Network: How to improve your image

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The Independent Culture
SINCE ITS release in 1989, Adobe Photoshop has been the dominating tool for photographers, designers and practically anyone using colour on the computer.

Widely accepted as the industry standard, this program is the ideal tool for manipulating scanned images. Its standing also means it is well catered for by other manufacturers, with a multitude of plug-ins and applications to complement it.

Photoshop 3.0 revolutionised creative work with the introduction of layers, while version 4.0 brought significant improvements to efficiency and workflow. The latest upgrade brings new tools and sees Photoshop venturing into surprising territories.

Probably the most important feature is the History Palette, home to the eagerly awaited Multiple Undo. In true intelligent Adobe spirit, the facility does not just let you undo the previous stage. Instead, it keeps a record of all steps taken to create the image and displays them in the History Palette list. From sharpening, rotating and making a selection, to applying image size or filter, all changes to the image are shown and are accessible at any time.

To undo any change, the user simply deletes it off the History Palette. This facility is subject to the memory limits of the system and it is up to the user to set the number of steps for the program to record before it starts deleting them. If memory gets tight it can be freed up by purging the list. Another option is to preserve the existing list by taking a snapshot of the image so far and continue editing it.

The expanded toolbox hosts the new Measure tool, which lets you accurately assess distance between two points, analyse and compare angles. It also includes the Colour Samples tool, which simultaneously displays precise analysis of the colour values in the info palette so users can monitor highlights, midtone and shadow area at all times.

New selection tools simplify the creation of complex selections and clipping paths. Most useful are Magnetic Lasso, Freeform Pen and Magnetic Pen. Dragged around an area, the first automatically locates contrasting image area and "hugs" the edges, creating a defining line. The adjustable latitude means most objects can be selected with ease.

The Adobe Illustrator-inspired Freeform Pen tool lets you draw a path to outline an image, and the Magnetic Pen produces a Bezier path around the edge of an area to create a clipping path. But it is the 3-D Transform plug-in which marks a completely new direction for Photoshop, being the first attempt to provide 3-D effects. The 3-D feature lets you select an object in your 2-D image and move it in three dimensions. Ideal for repositioning objects and slightly tweaking the perspective beyond the capabilities of the Free Transform (Perspective) tool.

The new upgrade emphasises creativity and adaptability. As put to practice in the Jo Brand image at right, effects like inner shadows, outer glows, bevels, drop shadow and emboss can now be applied to layers in one step.

These effects remain "live" when applied, freeing you from committing to any one effect, and only update (automatically) when the layer is edited. This feature is independent from the greater flexibility offered by the History Palette. The latter enables access to different stages in the "history" of the image, creating exciting creative opportunities.

In this illustration, I was able to go back to the step where the background squares were created, apply an effect and simply skip back to the more advanced stage. Another example is the return to the stage where saturation was applied to the road, eight steps back. I was able to increase saturation slightly without affecting later stages of work in any way. The handier interface design meant the right gradient style for the road was conveniently selected from the main tool box.

Another improvement is the Duotone, Colour Setting and Indexed Colour Effects dialogue boxes, which now have live previews, and there are three smoother gradient styles: angular, diamond and reflected.

You can certainly carry on using Photoshop 4, but you would be highly advised to upgrade. The huge demand on memory when handling large files is still unresolved, but Multiple Undo has finally arrived.

Adobe Photoshop 5.0, pounds 600 plus VAT, upgrade pounds 165 plus VAT. Further information: 0181-606 4001 or