tool takes some skill to prevent problems like this, especially when planes in the image overlap rather than abut, which the tool can't handle. Screen capture by Lori Grunin/CNET

The more subtle feature updates seem more compelling to me. Photoshop finally supports linked file and object placement -- a core capability in applications like InDesign and Illustrator -- in addition to embedded as Linked Smart Objects. (If the linked file is missing it maintains an embedded version of a flattened proxy image.)

Architects and landscape designers will probably like the new script pattern which generates custom trees. There are also new picture frame and pattern-along-a-path scripts. Screen capture by Lori Grunin/CNET

Adobe claims updates to its Mercury Graphics Engine and OpenCL support work to deliver better performance in some of the more processor-intensive filters like Smart Sharpen, Liquify and Puppet Warp. I'm not a big user of those filters and I updated my software before I could compare before/after, but they seem fairly responsive. And among the variety of tweaks, the ability to add more than 4 color sample points per image and a recently-used color row in the Swatch panel make me chair dance just a little, while an increase to 255-character layer names will do the same for some other folks. There are also some bug fixes for Generator.

Illustrator and InDesign

To my mind, the most universally appealing update to appear in this version of Illustrator is the ability to drag paths in the middle to change the arc; because of the path-based architecture of Illustrator, it's taken Adobe far too long to implement this key capability, which competitors like CorelDraw have had for years. Along the same lines, and also quite late, Illustrator now supports Live Corners, the ability to drag corners to adjust rounding, with options for the type, rounding, and a text-entry box for an exact value.

More novel, but useful, additions include the ability to export responsive SVG files -- graphics automatically encoded to scale within a liquid layout. You could previously set the pencil tool to smooth curves as you draw, but Adobe tweaked the settings from a pair of controls (smoothness and fidelity) to a single accurate-smooth continuum slider, and now the tool will now draw a straight line using the same shift-draw convention as the path tool. Adobe has enhanced the refine path option (for redrawing a pencil path) so that it works better, as well.

If you're using InDesign to create interactive content, you can now autogenerate a hyperlink from text via the context menu, and when you do so the application automatically creates a link character style. And when you open a file, if there are missing fonts it will let you sync them from the cloud on-the-fly -- as long as they're Typekit fonts, and as long as the recipient is a CC subscriber.

Typekit integration continues. While it's still not quite seamless, it does look a bit more convenient. Now you can initiate a typeface-hunt on the Typekit Web site from within Illustrator and InDesign rather than launching through the Creative Cloud Desktop or your browser.

While Adobe makes a big deal about Typekit's "800+" font choices (and it actually lists 938 at the moment), I take that with a grain of salt. Only 210 have desktop sync options, and there are a chunk that at best serve niche uses -- 14 script, 32 decorative -- and at worst are unusable. And the site itself could still use work: you can't enter numbers as sample text, and there don't seem to be any ornaments or dingbats (and if they are there, you can't find them). To put it in context, a site like MyFonts offers more than 12,000 faces. It only has 3 partners for bringing over existing licenses. I'm not saying that Typekit is a bad option or that it's a bad implementation, just that what may sound like a lot of choice isn't really. Adobe's adding fonts at a reasonable rate, however: over 100 last quarter. But the typography licensing world still feels pretty anarchic.

In an interesting move, Adobe will be resetting its 30-day trials of Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and Muse to give tried-it-but-unmoved-to-subscribe users a second chance to be wowed. Of course, like many similar deals designed to make the buy seem like a urgent bargain, Adobe keeps extending its "limited-time" offer of $10/month for the Photoshop/Lightroom/20GB subscription for CS3-and-later owners. Time to check them out again?

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