My 10 Favorite New Features of Photoshop CS6 / by Simon Abrams

So Adobe’s been teasing it with the many sneaks they’ve been releasing over the past several months, and it’s finally here - the public beta of Photoshop CS6, code-named Superstition. It’s like some kind of design geek Christmas. Before you run off to download the beta, though, I thought I’d take this opportunity to list, in no particular order, some of my top ten favorite new features. 

Dark UI

Photoshop’s new dark UI is designed to match with other pro level appsLike me, some of you will love it, but I can already hear the moans of anguish from those of you who will 
fire up the new Photoshop and be appalled at the new dark interface. First of all, relax. You can switch back to the grey interface you know and love. In fact, there are four different UI color options in the interface preferences. 
The Interface preferences give you four choices of colors, as well as custom options for Photoshop’s three screen modes
Second, there are reasons for the dark UI, including knocking the application’s interface back so that it’s not competing with the amazing content you’re creating. Also, it makes Photoshop consistent with the other apps in the Creative Suite (and other pro-level apps in general - think Final Cut, Aperture, Lightroom, etc).
Finally, the UI update is far more than skin deep. The good people at Adobe have gone in and redone every single one of the thousands of radio buttons, icons, sliders and other elements to make them all uniform, consistent and pixel-perfect. It’s a big deal. 

Layer Search

The Layers Panel can be searched by layer name or typeHoly smokes. If you’ve ever opened up a Photoshop document and gazed in despair at a Layers panel full of “layer 2 copy 2 copy”, then this feature needs no explanation. You can not only search for a layer by name, you can filter the list by layer type (pixels, text, adjustment, vector and smart object). Once you see it in action, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.

Auto-Save

Yay! Crashes happen, but there’s nothing like hitting that “reopen” button after dismissing that damn crash report, and seeing your document pop right back up like nothing ever happened. It’s so good that you might start to secretly hope Photoshop crashes.

Blur Gallery

On-canvas editing is big in the new version of Photoshop, as seen here in the Iris Blur tool.Nowadays, everyone is doing all sorts of tilt-shift and selective focus trickery with their smartphones. You didn’t think that Adobe, the predominant imaging software makers, we’re going to sit back and not get in the game, did you? Not that there weren’t already ways of achieving these effects in Photoshop, but three new dedicated tools have been added to the Blur menu to give you these effects with pro-quality results. Field Blur blurs the entire image, Iris Blur creates an oval or rounded blur region, and Tilt Shift creates that miniature effect we’re all so familiar with now. Each of these tools has super-fast and responsive on-canvas editing tools that let you edit the effect without having to go off and fiddle with numbers in a dialog box.

Character and Paragraph Styles

Here’s another one that doesn’t need much explanation. Editing more than a handful of text in Photoshop has, until now, been sort of a pain in the rear. Now, like in most programs that involve any sort of text editing, you can create and edit styles and apply those changes to blocks of text throughout your document. Awesome. 

Vector Layers 

Your Vector Shapes can now have strokes - and those strokes can have solid, gradient, or pattern fillsIt’s a subtle change, but Shape Layers are now Vector Layers, and along with the new nomenclature comes the ability to add all sorts of strokes, including… dashed and dotted lines! Yes, you read that right, no more copy-pasting from Illustrator - you can do it all right in Photoshop. Another feature that’s sure to be hugely appreciated by those doing pixel-precise work is the new Align Edges checkbox, which lives up to its name, forcing Vector Shapes to align to Photoshop’s Pixel Grid, eliminating those fuzzy, anti-aliased edges that we’d sometimes see when creating vectors in Photoshop.

Enhanced Video Editing

Video editing in Photoshop has gained powerful, but simple to use featuresThis is another area of Photoshop that has been improving progressively over the last several iterations of the software, and this version is no exception. New to CS6 is the ability to preform basic audio edits on a separate track, as well as to quickly add simple transitions between video clips. Also, where video has always been a feature of the Extended version of Photoshop, Adobe has decided that video editing is for the people, so now it’s in the Stsndard version as well. 

Content-Aware Move Tool

Content-Awareness has been all the rage in the last few updates, starting with Scaling in CS4 and then Fill in CS5. CS6 brings Content-Aware Move, allowing you to easily remix images by moving elements from one place to another, and filling in the background contextually, based on the surrounding pixels. More voodoo magic from the big-brained engineers at Adobe. This one works better as a video demo, so check out Photoshop PM Bryan O’Neil Hughes’ sneak peek from a few weeks back:

Revamped 3D Engine

The 3D engine has been revamped completely, focusing on usability and performanceIn another lifetime, I was a pretty hardcore 3D guy, so the consistent, iterative improvements in the Photoshop 3D engine hit a special note for me. The difference between what Photoshop was capable of back in CS3 when 3D was introduced and what it’s capable of now is sort of mind-blowing. From the more streamlined interface, to the beefed up ray-tracing and image-based lighting capabilities, this is a comprehensive and welcome update. 

Performance, Performance, Performance

If I had been making this list in some sort of order, this feature would be number one, because Adobe has really pulled out all the stops as far as making Photoshop scream in this update. Wherever possible, they have offloaded the heavy lifting to the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) via what they’re calling the Mercury Engine. All that on-canvas editing, the new rich cursors, the Blur Gallery tools, the insanely robust retooled Liquify filter, 3D, painting and video - they all benefit from a significant performance boost if you have even a remotely recent graphics card. 

Bonus Pick: Adaptive Wide-Angle

The original image, stitched from 15 carelessly shot images, and the results, produced using the Adaptive Wide Angle filterSeverely distorted fisheye images can be unwrapped using the Adaptive Wide-Angle tool, and it’s really, really impressive.
Trace lines in the photo that are supposed to be straight, and the tool, using lens profiles and metadata embedded in the photo (if available) will figure out how to correct it. This is another filter that elicits “oohs” and “aahs” when demoed, and for good reason, as the results are dramatic.

There you have it - some of my favorite new features of Photoshop CS6. I will be posting some more detailed tutorials on some of these features in the coming days and weeks, so stay tuned.

Of course there are hundreds of other improvements under the hood, but since this is still considered a beta release, nothing is set in stone. Speaking of which - there’s still time for you to have a say in what makes it into the final release of the software. Download the beta, and vote on features, and add your feedback and questions to the forums. See you there, and have fun with Superstition.