Guest columnist (and stalwart Gnomie) Matthew Sabia gives us his take on the new Photoshop CS6 beta.

Adobe recently released the public (free) beta of Photoshop CS6. Adobe is known for breaking new ground in design technology and Photoshop CS6 is a great example of that. There are a lot of performance improvements like with every Adobe Creative Suite update, but nothing to go into detail about (though people who use the Liquify filter regularly will be ecstatic). I’m going to give you a rundown of the 10 major enhancements that make Photoshop a bit more magical. Being a part-time freelance designer, I’m pretty darned excited to get my hands on these new tools and show you what they can do. I’m also glad to see so many features that have been requested for years by users.

The All-new Interface

Photoshop CS6 Beta: New Interface and FeaturesThe first change you will notice when you open up Photoshop CS6 is the new interface. Believe it or not, a darker color scheme of an app can really reduce the strain on your eyes if you spend hours on end working with it. In Photoshop CS6 you now have the option, like with many other Adobe apps, to change the interface to darker or lighter colors.

A lot of less-useful elements have been removed, such as the large toolbar at the top of the Photoshop window that basically did nothing more than let you quickly change the apps layout. Not really worth the reduced work space, huh?

Photoshop now has a one-size-fits-all UI. There are many new elements that remove the simple pains of editing such as a new overlay while creating a selection to show the size of the selected area.

Content-aware Move Tool

Photoshop CS6 Beta: New Interface and FeaturesHave you ever tried to explain to a non tech-savvy person that Photoshop is not magic and you can’t just drag and drop things around in an image? Well, guess what? Now you can! Okay, technically the last version of Photoshop had this technology built in, but this time it’s literally drag and drop simple.

Just create a selection around the object that you want to move with the new tool selected, and then drag it to its desired position. Depending on the environment behind the subject, you will need to adjust the new sensitivity setting. Other than that, it’s point-and-click easy!

Another great use of this tool is extending objects in a scene with Adobe’s content-aware technology. Just select and drag the controls for realistic extending, not stretching.

New Blur Tools, Artificial Depth of Field, and Bokeh

Photoshop CS6 Beta: New Interface and FeaturesThis has to be the most talked about and discussed feature in Photoshop CS6: the ability to add depth of field in post. This includes adding an extremely realistic bokeh effect. Alongside the mind-blowing technology and ‘coolness’ of this feature, it’s going to save photographers hours of time on site by not needing to worry about creating these effects with lengthy setups and expensive lenses.

Depth of field is created in sort of the same way you use the puppet tool in After Effects. Pins are placed in specific spots on your image, and then the blur of that pin is adjusted. It sounds complicated, but I assure you it’s as easy as the new move tool. This technique can be used to create perfected blurs, which are even better looking than ones created with real lenses.

So in this case, artificial effects can look better than the real thing. It’s not automatic, but worth the work required to generate an effect. There are three other new blurs in CS6, including a preset tilt-shift or ‘miniature’ effect including custom spacing and distortion effects.

Content-aware Patch Tool

The patch tool was the first in Photoshop to show a content-aware type of technology by sampling the surroundings of a selection and making it fit. In Photoshop CS6, real content-aware technology has been added to it. The new sensitivity option has been added to control the effect in detail. Simple, yes, but highly requested by users and a no-brainer to add.

The First Realistic (and Official) Oil Painting Filter

You can take my word for it when I say that before Photoshop CS6 there were no plugins, tools, or filters that could create even a somewhat realistic oil painting effect. This filter is so awesome that Adobe placed it on top of the filters list (ha)! The Oil Painting filter somehow detects lines and edges in an image and turns it into a realistic-looking facsimile of an oil painting. You have the option to change how much the brush strokes stand out and how the light angle affects the visibility of the brush strokes. You can also create a flat version which, if you ask me, looks much more realistic — but edges create a nice, stylized effect.

Photoshop CS6 Beta: New Interface and Features

Full-featured Video Editing

Photoshop CS6 Beta: New Interface and FeaturesThis is a big one. A very big one. Adobe has added full-featured video editing into Photoshop with CS6. Even though basic video editing has been in Photoshop in the past, this time it’s actually usable. In previous versions of Photoshop, all I ever used video importing for was creating GIFs and snagging a single frame. Other than that, I never touched it. The reason I say “full-featured” is because you can now (wait for it) use any Photoshop filter or effect on a video and export it! As you can guess, render times with effects like the oil painting filter are horrendous, but still very cool. You can use this as a simple video editor with no problem; you can move, cut, snip, nip, and tuck clips (you get the point).

Adaptive Wide Angle

While shooting photos, there is always that shot where you wish you could fit just a bit more in the image. The first thing you probably resort to to is a super wide angle or a fisheye lens. While capturing a crazy amount of content in your photos, these lenses, especially the fisheye lens, create a rounded image. While the fisheye lens is perfect for some purposes, its distortion is not appropriate for each and every situation. Now, with the adaptive wide angle filter in Photoshop CS6, you can make these images look somewhat normal. If you import the raw image from your camera into Photoshop, the filter will read the metadata from the photo and automatically change the focal length in the filter. You can also change this yourself. Once set up, all you have to do is draw out the parts of the image that should be straight and free of the signature fisheye distortion, such as a horizon line or building’s edge. This will adapt the edges of your image to suit the desired output and leave open/transparent spots. These can usually be filled in very easily with some of the new tools I described above.

Photoshop CS6 Beta: New Interface and Features

New Crop Tool(s)

The crop tool has gotten a big facelift in CS6. Basic image cropping is now done by dragging handles along the edge of the canvas while the remaining part of the image stays centered. Let go, and the parts of the image that will be removed are indicated. Classic mode is still an option. Something I’ve wanted a lot of times myself is constraining the crop area to a specific aspect ratio. There is now a drop down menu that appears when the crop tool is selected, which allows you to select from all of the basic aspect ratios as presets (But not 16:10. Humph). You can add presets yourself though.

The perspective crop tool has also gotten a redesign. What’s that? You never knew there was another crop tool? You’re not alone. Even though this tool has been around since CS3, it’s been buried under menus and almost never sees the light of day. Now it’s under the same tool slot of the basic crop tool. Let me give you an example. You only want to capture a sign or billboard in a photo you snapped, but if you use the basic crop tool, it’s going to be on an awkward angle. With the perspective crop tool, you can simply draw out the outline of the area you wish to crop and Photoshop will make 90 degree angles and bring that sucker into a frontal view. Pretty neat, huh?

Ultimate Strokes

One of the most simple tasks is adding a stroke in or around a shape, right? Kind of — if you just want to outline something with a plain old solid stroke. If you have to create something more complex, like a dotted line, you are in trouble and have a lot of work ahead of you. With Photoshop CS6, Adobe has included the ability to add advanced strokes right onto paths and shapes. The patterns and textures are vectors, so they can be easily scaled and edited if something needs to be changed. Pretty much anything you could possibly want to do with a stroke is now at your fingertips. This sounds like no big addition at all, but I can picture myself in that situation and pulling my hair out. Been there, done that.

Smooth Tool Recording

Something that has been in serous need of an update is the actions/tool recorder. If you’ve never used it before, it’s for recording actions and applied filters so they can be played out and applied on other images. This is great for watermarking multiple images or just applying a filter to them. Before now, that’s pretty much all it was good for; now, in Photoshop CS6, you can record pretty much any action including brush strokes. Scripts can now be played back in real time or in progressive steps. Meaning: you can watch brush strokes being painted and filters being applied.

So do you see these changes to Photoshop CS6 as worthy additions to the Photoshop legacy, or do they fall short of your expectations? Photoshop has come a long way in the past two decades, but has it come far enough? Leave us your thoughts in the comments!

(Credit for images above goes to Howard Pinsky from and guest columnist Matthew Sabia.)