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-- by Lynn Ginsburg
Version 3.0 of Photoshop was a major showstopper, with dramatic new improvements that thrilled graphics aficionados around the globe. Version 4.0 is a refinement, not a radical departure. But what it lacks in drama, it makes up in streamlined features and easier use.
No single new feature will immediately impact your work process. But the com-bined effect of such additions as free transforming selections, macros, and guides and grids will speed your work and facilitate your labor.
Those who regularly do image editing know it can be tedious, involving detailed work and repetitive tasks. Version 4.0's Actions palette is an antidote to this monotony. The feature acts essentially as a combined macro recorder and batch processor, recording a variety of key program functions, such as image adjustment, filters, mode conversion and saving files. Actions are composed of the multiple steps involved in a repetitive image-editing routine, such as changing from RGB to indexed color, adjusting contrast or applying sharpen filters.
The structure of the Actions palette resembles the Layers palette, with each step in the overall process displayed as an individual subaction. I appreciated this consistency, since it allowed me to intuitively learn how to operate the Actions palette. By clicking on a subaction you can expand it to see the specific attributes for that function, such as the particular value for contrast or the settings for filters. You can apply a variety of options to each subaction, such as selectively turning each one on or off for any particular task, setting it to prompt you with the appropriate menu before a subaction is completed or swapping the order of the subactions.
The Actions palette can't handle every common repetitive task, such as making selections or using tools. But you can include these other tasks in an Action routine by inserting a stop in the Action, and entering a message to prompt the user to perform one of the unsupported functions before the macro continues. Actions can be applied as batch processes to entire directories, and will also work with the import function. For instance, you can apply the batch action to images imported from a digital camera, automatically compensating for overexposure of a group of images. I immediately started filling the Actions palette with all of my dreaded repetitive tasks, and can happily say it's been a major stress reliever and time-saver.
Photoshop 4.0 will also improve the lives of overworked designers with its new Navigator function. The Navigator is a scalable thumbnail image that lets you specify a desired view area within the image. Get ready to throw your scroll bars out the window-instead of blindly inching your way across the screen, you can move the viewing area to the image portion you want to work on, and the program transports you there in real time. When you're lost in a sea of tiny pixels, the Navigator takes the guesswork out of reaching your destination.
The Navigator also provides a continuous zoom rate from 0.13 percent to 1,600 percent. You can adjust the whole range using a slider. Combined with the selective location feature, the continuous zoom made working with high-resolution images much more manageable.
Photoshop 4.0 also borrows a key feature of drawing packages: the use of grids and guides. Previously, aligning objects exactly required either lots of guesswork or tedious, exacting zoom sessions. Now, with adjustable guides and snap-to grids, you can painlessly align objects on different layers. This is one of Photoshop's most effective and practical new features.
My only real disappointment with this new release is the lack of any new features for text handling. I would love to see support for live text, so users could edit text on screen without having to first delete the previous text, then reopen the text menu and place the text again. Considering that Adobe is PostScript, the lack of innovation in this area is a letdown.
Nor has Adobe made any attempt to lower the learning curve for novices. Still, not every program can be all things to all people, and Photoshop is a professional-level product. Its price and its powerful tools are not appropriate for nonprofessionals. But for designers and graphic artists, there is no substitute for the real thing. Make no mistake: Photoshop continues to rule the professional image- manipulation world. Version 4.0 may not offer hugely dramatic improvements, but its practical and timesaving new tools will help you leave the office on time-or maybe even a little bit early.
Copyright © 1997 CMP Media Inc.