Photoshop CS4 Extended brings 3D in a panel

November 07, 2008 |

Photoshop turned 18 this year. Not only has it been transmogrified into a verb (as in "I photoshoped you into my pictures"), it’s ready to go off to college. Adobe Photoshop has ventured far beyond its original mission into new horizons, such as medical imaging and, yes, architectural design, to become the industry standard in digital imaging software. With its latest version, Photoshop CS4 Extended, Adobe has completely re-created Photoshop’s user interface and thoroughly modernized the program for users and the Web world.

For its AEC users Photoshop Extended has added a completely redesigned, more powerful 3D modeling engine. Its new user interface, with customizable templates and a lessened need for drop-down menus, makes working with images much easier. Adobe has also leveraged new hardware advances in graphics and CPUs to make the one-time memory hog much faster. Processes that once took longer, such as zooming and canvas rotation, now take seconds.

CS4: How suite it is

Adobe Creative Suite 3 (CS3) was the first collection with applications such as Dreamweaver from Macromedia, which Adobe acquired in 2005. The 2007 release also gave more of a Macromedia look to all of the programs in the suite (Photoshop Extended, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat, Flash, Dreamweaver, and Fireworks), but many users still wanted more integration between programs like Flash and Photoshop Extended and a more consistent, Web-friendly interface.

The Photoshop CS4 Extended interface—and that of all the other applications in the suite—is a vast departure from CS3, with a true shared look and feel. Adobe’s workspaces are now much more configurable.

The application frame and toolbars have a uniform location across all applications. Commonly used commands such as pan, zoom, view, and the connection to Adobe Bridge CS4 (a separate photo organization program included with Photoshop) are easily accessed from Photoshop CS4 Extended’s new application framebar. Image files are displayed as tabs, just like Web pages. The heads-up display that came with the Macromedia acquisition has made Photoshop much easier to use if you have more than one monitor and multiple image viewing. Photoshop CS4 Extended is now automatically configured for multiple monitors in the box.

A new adjustments panel is docked by default into the palettes area on the right of the screen. Adjustment layers have been a part of Photoshop since version 4.0 (1996), but until now they had been hidden away in a menu, which meant that many users were not aware of one of Photoshop Extended’s best features. Using some adjustment layers, changes can be made to an image without destroying it. Adjustments made in layers can be altered or even removed without affecting subsequent adjustment or having to undo an entire editing process—but more importantly, your original image is kept intact by using these nondestructive adjustment layers.

With the adjustment layer panel out in the open on the main interface, Adobe speeds up workflow and offers best practices via nondestructive adjustment layers transparently. A second commonly used feature is Photoshop CS4 Extended’s masking feature. It has its own panel on the main interface, too. Both pixel and vector masks can be created and edited on the fly, with variable feathering and density.

The sponge, dodge, and burn tools, used for making spot corrections to exposure and color saturation in images, have all been enhanced to improve tonal quality. Changing the size of the brush on the fly is also much, much easier. You just hold the Alt key and the right mouse button allows the brush size to be adjusted smoothly and continuously simply by moving your mouse.

More power, faster processing

Photoshop has long been a notorious memory hog when working with large image files. The problem only got worse when 3D was added in Photoshop CS3 Extended. But by harnessing the power of a computer’s graphics card, Adobe has addressed the resources question and given Photoshop CS4 Extended a real power boost.

By using a gaming-inspired feature called graphical processing unit (GPU) acceleration, Photoshop CS4 Extended enhances page display, zooming, and panning of large image files. When you fire up CS4, it automatically detects the properties of your machine’s video card and enables GPU acceleration (assuming your video card supports it). By allowing the graphics card to help with opening and manipulating images, memory and RAM are freed up for other processes.

It’s now much easier to look at multiple images in Photoshop CS4 Extended because the load and opening time is faster. The new user interface also has a handy pull-down menu that allows you to arrange image files in two-up, three-up, and four-up views in side-by-side, top-to-bottom, and other views.

Fully integrated 3D

According to Bryan O’Neil Hughes, Adobe’s Photoshop product manager, comments from AEC users on Photoshop CS3 Extended focused mostly on the inclusion of 3D editing. "In Photoshop CS3 Extended it was an ‘in between’ program for 3D," said Hughes. "Now you have the control to do that in 3D with Photoshop CS4 Extended," he said.

The 3D engine has been completely redesigned for Photoshop CS4 Extended. You can now import 3D models as layers and manipulate them directly in the interface and paint directly onto a 3D model. For the first time you can apply 2D layers to the surface of a 3D model to superimpose images of walls, renderings, and other features onto a model. You can export 3D layers in all the 3D file formats that Photoshop CS4 Extended supports: U3D, OBJ, DAE (Collada), and KMZ (Google Earth).

Photoshop CS4 Extended has other new 3D features, such as the ability to rotate in 3D. You can also convert a 2D image into a postcard as if it were mounted on a card. Zooming in and out of the image is also smoother than it was in CS3. You can create your own 3D meshes, using pre-supplied shapes or by converting existing 2D layers into 3D meshes using depth maps in Photoshop CS4 Extended.

A note about 3D

: OpenGL is a software and hardware standard that accelerates video processing when working with large or complex images, such as 3D files. OpenGL requires a video adapter that supports the OpenGL standard. Your performance when moving, editing, and using any function that draws or renders pixels to the screen is significantly improved on a system with OpenGL installed when using Photoshop CS4 Extended. BD+C

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