Adobe Photoshop Touch - Power At Your Fingertips (Part 1)

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Power at your fingertips – if you can see past ’em

When adobe brought out Photoshop Touch for the iPad, we were amazed it managed to fit so much functionality into such a portable device and on such a small, screen. Now that it’s adapted the app for the iPhone and iPod touch, is the physical limitation of the screen size a factor it can’t overcome?

Photoshop Touch crams an awful lot into a 32MB app: a full suite of adjustments, a range of filters and selection looks, layer control, and the ability to work with images up to 12 megapixels in size. It’s not just vastly more advanced than any comparable iPhone app; it’s a whole evolutionary leap forward.

Portion control: When tweaking a layer’s blend mode, you can see all the layers, but only a small part of the image itself

Portion control: When tweaking a layer’s blend mode, you can see all the layers, but only a small part of the image itself

There are four tool groups, each indicated by a single icon on the left of the screen: Clone, Healing Brush, Blur and Smudge; Paint, Effects Paint, Spray and Eraser; and two sets of selection tools. The Tool panel disappears when not in use, only popping into view when you tap the current tool icon.

Selection is essential when doing any photomontage work and the app offers several methods. The Magic Wand will select contiguous or discontinuous areas of similar color; the Extract tool enables you to paint inside and outside the area you want to keep, automatically detecting edges (or at least making a fair stab at it). The Refine Edge tool smooth’s selections and helps perform intricate cutouts such as hair, and the Selection Brush enables you to refine the image manually.

Watch what you’re doing: The curves adjustment uses a translucent overlay so you can see the image through it

Watch what you’re doing The curves adjustment uses a translucent overlay so you can see the image through it

Of course, there are also the Lasso tool, and the Elliptical and Rectangular Marquee, the latter of which has user-definable rounded corners, a feature we’d like to see in the full desktop version of Photoshop. For all the selection tools, a Mode button sets new selections to replaced, add to or subtract from existing selections.

The trouble with working on such a tiny screen is that your fingers get in the way. When selecting a tool from the toolbar, which is located on the left of the screen, right-handed users will always find the pop-up tool icons are obscured by their thumb (although the same of the tool helpfully appears over the top).

Fingers getting in the way is a particular problem when painting or using selection tools of course, so Photoshop Touch help-fully includes a Show Pointer mode. When this is active, eth cursor is positioned about ac centimeter North North West of where you touch the screen. It’s always on view, and in order to activate it, you need to press a secondary button in the bottom-left corner with your other hand. It’s useful technique, but it can be self-defeating when, for instance, you want to make a selection in the bottom-left corner: you literally can’t get there with the offset cursor, and if you get close, the secondary button gets in the way.

A separate Selection menu enables you to work with selections not just Cut, Copy and Clear, but Inverse, Feather, Copy Merged and Extract. As with all the menus, reference is by icon as well as text. The menu bar is a constant across the top of the screen, as is the context-aware tool and layer panel at the bottom.

Layer control is good, with the ability to hide and show layers, to move them up and down by dragging, to create new layers from selections, from the camera or from your photo library, and then to vary the opacity and blend mode of the layer. Most Photoshop modes are supported, including Darken/Lighten, Multiply/Screen, Overlay and Linear Dodge, although for some reason not Hard Light. Again, the tiny screen becomes an issue: when you can see the Layer panel on the right, and the mode adjustment at the bottom, you can glimpse only a small fraction of the image in the remaining space. A nifty (and rather bizarre) feature is the ability to double-tap a layer’s thumbnail to show all the layers in an exploded, rotatable 3D view, which is ingenious, although it’s hard to see the practical value in it.

Masked ball: The Fade control applies a graduated mask to a layer, which is the nearest there is to layer mask

Masked ball The Fade control applies a graduated mask to a layer, which is the nearest there is to layer mask

There are 12 separate adjustments, including old favorites Curves, Levels, Brightness and Contrast, as well as Noise reduction and Replace Color. The use of the minimal space is ingenious: in the Replace Color dialog, initial source selection is from a pop-up color picker, but you can also drag on the image itself and the color beneath the crosshairs will be sampled. Sampling is made easier by an enlarged loupe view shown just above your tap position. Adjustments with multiple sliders, such as Shadows and Highlights, display just a single slider at a time, with buttons beneath to switch it between Draks, Shadows, Lights and Highlights. Where this single-slider approach isn’t possible as with Curves, the curve is shown translucently over the image, with anchor points displayed as circles at each location where you tap and drag to adjust the settings.

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