Adobe has been dropping preview links to its upcoming version of Photoshop CS6 for months now, even hyping it up with a Rainn Wilson appearance at MAX 2012. Photoshop CS6 marks one of the app’s most drastic visual changes, with a darker visual redesign and streamlined toolbars, and it has all sorts of changes to cursors, filters, video editing, and more in tow. We got some quick hands on time with the app, so read on for our take on Adobe’s next-gen installation of Photoshop.
Photoshop CS6 greets you with a fully redesigned UI that’s much darker for purportedly a “more immersive experience.” (Fortunately, you can revert to the old light gray color theme by going to Preferences / Interface.) If you look closer, all the old favorites from the pen tool to layers panel are still here, but they’ve been shuffled around a bit and cleaned up. While you can break windows out like in CS5, tabs still rule your window management experience. It works great for browsing the web, but Photoshop’s insistence on tabs by default is often frustrating when you’re opening several files that you want to see at the same time. For new users, the Photoshop learning curve is still pretty high, but pro users should be able to get situated pretty quickly.
One notable improvement is the new draggable section embedded into toolbars. Photoshop’s window management and toolbar management has never been its strong suit, and we’ve lost track of more toolbars than we can count in older versions of the app. The only fix used to be a hard rearrangement the entire workspace, but now each toolbar has a textured line for easy movements (see the top of the primary tools section to the right). Similarly, snapping toolbars to the side of the main Photoshop window is clearer than before, because the side of the window glows blue to indicate it’s ready to snap.
The new Mini Bridge feature incorporates a file browsing tool directly into CS6. While you do have to keep the Bridge media manager running in the background, Mini Bridge lets you easily — and visually — browse your hard drives for photo and video assets to work with. It’s a nice complement to the usual file open dialogue, and if you stay organized, you can keep your files just a few clicks away.
You can now search and sort layers by color, name, mode, and attribute with the new layer search tools, a great feature for anyone that has to deal with large Photoshop files with tons of layers and folders. Like Lightroom and even iPhoto, Photoshop’s now highlighting adjustments even more than in CS5 in the Adjustments window on the right side of the screen. It’s a much cleaner UI this time around, giving you quick access to a range of non-destructive adjustments like curves, color balance, and saturation.
Upending decades of Photoshop precedent, Adobe has added cursors to tools like crop and lasso, and it’s a bit confusing at first. Previously, you needed to use the bottom of the lasso as your guide to looping (think of how you “point” with the top left tip of the cursor on a Mac), but now an additional cursor has been added on to the lasso icon. Essentially, you’re moving two different cursors around now, and it’s a bit like learning to use a mouse again. Furthermore, it’s not consistent across all tools, so the eyedropper is still just an eyedropper.