Editors' note: Shortly after this review appeared, Adobe changed its technical support policy, and we have made the appropriate changes to our review. For details, please see our corrections page.
Thanks to Adobe's continued refinement of Photoshop, the program retains its position as the essential image-editing tool for graphics professionals as part of the Adobe Creative Suite family. While Photoshop CS offers only a handful of new capabilities, they are important: increased support for 16-bit images, better color-correction and image-adjustment tools, nested layer sets, the ability to edit text on a path, nonsquare-pixel preview, SWF export (in ImageReady), and variables for dynamic Web content (in ImageReady). Most serious users will find at least one feature that justifies the upgrade despite its steep price. But using these tools correctly still takes some finesse; if you're in imaging for the fun rather than the high-quality output or money, you're probably better off with one of the $99 alternatives, such as , , or .
Routine best describes the Photoshop CS install process, and wary upgraders will be reassured to know that Photoshop CS happily coexisted with version 7.0 as well as previous versions of other Adobe apps during our tests. Other supporting files, such as custom Actions, also migrated without problem. Adobe now requires that you activate Photoshop CS within a month of installation, a relatively painless procedure. Of course, you never know the real hassle quotient of a product's activation scheme until you've upgraded hard disks a few times. (Click &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eadobe%2Ecom%2Factivation%2Fmain%2Ehtml" target="_blank">here for more information on activation.)
For photographers, one of Photoshop's most useful interface changes is the live, multichannel histogram display.
Aside from a new Welcome screen that provides a launching point for new or bewildered users, little has changed in the way Photoshop looks or operates. There are now more dialog boxes that allow you to toggle between simple and advanced views, which may make Photoshop a little easier for some users. But many new capabilities appear in places that make more sense to engineers than to artists; for example, "Export layers to files" appears under Scripts in the File menu rather than under Export or on the Layers palette. Add this confusing configuration to the offenses from previous versions--such as the placement of Extract under the Filter menu instead of the Image menu--as well as the program's innate complexity, and Photoshop's learning curve remains steep. Adobe has also improved Photoshop CS integration with ImageReady CS, an application used to prepare Web graphics. But ImageReady CS remains a separate program--an irritating speed bump on the productivity treadmill.
Some of Photoshop's new capabilities will brighten every user's day. Although targeted primarily at graphic designers, we think that with a little imagination, most people will derive some value from Layer Comps, which lets you define sets of visible layers for easy version comparison. Also, the ability to layer comes in quite handy if you routinely work on complex files, regardless of content type. Photoshop CS integrates InDesign's type engine, which vastly improves the program's type handling and quality and lets you fit text to a curve. We also like the ability to stack, rearrange, and preview stylistic filter operations with the Filter Gallery.
Photoshop's new Filter Gallery lets you experiment with how various effects will interact.
The slightly revamped File Browser works more like a light table, allowing you to move thumbnails around, and a variety of menu options make it quicker to access common file-related tasks. In addition, you can now customize the keyboard shortcuts. Adobe has also improved import and export to PDF within Photoshop.
Serious photographers and videographers will probably want to upgrade just for Photoshop CS's extended 16-bit color support: Photoshop can now preserve 16-bit data from input, through color and exposure correction, to output. Adobe has updated and integrated the very useful. New shadow/highlight correction tools provide an easy but powerful approach to exposure adjustment. The ability to preview using nonsquare pixels and preset guide layouts are a couple of additional crumbs Adobe throws to videographers and DVD authors.
Don't look to Photoshop CS for speed improvements over version 7.0. We ran our standard test Action--a script of common work-flow tasks--over a directory of 25 midsize TIFF files and a directory of 16 smaller JPEG files on a Power Mac dual 2GHz G5 with 2GB of RAM and a 2.2GHz Athlon 64 FX51 with 1GB of RAM. The TIFF-based Action ran slower in CS than in version 7.01 on both platforms; there was as much as a 16 percent gap between versions on the Mac. With the JPEG files, CS ran 20 percent faster than version 7.01 under Windows, but 6 percent slower on the Mac.
Beginning in February 2004, Adobe will offer free tech support for Photoshop CS installation and product defect issues over the lifetime of the product. The call isn't toll-free, however, so you will have to pay for any long-distance charges. For all other issues, there's Expert Support available at $39 per call or $159 per year for unlimited support calls. Additional Expert Support programs are also available for various price options.
Adobe Studio provides both free and fee-based content, such as tips and tutorials, videos, downloads, and forums.
However, there's a ton of free online help available for Photoshop users. In addition to the Adobe Studio site, which delivers tips, tutorials, and tools, Adobe's &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eadobeforums%2Ecom" target="_blank">user-to-user forums are monitored by competent support staff and offer a good track record. Adobe's &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eadobe%2Ecom%2Fsupport%2Ftechdocs%2F" target="_blank">knowledge base has rarely disappointed us.