CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Half-Life: Alyx Disney Plus Lizzie McGuire reboot Black Friday Apple Watch, Fitbit deals Joker sequel Walmart Black Friday 2019 Early Black Friday Deals

Photoshop on iPad is by turns fun, fantastic and infuriating

Follow the yellow-brick roadmap.

01-lori-ipad-cc
Sarah Tew/CNET

When it grows up, Photoshop on iPad will probably be great. At the moment, though, I see only a toddler that hints at its future potential. Adobe obviously spent a long time laying the groundwork for this generation of its mobile apps. But as time went on, and technologies changed, my expectations grew as well. So it was inevitable that at launch, it wouldn't quite live up to them. Adobe continues to preview its apps a long time before they become available, so now I'm looking forward to my inevitable disappointment when Illustrator on iPad ships.

Now playing: Watch this: Facebook's new logo, new Illustrator coming to iPad
1:25

Photoshop's great fun to fiddle with, especially as a trip down memory lane -- back to the glory days of creating drop shadows manually and fine-tuning selection edges by painting in the alpha channel. But fiddling gets old when you're trying to get work done. I continually hit annoying limitations. All of the additions are on Adobe's roadmap, but until they're available, it's not worth plonking down a subscription fee. (Effects and Smart Filters have placeholders in the interface, so presumably they're coming next.) Of course, if you already subscribe to Creative Cloud, there's no downside to booting it up and giving it a test drive.

A familiar-ish friend

Photoshop on iPad is clearly meant for pros, especially those already familiar with its desktop sibling. The high price of at least $10/month standalone or as part of one of the subscription options is a dead giveaway for that, as is the interface which will likely confuse neophytes. 

Its core set of features consists of masking, retouching and some ancillary features, like blend modes, that you need to put it all together. While there are a large handful of brushes, for example, they're not nearly as customizable as in Fresco or desktop Photoshop. It does inherit the great brush eraser from Fresco, which lets you erase with the same brush you painted with.

To be fair, there aren't a lot of direct competitors for this. The closest is probably Affinity Designer. That has more of an illustration bent, combining vector and bitmap graphics, but with a far more developed feature set. Photoshop Mix, Adobe's free, consumer-focused app, actually has a big overlap in features -- and in some cases, better fleshed-out capabilities -- but lacks masking tools.

Figuring out exactly how the masks work, how they differ from what you may be used to, and the workarounds needed to compensate for limitations, is the biggest time sink in becoming proficient with Photoshop on iPad. But Adobe supports the keyboard shortcuts we're used to, for a connected Bluetooth keyboard, in order to speed things up. It's invaluable for things like nudging or reselecting.

Photoshop on iPad's interface. Unsurprisingly, it's a lot like Fresco's.

Lori Grunin/CNET

Performance is generally excellent, even when working on large files. And it needs to be, because file sizes balloon fast. I never realized how much so until I found myself waiting for some of these cloud documents to download on open, even on great Wi-Fi; my largest file was about 380MB, and that's nothing compared to what most pros generate. Plus, there are exceptions to that speediness, like manipulating text, which I found laggy enough that it made placing it precisely frustrating, or painting with big brushes inside selection areas.

Aside from the occasional first-version glitches, the interface operates smoothly as well.  Aside from the keyboard shortcuts, it also has a touch point that modifies the selected tool (like Fresco) and the usual gesture support. Because the screen is so small, a lot of options are buried in scrolling panels and overflow menus to keep from overwhelming the workspace, though you can move the shortcut spot and contextual-tool option pane to get them out of your way. You don't need an Apple Pencil to work in it, but it helps, especially if you fatfinger a lot like me.

Behind the mask

Sadly, masking can be quite cumbersome, and the selection tools are terrible: there's a rectangle, an oval, a lasso and automask, which is your only option for anything beyond the tedious manual work of selecting complex edges. 

But there's no feathering, antialiasing or refine controls for automask, and those other three 30-year-old tools only have feathering.  You can't fine tune automasking's sensitivity threshold for determining what constitutes a match, the same drawback that applies to the only other selection shortcut, select similar. And forget about creating a mask from a complex grayscale image. Photoshop Mix has better tools. 

Want to copy a mask from one layer to another? You can't just cut and paste it. In fact, you can't replace the contents of a layer in any way, which adds to the file size problem unless you're constantly managing layers. Every paste or import creates a new layer. 

Or maybe you'd like to add some text? On one hand, Adobe supports iPad OS' new font interface, so you can download and install any non-native font on an as-needed basis. Woo hoo! But beyond that, if you need any typographical tools -- even something as basic as line spacing -- it's back to the desktop application. On the roadmap! Creating text effects manually was fun until I needed to edit the text. Then, not so much fun anymore.

Because there's no way to copy a color or save a swatch, I just said "what the heck!" and made all the reds different rather than memorizing the hex code for it.

Lori Grunin/CNET

There's no way to rotate the entire document if you've decided it needs to be landscape instead of portrait. You can't set crop aspect ratios. There are no alignment tools. There's no easy way to import another Photoshop file. No swatches so you can reuse colors for consistency. Roadmap, roadmap, roadmap, roadmap, roadmap.

I'm not a huge fan of cloud documents yet, either. They save automatically, which I kind of understand. But it means if you've accidentally, say, resized a layer on your way out of the app -- something I've done multiple times in this and in Fresco and only realized when I saw the thumbnail update -- you have go to your personal assets site to restore to a previous version.

And those are only a subset of the issues I ran into in less than a week of use. But you get the idea.