Preview: Adobe Photoshop CS6 beta


Provides: Image enhancement, alteration, and creation
Developer: Adobe
Requirements: Mac OS X.6.8 or greater, Intel (1 GB ram), 2 GB of space
Premium Retail Price: Currently this is a free beta download from the Adobe Labs.

Photoshop didn't really have an update with the 5.5 build other than some bug fixing. That's why when some of the Adobe applications show CS5.5, PS showed CS5.1. That means that they've had a whole two years to develop CS6, and it shows. When CS5 showed up, the public was warned that a lot of developing time went into making PS 64 bit, not that the focus on 64 bit seemed to have slowed down their creativeness in that build. With CS6, we get some expanded filters, improved painting tools, enhanced content aware fill capabilities, a whole new way to deal with the distortion of wide angle lenses, and new video features that may make Premiere Pro look unnecessary for small projects.

Please note that the minimum OS is X.6.8.

The public beta has just been released so this means that everyone can download this new kettle of photographic tools and have a good look before it becomes available for purchase. And chances are you will want to purchase it. But please be aware, this is a beta and some features may not work properly, or there may even be a crash. But that's what's working with beta software is all about.

[Let me first say before I start the review about what's NOT in this release: this year at Adobe MAX, Adobe showed a "work in progress" feature: deconvolution, often referred to as "Deblurring." Deconvolution is where software will reverse-interpret any camera movement to remove camera blur. (As opposed to an out-of-focus lens blur.) As stated, it was a work in progress, but the progress isn't done yet so if that is the sole reason you may have to purchase this new PS, save your money and your time, don't read any further, leave, go away. On the other hand, if you do that, you will miss yet another great PS release, and you'll just have to wait longer before taking advantages of the new features in PS-CS6.]

Adobe software, just like almost everyone else in the software world has "code names" for their products in development, this one was no different. Why was the code name "Superstition?" Yes, this is Photoshop CS6, but if you counting from the actual version number, this is Photoshop #13. Now you know... But also keep in mind that this is beta software. That means that there may (and likely will be) issues. Things may crash, things may not work right, and it's also possible that there will be features that you see here in this beta that may not be in the final release. While unlikely, it could happen. Just to let you know...

beta splash screne

When first starting PS-CS6, if you have an older machine, you may get a notice (shown below) that your hardware will limit the full functioning of the software. This is because Adobe has pushed some of the calculations required to do certain operations onto the video card. By doing this, the speed of some operations has significantly increased. For example, with "Liquefy," standard practice was to select a small region of the image that you wanted to liquefy to speed up the operations. For example, if you wanted to adjust an eye from a full photo shot, you'd select the region around the eye, open that selected region in Liquefy, fix and close. Now that is no longer necessary: take the whole image, use a broad large brush, small brush, whatever, draw away and the effects show up in real time. We saw the beginnings of this in CS5 with such features as "Flick Panning," and the "Rotate View Tool," both of which used OpenGL. [Note: If you don't see any notice, there's no issue and ignore this paragraph.]

video card warning

When you first start PS-CS6 beta you will be assaulted on two accounts: a very dark interface and Adobe's Application Frame. Some people are going to like either or both of these and others will not. However, for discovery sake, Adobe chose to leave these turned on. Application Frame has been around for some time now but has never been the default setting. The App Frame creates more of a Windows-like dynamic where the application covers the entire screen preventing you from seeing behind. Some like this because it prevents distractions and helps you focus on what you are working on. Others prefer the ability to see and interact with other applications. Your call. If you like it, keep it, if you want the standard interface, go to the Windows (menu) scroll down to Application Frame, and by selecting it you will be unchecking it.

1st look

As far as the dark interface, again, personal preference and that's where you adjust this, the Preferences -> Interface. There on the top you will see four options from very dark to very light. Unfortunately there's no way to enhance or set the contrast, if you would like more, bug Adobe. I do encourage you to play with the four levels as some may dislike the dark initially but grow to prefer it while others may continue to fall back on the lighter interface that PS has had for years. Interestingly, most of Photoshop's Filters (more on that later) use the legacy PS color scheme.

As far as any third party filters, if they are not 64-bit, they will not work. So if you have any old filters that you are not willing to give up, you either will have to keep an older version of PS on your computer for those filters, pass on those filters, or hope that the filter's writers update their software.

As is common with new versions of Photoshop, it's hard to focus on any thread of features, per se. Rather, it's just easier to flitter from new feature to the next new feature and as such, that is what I'll be doing here. So, not in any order other than possible discovery, here are some of the new features in Photoshop:

Properties Panel

Yup, there's a new Panel in town, it's the Properties Panel. In CS5, you had the Adjustment Panel and the Mask Panel. In CS6 you still have the Adjustment Panel (but the Presets have been removed) but all the controls for the Adjustment Panel show up in the Properties Panel OR if you are working on masks, those also show up in the Properties Panel. In fact, when you are working on 3D items, some of those controls show up in the Properties Panel. While this may sound confusing, it can actually be very handy and convenient. For reasons that mystify me, the default layout has things spread out, but I find placing the Adjustment Panel just over the Properties Panel to be very effective.


One of the first shocks to your system is when you try to crop: everything you know and have been doing is now "different." First off, I do feel that this new system is better, but be advised that when you first start using it, if you have vertigo issues, beware. The main change is that as opposed to what you had before where the cropped overlay lay on top of the image and you moved this cropped overlay around, now you move the image and the center of the cropped overlay stays in place. The main advantage I can see right off is more efficient crop control as well as this approach brings PS in alignment to InDesign and Adobe Illustrator when you brought image in and cropping was done. [Note: if you get frustrated or just do not like the new approach, there is a gear icon in the Crop bar that lets you select "Classic Mode" which reverts back to the original dynamic. I do suggest you keep at this because it will pay off in the end.] But there's more:


One of the problems with the previous Crop behavior was that the default approach was always destructive. That is, when you cropped, you tossed all of the cropped pixels and they were gone forever Admittedly there was the ability to Hide/Delete but that required you to make the Background layer a standard layer. While this was easily done, it was not obvious and was frustrating to users seeing this feature grayed out all the time. Now there is a new check-box that simply says "Delete Cropped Pixels." When unchecked (and you are not deleting the cropped pixels), any cropping you do on your image will not toss any pixels. But BEWARE: if you now drag a cropped image with undeleted pixels onto another image, the whole image will appear, not the cropped region you just created (because you didn't delete the pixels).

One other issue about the new cropping approach is that now Photoshop automatically sets the background to "Layer 0" so that it can have transparency. The catch is that if the bottom layer isn't called "Background," you cannot save the file as a JPEG unless you flatten the image. This is no different than if you have more than one layer (also preventing you from saving as a JPEG, requiring a flattening of the image to proceed).

While changing the dynamic of Hide/Delete pixels, the Perspective Crop has also changed. Now, you will find two Cropping Tools, Crop and Perspective Crop. There's no difference in function with the new (Perspective) Cropping tool other than now you do not need to manually change the Background to Layer 0 to make it function.

Straightening images also has been improved: before, you had to use the secret handshake to access the ruler tool and drag out your "want to be horizontal" or "want to be vertical" line and then do a Straighten or the earlier "Edit (menu) -> Rotate -> Arbitrary." Now, while the Ruler tool is still there, there is a new Straighten tool in the Crop menu itself. What a novel idea: crop and straighten an image at the same location. Once you commit the straighted image, the image is rotate to your new horizontal or vertical straight and the edges are cropped clean (if Delete Cropped Pixels is checked). My only complaint here is that if you click on the straighten tool and then undo the change (to reset it), you have to re-click on the straighten tool. Small, but annoying.


By moving the straighten tool into the Crop tool, PS has freed the Ruler Tool (still with the Eyedropper Tool in the Tool Panel) to straighten a single layer free from the rest of the image. Very nice and very cool.

By the way, from the top image above you can see the option to display a "Rule of Thirds" grid on the image during the cropping. You can also show a simple Grid, Diagonal, Triangle, Golden Ratio, Golden Spiral, or nothing.

Adaptive Wide Angle

For me, one of the new exciting features is Adaptive Wide Angle. This is used to remove the edge distortion and correct the vertical/horizontal distortion caused when using a wide angle/fisheye lens. If you look at the top image shown below, you can see the effects of a wide angle lens (in this case, 10mm). The many columns are all angled up to a center point in the sky. While displaying the large size of the building, it also is rather disconcerting as to what the original image should look like.

The typical solution is shown in the 2nd image below, I used the Lens Correction (3 times) to tilt the image up to bring the columns to a vertical state (couldn't fix it all in one step). The problem is that this causes a tremendous amount of distortion on the image's sides. Look at the width of the banner seen on the bottom right of the image. Look how the columns vary in thickness as you go from the center to the left or right edges.

Finally, look at the bottom image, fixed in AWA. Upon initial observation, it's not all that different than the tilted-correction shown in the middle. But when you start to examine the edges and sides, the full benefits become obvious.

awa samples

To achieve this correction, you go into the AWA filter window and start to draw lines. As you draw out your lines, they will appear curved, following the distortion of the objects on the screen. Let go of the mouse and as the lines straighten, the image in the region of the lines straightens as well. If you shift-click the line after creation, it will snap to either vertical or horizontal. One suggestion: Adobe may suggest that you draw your line as long as the straight section on the image that you can see. What seemed to work better for me was to keep the line as long as possible and have it stroke across the straight line you can see. [Hint #2: Columns are often tapered, so "guess" the middle and draw your line through that middle.]

[One last last AWA suggestion: if you click OK and look at your image and see there are still some objects that remain un-straightened, you will have to recreate all of your lines. To avoid this, you can save your settings. Then when you look at your results, if you see something amiss, you can undo what you did, re-enter AWA, and load your previous settings. This is a handy thing to get into the habit of since your last settings are gone if you don't save them.]

And one last note: as you can see, you will lose some of your image if you want to fix the distortion regardless of what approach you take. As such, you really need to over-shoot your scene to make sure that after any alteration, you can see crop your image to the view that you wanted to take in the first place.

Adobe Camera Raw

Let me slip outside of Photoshop for a moment to mention Adobe Camera Raw. For those who've followed my reviews know I'm a big ACR fan. My admiration and appreciation has gotten bigger. Again, like much of PS, get ready for change. Just sit back and accept it, it's all good. When you open images that you've previously adjusted, you will see that large Exclamation Point on the lower right region of your image showing that a change is now available. We last saw this in CS5 when the newer 2010 process superseded the 2003 process. Click it and your image will go, well, ugly. What's happened is that all of the adjustments you've made in the past have been removed and you can now start fresh with the 2012 features.

[Note: if you want to keep your 2010 settings, before you do anything, go into the last tab in ACR (called Snapshots) and take a "snapshot" of that image. Then, whatever you do in ACR, you can always go back to this snapshot of your previous settings.]

Shown below on the left is how your controls looked in ACR v.6. On the right are the new controls found in ACR V.7. Notice that everything now starts from the centered position so that if you move the control to the left, that component becomes darker and to the right it becomes lighter. Also notice the change in order and names. The theory is that you are supposed to make adjustments top to bottom. For the most part I found this to be correct but occasionally I would have to double-back and make an adjustment out of order. What does make a difference is that each of these adjustments are dependent upon the one above it so that a movement of "x" amount will vary in the amount of its result depending upon how much you've adjusted the item above that option. But remember that the changes in these controls are only part of the changes in ACR v. 7. A whole lot has gone on underneath that let you recover vastly more data in the highlights than could be recovered before as well as significantly less haloing when using the Clarity slider than before. Almost every control can do things that just could not be done, or done as well before.

Notice also that in the Camera Calibration tab (bottom of the image below), you can select which process you want to work with from the original 2003 iteration to the current. I do suggest that if you do play with this you keep saving "screenshots" of each iteration because once you've changed your process, you can't get it back otherwise.


If you select either the 2003 or the 2010 settings as shown above, the controls you will see in the Basic ACR tab will be those you see on the above left. If you select the 2012 settings, you will see the controls on the right.

After the full Suite is released I'll probably do a full review on ACR, but suffice it to say, this is again, one of the biggest reasons to purchase Photoshop.


There are 11 different ways to "Blur" in Photoshop, no wait, make that fourteen. Three new ways have been added. When you select Blur from the Filter menu, sitting atop the previous set of Blur options, you will now find Field Blur..., Iris Blur..., and Tilt-Shift... When you select either of these, you will open up a new Model window that allows you to select from either of these options and/or combine them as your artistic heart sees fit.

Field Blur: You might think that this is nothing more than a Gaussian blur across the entire image, but it's not. Rather, than just blurring the image, it creates a circle at foci's points as shown below. Thus the look will be more like a depth-of-field focus issue as opposed to simply being "out of focus." Below you see some original "spots" on the left, Gaussian in the middle, and this new Field Blur of those same spots on the right.

gausian versus field blur

Field Blur can be used when you want the entire image softened. At that point you can either bring other images into layers on top of that or you can pre-select components of the image into their own layer and process the lower layers

new blur controls

The trick for using Bokeh in the Blur filter is to set the "Light Range" sliders so that the black and white sliders are almost on top of each other. That helps but doesn't save this feature. Even if you ignore the limitation that you cannot set the number of lens blades (everything shows up as simply round), the bokeh feature is just not satisfying.

Below you see how close you need to set the Light Range setting to get an OK bokeh. However, you do need to be patient. It doesn't make a difference if you manually drag the sliders or change them via the up and down arrow keys, there is a long time lag from the point you move the settings until the settings set. In the middle image below I found the bokeh across the water on the distant shore pretty much what I wanted. Unfortunately, a moment later it would shift to something that I wasn't pleased with. There was nothing I could do to achieve what I wanted. Also, the bokeh is set to effect a range of lightness as opposed to a specular highlight (which is what it's supposed to be doing). As such, it kept on effecting some wispy clouds (not shown in the images below) and the only way I could not have it effect the clouds was to select the clouds and place them in their own layer with the shed. Clouds do not have specular highlights, there should not have been any bokeh.

field blur examples

Iris Blur: lets you add a region inside your image of clarity while all around is blurry. You can alter the shape of this region from square to oval, you can rotate and resize the width and height as well as change the amount of the region that's in focus and how fast the transition to out of focus. In addition, if you so desire, you can add multiple regions of Iris Blurs.

iris blur

Tilt-shift blur: is good for nature scenes when your lens is not fast enough (or you just plain forgot) to obtain a limited depth-of-field. Like the Iris blur, you can adjust how much of the image is in sharpness, you can tilt these regions as well as vary the degree of transition. The regions above and below can be equal or lopsided and you can have more than one

tilt shift blur

While it's welcome to see these controls in Photoshop, and with the exception of the Bokeh controls they work quite well, I am not overwhelmed with them. At a minimum, it would have been nice if you had the option to create the effects onto a new layer, but that is not available. [You can still do this but you have to do it manually.] Also, there's no way to save any settings nor are the settings sticky so if you wish to generate the same level of blur across a small collection of images, get your pad of paper handy and get ready to write down the numbers. If you really want this kind of feature and want a more developed version (and are willing to pay some extra money), Alien Skins' "Bokeh" is a jewel.

Lighting Effects

While the new Blur features get standout-featured in the Filter menu, the new Lighting Effects are buried in the Render selection in the Filter menu. They are neither highlighted nor anything special, they are just there. This option opens into the same type of modal window as the Blur feature does, and similarly there are three options: Point, Spot, and Infinite. Each of these Lighting Effects share the same controls as shown below.

light effect controls

Point: As it's name implies puts a centered light source in your image that you can move, resize and using the controls above, effect in many ways.

point lighting effects

Spot: sets a spotlight like effect on your image. What's curious about the controls for this effect, your cursor's location controls what you can do all on the same "handle" as shown below the image below. As you move your cursor around each handle, a "tool tip" name shows up displaying what type of control you currently have. Rather than having these tool tip call-outs, I would have rather preferred to have a change in the cursor shape.

spot light effect

And finally Infinite: as it's name implies, Infinite lights up the entire image and with the controls you can achieve striking results [Note: the dark gray circle in the image below is only seen during the image manipulation process.]


The lighting effects are a result of Adobe Photoshop's 3D work. What's very curious about the Control Panel is that on the bottom you can see a Panel called Lights and the implication is that you can add various "Lights" effects together and turn them on or off during your creation process. No can do. You can only have one light effect on each image and there doesn't seem to be any way to mix and/or match.

Vectors and Paths

Vectors and Paths are now, well, vectorish and pathish. If you look in the image below, note that when you create a Shape, that shape doesn't have to be black with no stroke. Now you can fill with colors, gradients, whatever and the stroke can have thinness, gradients, colors, even dots or dashes.

vectors and paths


Oh, did I mention that now Photoshop can do automatic saves and saves in the background (so you can start the saving of a large image and then immediately start to work on another while the first one is still saving). This also means crash protection, you wont lose all of your work on those rare times that PS crashes or the power goes out.

Filters in the Layers Panel

It's a interesting truth, but a number of people who use Photoshop, do not use Layers. That to me is sort of like using Google to find a restaurant but then grab a yellow pages to find the phone number to call the restaurant and find out where the restaurant is located. But I digress. I suppose the other end of this are the people who have dozens or even hundreds of layers. One of the common problems they encounter are finding what they are looking for. Naming the layers helps, but even that only goes so far when you have many many layers to look through.

Coming to the rescue are layer filters. At it's basic level, starting from the "Kind" selection, you can limit the display to bit-mapped, filters, text, vector, and Smart Objects. (That last icon displays red on top whenever the filter is on. If you want to keep your selection but see all of the layers, you can click on the sliding red tab to turn off the filtering.) Name lets you search by the filters name. Effect let's you find the layers dealing with (say) Bevel and Emboss, Satin, or Drop Shadow (amongst others). Mode let's you select layers specific Blending Modes. Attribute lets you find the locked, unlocked, clipped, etc. as well as the not-locked, not-empty, not-clipped, etc. And lastly, Color lets you select layers that you had color coded.

layer filters

While this feature is irrelevant to some PS users, it will be absolutely essential to those who create many layers.

Type Styles

Type has received a big bump in PS. While I don't recommend you write the great American novel in PS, type and text now have their own menu. As shown below, Adobe has collected all of the type related items and placed them all into their own new menu. Please note at the very bottom where you can add Lorem Ipsum from within PS, a nice addition. Curiously the Lorem Ipsum selection adds a set amount which may be more or less than can fit into the text field you placed it within.

type menu

Besides the Font and Paragraph Panels that have been in PS for ages and then some, PS now has Paragraph Styles and Character Styles. The Panels look very similar to their brethren in AI or ID but do work a bit differently. In addition, they are not robust controls, but they do squeeze everything that one could possibly do within an image manipulation program.

paragraph and character styles

By providing both Paragraph and Character Styles, you can set a character style to be red at 18 points while the body of the text is Times colored blue at 14 point. Then, if you decide to change the body text to Bookman at 12 point, you can change the Paragraph Style and all linked paragraphs will change but the Character Styles will remain red, even after the change.

Again, you should not plan on using this for formal writing, but if you are trying to maintain text consistency in add copy, this is the necessary tool. What is very disappointing is that you cannot formally save your styles. The best you can do is to either save a "Styles" document that you can "Load" from when you need a given style again, or save a document and use it as a Template for subsequent documents.

Content Aware advances

In CS5 we were introduced to Content Aware Fill. A wonderful Photoshop technique that I, for one, have certainly become dependent upon. However, there were times where it became almost too much extra work than it justified. One common example was removing telephone wires. The problem is that if you use the Healing Brush with Content Aware settings, the "trick" with content aware technology is that it tries to find similar things in the same region to replace what you want to remove. Since telephone wires typically are in groups, when you tried to remove a telephone wire, PS looked around saw another telephone wire and replaced the one you were trying to remove with one just like it. The best way (at the time) around this was to make a simple selection of the telephone wire you wanted to remove and as much sky and/or trees as you could, but not include any other telephone wires. Then moving this onto a separate layer, remove that ONE wire. Then merge that one layer back into your original layer and do this again with the next wire. Tedious, but this did give the best results.

Well now we have Content Aware dynamics with the patch tool. So now it's a simple matter to draw around the wire you want to remove and drag the patch tool to a region in the sky you want to sample for replacing the wire. As long as you don't drag the wire (you want to remove) to a location over another wire, you should be good.

But this wasn't enough, Adobe added to the Content Aware list with the Content Aware Move tool (part of the Content aware tool collection) as shown below.

content aware items

As shown below, I've selected the cows using the lasso tool, nothing special. Then with the Content-Aware Move Tool, I move the cows down and to the left just a bit. Then I wait. And without any special actions on my part, not only are the cows moved from where they were, they are now properly set in where they are. Yes, a bit of touching up would be good to finish the project, but think about doing all that with the Rubber Stamp tool, you could forget about going to lunch maybe dinner as well.

sample of content aware move

If the nature of the image is good, you can get wonderful results with this, if not, than not so much. In other words, not every image will work out well. However, even if a less than desirable result, it's worth it to try because it can save you a tremendous amount of time.


Brush size has been doubled from 2500 pixels to 5000 pixels. In Liquefy, this goes up to 15,000 pixels

There are a number of new Painting brushes including an air brush that really works like an air brush, erodible brushes that wear out as you use them (the value here is that once the brush wears to a point you like it, you can stop the erosion so the brushes dynamic stays that way and you can save this as a preset brush. I'd like to say more, but I'm not a painter and if I do say more, I am likely to say something that's a guess. I don't want to do that.


Like Painting, I don't really do animation but I do know that you can now do standard movie editing with such dynamics as fades in between sections, basic sound editing, text in image, as well as anything that you can do to a single image, you can now do within a movie clip. The only thing I do not know is at what point one needs to drop Photoshop and move over to something like Premiere Pro.

In short

In short, Adobe continues to expand what one can do with Photoshop in ways that most of us would never even think to ask--but soon once we find we could not live without that new feature or new ability. I suppose many years in the future, we might have a situation where an update will not have anything great because every other rasterized problem has been solved. But, we are not there yet and if the creativity shown here in Superstition is any indication, it won't be any time soon.

As is Applelinks standards, we do not formally rate beta software--the final products may be better or worse than what we are looking at in the beta version. However, on the assumption that all of the feature we see in this release come to pass, this is yet again one stellar release.

If you use Photoshop, or use Photoshop Express and have been thinking of updating or taking the new step up in features, this is one excellent reason to do so. Photoshop CS6 is a spectacular piece of software.

___________ Gary Coyne has been a scientific glassblower for over 30 years. He's been using Macs since 1985 (his first was a fat Mac) and has been writing reviews of Mac software and hardware since 1995.

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