With every release of Adobe Photoshop, I find new and exciting tools and techniques that enhance and assist my daily workflow. Photoshop CS6 is no exception. This release of Photoshop has the biggest additions and improvements that I have seen since I started using the application many years ago.
I use Photoshop on a daily basis for teaching, retouching images from photo shoots, designing assets for websites, and many other projects. Each release of Photoshop makes me a better designer — not just because of the cool new features but also because of the workflow enhancements that give me more time to be creative by streamlining time-consuming tasks.
While some upgrades may seem small — such as changes to the workspace, menus, and panels — those small improvements can save me a lot of time compared to using earlier versions. These enhancements have really made me think about how I bill clients. In the past, I used an hourly rate for retouching or illustrations, but with the time I save using Photoshop CS6, I am now considering moving to a project-based billing method instead.
In this article, I share a few of my favorite new features in Adobe Photoshop CS6 (in no particular order) along with some noteworthy, and still relevant, features from past versions. The project I use to show off some of these features is an image of a model that I recently shot at Photoshop World. I wanted to create a more interesting piece, and the new tools in Photoshop CS6 were a big help.
The most noticeable change in Photoshop CS6 is the darker interface (see Figure 1). While it took me some time to get used to this new look, I find that I can now work for longer periods of time in Photoshop, and I can focus more on my image instead of on my workspace. The new interface is immersive, and it is great for anyone who works long hours with an image.
At first, I thought that Content-Aware Move was more fun than functional, but now I have come to rely on it. Content-Aware Move enables me to easily replace content in my photo with a precise and seamless patch. The ability to sample all layers enables me to preserve the original image. This nondestructive option has quickly made Content-Aware Move one of my go-to retouching techniques. Having the relocated object on an additional layer also enables me to quickly create versions. I can show the original image on the left side of my screen and the patched image on the right side so I can quickly compare both versions.
Figure 2 shows Content-Aware Move in action. In previous versions of Photoshop, I had to copy a layer or a portion of a layer, mask the image, move it to the new position, and then repair the original area to achieve this effect. Now I can simply select and drag a portion of the image to a new position to achieve the edit I want.
Background Save enables me to keep working while saving large files, and auto-recovery works behind the scenes to save my edits without interrupting my progress. Auto-recovery has already saved me more than once. Let me be clear: This is not an alternative to saving often, but it does come in handy. Anyone who has experienced a crash or lockup when working on a large file will appreciate auto-recovery right away. I also like the option in Preferences to set how often it saves. (I have mine set to save every 10 minutes.) And with the Background Save feature, I no longer have to wait for the progress bar to finish before I can resume working on my image. I can save often and keep working.
In previous releases, transferring brushes, actions, presets, and other settings was laborious and time-consuming. The new preset migration makes upgrading to Photoshop CS6 a snap. All the brush presets, settings, and workspaces I created in Photoshop CS5 automatically loaded in Photoshop CS6, and I was able to start working on projects right away. You can choose to migrate your presets the first time you launch Photoshop CS6, or you can migrate them later by choosing Edit > Presets > Migrate Presets.
When I have to manipulate an object in an organic fashion, such as bend an eyebrow or straighten a line on my photo, Puppet Warp is the answer. In the past, I would try to use the Warp transformation, Liquify, or a combination of both to bend items in Photoshop. It took a lot of time to perfect the results. But with Puppet Warp, I can pin joints and anchors to easily maneuver items into place. This is a huge time-saver.
In Figure 3, I wanted to add more rope candy hair, so I duplicated part of the original hair and used Puppet Warp to manipulate the new hair into different twists and twirls. The mesh is a great way to see the warp, but you can also turn it off in the Control panel to get an unobstructed view of your warp before you commit.
Puppet Warp is available in Photoshop CS5 and CS6.
The newest addition to the natural brush series is erodible brushes. With erodible brushes, I can simulate charcoal pencils or pastels to create original works of art or just to sketch something onscreen. The best part is that once I have eroded a tip to a point that I like, I can save it as a preset to use again.
Photoshop CS5 introduced natural brushes and the Mixer Brush, and the results have been stunning. Each brush enables me to not only manipulate the brush properties but also to control the media via the Control panel. I can simulate wet materials such as a fresh oil painting, or I can add bright color without mixing. I now create more original art and photo-based paintings because of the responsive control I get with the brushes and a Wacom tablet.
The savings from not having to buy a second software application to create fine art or sketch effects is worth the price of upgrading. I sketched the model's hair in the sample project with the Mixer Brush and erodible brushes, and I got great results. Figure 4 shows a close-up view of an erodible brush in action, and Figure 5 shows the final result. As I use the erodible tips, I can simulate a pencil sketch complete with the chiseled edges that are created as the tip wears down.
Erodible brushes are available in Photoshop CS6, and natural brush tips and the Mixer Brush are available in Photoshop CS5 and CS6.
The new Mercury Graphics Engine (added in version CS6) and 64-bit support (added in version CS5) have greatly increased the speed and productivity of Photoshop. These enhancements are instantly noticeable with onscreen adjustments and editing. There is no lag in the redraw. A great example of this is the Liquify filter. In Photoshop CS4 and CS5, I had to wait for the redrawn results each time I made a change on a larger file. Now redrawing is instantaneous and incredible. I have been able to work on much larger files with more layers, preserving my work nondestructively without the limitation of GPU processing lag. My post-production workflow has gone from an entire afternoon of processing in Camera Raw to a much more manageable few hours.
If you want to find out how to optimize Photoshop CS6 for peak performance, check out Adobe Product Manager Jeff Tranberry's blog post.
With all the press that Photoshop Touch is getting, you may have forgotten that there are other mobile apps for Adobe Photoshop. Adobe Eazel, Adobe Nav, and Adobe Color Lava are all available for the iPad in the Apple App Store. I rediscovered these apps recently and fell in love all over again. Adobe Nav enables you to create a second screen of tools for ease of use. You can even browse open documents. Color Lava lets you use your fingertips to mix colors and create custom swatches. It is very organic and easy to use. Once you have created your colors, you can instantly transfer them to Photoshop. And Adobe Eazel is a painting tool for your iPad that lets you access your artwork in Photoshop via a wireless network.
In the sample project, I used Color Lava to create different colors to interject into the model's hair and the candy (see Figure 6). I love the tactile feel of finger painting to mix my colors in Color Lava and then washing the finger clean with the water dish on the upper left corner of the interface. Then using Photoshop connectivity, I added the colors to my swatches and used them in the final piece.
These are just a few of my favorite features in Adobe Photoshop CS6, but I'm sure you have your own favorites. Keep the discussion going by posting them on facebook.com/photoshop.
Kevin Stohlmeyer is an Adobe Certified Instructor, user group manager, and Adobe Community Professional based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has been teaching Adobe products since 2000, both in higher education and at C2 Graphics Productivity Solutions. He has been featured in Photoshop User Magazine and is a NAPP member. You can find Kevin on Twitter @kstohl or on Facebook at facebook.com/kevin-stohlmeyer.