Photoshop CS6 Beta: New Features for Photographers

Amadou Diallo | Software/App Reviews | Published Mar 22, 2012

The release of the Adobe Photoshop CS6 Public Beta gives both new and current users the chance to explore the latest additions to the company's venerable image editing application. In what has now become the norm for Adobe, full version updates of Photoshop are preceded by a public beta period. This is intended not only to generate excitement about new features but to glean user feedback before the final shipping release. The beta software is available for download free of charge at Adobe Labs.

Its name aside, Photoshop caters to a wide range of professionals, from designers and illustrators to forensic scientists and 3D animators. In this article we're going to introduce the CS6 features most relevant to Adobe's photography-based user community.

So what can you look forward to in this new version? For starters, the entire user interface has received a makeover, with a new color scheme and redesigned icons. Content-Aware technology has been applied to both the Patch tool a brand new Move tool. A collection of photographic blur filters is introduced and video editing support has not only been expanded, but will be made available in both the Standard and Extended shipping versions of Photoshop CS6.

Many other enhancements that you'll find, like larger brush sizes and faster filter performance have been made possible by increased reliance on the video card's GPU (Graphics Processor Unit). As such, Adobe suggests a video card with a minimum of 512MB VRAM. Mac users should also note that CS6 does not support 32-bit machines. You can read a full description of the system requirements at the end of this article.

Once a final version of CS6 is launched, we will be publishing in-depth tutorials which demonstrate specific tools and techniques. Right now though, our aim is simply to highlight the changes that directly impact a photography-based workflow so that you can easily identify key features and start exploring the public beta on your own.

We'll take a look at the following new features and changes:

UI redesign

As you'd expect, CS6 offers a number of new tools and functionality. Yet, the most immediate change for any previous Photoshop user is undoubtedly going to be the UI (user interface) redesign. For the first time in 22 years, the team at Adobe has given Photoshop a complete makeover. Along with the more obvious changes you'll see below, roughly 1800 icons and 250 cursors have been redesigned.

Photoshop CS6 launches with the Application frame enabled and an interface design that features light text on a dark background.

By default, CS6 offers a much darker background palette to surround your image than previous versions. A number of icons have been redesigned and Panel names are now displayed in sentence case rather than all caps. In the screenshot above, look carefully along the bottom left (highlighted in red) and you'll notice two tabs; one for Mini Bridge and the video Timeline. Clicking on either will extend the tab up into a filmstrip-style panel that runs horizontally beneath the image area.

You do have a number of options for changing the UI color scheme by going to Preferences>Interface. The most crucial of these, in my opinion, is the ability to set the Background fill and Application frame colors independently. In each of the examples below I have set the Background fill to medium gray while changing the interface color among four available presets. Note that you can also choose a custom color for each.

Black interface with medium gray Background fill. Dark interface with medium gray Background fill.
Medium gray interface with medium gray Background fill. Light gray interface with medium gray Background fill.

With CS6 you can also display 'rich cursors' that show contextual information such as dimensions, angle of rotation or other adjustment parameters right alongside the cursor, as shown in the example below.

The rich cursor information is context sensitive. When using one of the marquee tools you can view the dimensions of the marquee you're drawing as well as the XY coordinates of its location. You can also specify where this information is displayed in relation to the cursor. In the example shown here, I've set it to display along the bottom right edge.

Auto and background saves

Arguably one of the most important additions in CS6 is Photoshop's ability to automatically save your open document(s) at user specified intervals. In addition, you can have Photoshop perform all of its Save operations in the background. When editing large files this allows you to continue working after hitting 'save' instead of waiting for a progress bar to complete.

You control the behavior of the Auto save in Preferences>File Handling. A pop-up menu (shown above) allows you to determine the interval at which Photoshop saves your work to a recovery file. In the checkbox above this one you can also have Photoshop perform all of its Save operations in the background.

As you work, Photoshop creates a temporary recovery file on your hard drive that updates periodically to reflect the current state of your document. Should Photoshop crash with your document in an unsaved state it will, upon relaunch, open a document with '-Recovered' appended to its name that contains the most recent auto-saved version. It's important to note that the recovery file is a separate document from your working file - it doesn't over-write the last point you intentionally saved. The recovery file is deleted whenever you invoke a Save or Revert command or close a document without saving.

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Content-Aware Patch and Move tools

The content-aware technology that was introduced to Photoshop CS5's Fill tool is now available in the Patch tool. Alongside this in the tool panel, there's also a Content-Aware Move tool.

The Patch tool now has a Content-Aware option. You can select among five different region-preservation options.
A new Content-Aware Move tool (highlighted in red) allows you to move a selected object and have its previous location filled in to blend with the immediate surroundings.

The algorithms behind the content-aware selection and blending have been updated so that they work more seamlessly along higher contrast edges.

In the original image you can remove the geese along the left side of the frame by... ...making a selection around them (shown in red)...
...and with the Patch tool set to Content-Aware, dragging the selection to an an open expanse of water. You can then move one of the  remaining geese by making a selection around it (shown in red)...
and with the Content-Aware Move tool selected, dragging it to a new location. Most images, like the example show here, will require at least some cleanup work around the selection edges

Blur Gallery

CS6 brings three new blur tools designed to make adding photographic blurs to images quick and easy. The tools - Field Blur, Iris Blur and Tilt-Shift are grouped together at the top of the Filter>Blur sub menu. In a move that will make Lightroom users feel right at home, you make adjustments to control points  directly on the image, rather than in a separate filter window.

Iris Blur simulates selective focus, and allows you to mask out one or more areas in the image which should remain sharp, while blurring the remaining portions of the scene.

In the original image the areas of soft focus begin just past the model's right shoulder.
Using the Iris blur filter you can edit a shape which contains a built-in mask to isolate the parts of the image you want to remain in focus. You can control the amount of blur, the brightness and color of bokeh highlights and freely move the entire control unit around the image. You can even add multiple control units.
The final result is an image in which only the model's face and neck are in focus.

Field Blur offers a fast, intuitive way to either blur an entire image or perform multiple depth-of-field adjustments. And a Tilt-Shift blur option lets you mimic the behavior of lenses that allow for manipulation of the plane of focus.

Color Range: Skin tones and face detection

When you go to Select>Color Range in CS6, there is a new option to make a selection based on skin tones. In addition, there is a Detect Faces checkbox that recognizes facial arrangements in order to fine tune the selection.

In CS6 a large database of skin tones of various ethnicities is used to identify portions of the image that are likely to be exposed skin. In the dialog box shown here, the white areas indicate the selection made by the Skin Tones option with Detect Faces enabled.


ACR 7 is included with the Photoshop CS6 beta. Its Basic panel controls have seen a significant change from the previous version.

Adobe has always maintained parity between the image processing capabilities of Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). The latest processing engine (known as Process Version 2012) that introduced new control sliders to the Develop module of Lightroom 4, arrive in version 7 of ACR. A more detailed explanation of these changes and how they will affect your workflow, is included in our Lightroom 4 review.

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Crop Tool

OK, it's not a brand new feature or even a particularly sexy one, but the crop tool is undoubtedly one of the items you use most often (be honest). In CS6 it's gotten some important updates. The first thing you'll notice is that upon selecting the crop tool (C), a crop is automatically drawn around the entire image; a huge time-saver for those who often perform relatively subtle crops from an image's edges. In behavior that is distinctly Lightroom-esque, dragging with the mouse now moves the image around the crop boundary, rather than moving the crop boundary around the image. You can choose a Classic mode option to revert to the old behavior.

Options for controlling the crop tool's
behavior are now primarily located in two
pulldown menus. In the menu on the left
you can choose from a number of preset
crop ratios or create your own.
Two options that have previously been
available in but are now easier to find are
the straighten and delete/hide pixels
options (highlighted in red).

Though few users realize it, you've long had the ability to set the crop tool to hide, rather than delete pixels. Yet this option was not available on image files consisting only of a Background layer. In CS6, choosing the hide option (by unchecking the Delete Cropped Pixels box) will automatically convert the Background layer to an unlocked layer.

Properties panel

A new Properties panel now houses both adjustment layer (shown below) and mask properties. This new panel can be resized by dragging its bottom right edge.

Clicking on a New Adjustment Layer icon in the Adjustments panel (left) automatically populates the Properties panel (right) with the relevant adjustment layer.

Video support

In CS6, the image adjustment tools used for still images are all available for use with video files.

With CS6, Photoshop's support for video files has been considerably expanded. You can add and mute audio tracks, create transitions and fades, use the Text tool and perform all of the standard Photoshop edits on a video file. File format support for both importing and exporting video is handled by Adobe Media Encoder, the same engine behind Adobe Premiere, the company's flagship video editing program. And unlike in CS5, where video support is limited to Photoshop Extended, all of this capability will be available in both versions of Photoshop CS6.

Oil Paint filter

A new Oil Paint filter allows you to quickly apply a painterly effect to a photographic image. The filter opens in a separate full size window. Brush and Lighting parameters can be adjusted with a real-time preview of their effects. You can access the tool by going to Filter>Oil Paint filter.

Here you can see before and after results using the new Oil Paint filter at
relatively conservative settings.

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Auto color correction settings

The algorithms behind the Auto settings of image adjustment tools have been updated in CS6. In Curves and Levels a new (and now default) option, 'Enhance Brightness and Contrast' has been added. With this option selected, Photoshop will analyze the scene and make image-dependent adjustments.

A new default option (highlighted in red) makes image dependent composite RGB adjustments. With the Curves tool, the Auto option places points on the curve where adjustments have been made.

In addition, selecting this option for Curves actually places points on the curve so that users can quickly start fine-tuning the automated adjustment. An image-dependent Auto option has been added to the Brightness/Contrast tool as well.

Adaptive Wide Angle correction

Photoshop gets a new tool to cope with lens distortion in the form of an Adaptive Wide Angle filter. The tool's primary uses are for minimizing the effect of fisheye lenses and correcting distortion in panoramas.

This image was shot with a fisheye lens.
The Adaptive Wide Angle filter recognizes the lens used (1), based on image EXIF, and automatically sets its correction mode to the Fisheye option (2).
While the image still contains curved lines, the filter has reduced the distortion in the subject at the center of the image.

Type styles

In CS6 Adobe has given Photoshop users full featured paragraph and character style sheets that offer the typesetting capabilities of InDesign, the company's professional page layout software. You access the panels for both paragraph and character styles by going to Window>Paragraph Styles. After creating a new style you can double-click it to open the options window shown below.

One of the greatest benefits of using type styles comes when you need to change an attribute like font size or color, for example. No matter how many text layers your document contains, if they all share the same style, you can simply modify the style and the changes will automatically be applied to every text layer.

You can create and edit text attributes using individual styles that can be applied to any text layer with a single click. You can also modify attributes via the text layer itself and use those changes to 'redefine' or update the style sheet associated with the text.

Character styles allow you to specify parameters for individual characters instead of an entire paragraph. Any settings not explicitly defined in a character style follow those defined by the paragraph style. 

Printing UI

Photoshop's printing interface has undergone a redesign in CS6. The functionality is the same as the previous version but some of the options have been shifted around a bit. Controls are now displayed along the right side of the dialog window and organized into separate panels. You can expand a panel by clicking anywhere on its name, not just on the triangle icon next to it. The text is significantly larger and page margins are simulated in the print preview.

The new print settings window can be sized by dragging on the bottom right edge. You can also click the green expand icon in the upper left (on a Mac) to make the window expand to the full dimensions of the screen. Here the window is expanded to show all of the available panels.

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Photoshop CS6 JDIs

In this latest release, Adobe has continued its focus on JDI (Just Do It) enhancements. Based on user feedback and requests, these are relatively small, but productivity-enhancing changes that Photoshop's engineer's are allowed to take time out of the normal development cycle to implement. Users of the public beta will come across more than 50 such enhancements, so we've provided a JDI list organized by category.

 Category JDI Notes
Brushes Option for HUD brush vertical movement to adjust opacity instead of hardness Enable this change in Preferences
  Maximum brush size increased to 5000px  
  Change color dynamics to per stroke instead of per tip User can revert to old behavior
  Brightness/contrast slider for textures when painting  
  Brush projection for static tips  
  Brush cursor reflects brush dynamics for round and captured tips  
Eyedropper Show the sample size popup for the various eyedropper tools  
  Option to ignore adjustment layers for the eyedropper tool New menu item in the Options bar pulldown
  New mode for eyedropper to select layers current and below New menu item in the Options bar pulldown
File Formats Read common stereo image pair formats (JPS, PNS)  
  Allow for more bit depths in TIFF files  
  Read BIGTIFF format  
  Give the user choices regarding how they want transparency treated in OpenEXR on file open  
Grammar Standardized grammar throughout app  
  Use consistent grammar style in the title of dialog windows No commands such as 'Choose a color:'
Layers Added a contextual menu item that deletes a layer effect instead of just disabling it  
  Added dither options to Layer Styles for Gradient Overlay and Gradient Stroke  
  Keyboard shortcut of 00 to set layer opacity to 0% Use Shift+00 to set fill opacity to 0%
  Added bicubic sharper & bicubic smoother options when free transforming layers  
  Allow changing of blend modes for multiple layers simultaneously  
  Allow locking of multiple layers  
  Allow Cmd+J to duplicate layers and layer group  
  Allow changing of color labels for multiple layers simultaneously  
  Layer tooltips to include layer name Works only if a name is defined
  Opt+click on toggle arrows (groups and effects) in layer panel to close all targets  
  Show blend if/Blending Effects badge on layer  
  Show correct opacity and blend mode values for hidden layers  
  Tab goes to next layer on inline layer rename, Shift+Tab goes to previous  
  New command to raster layer effect into layer, merging the selected layers into themselves  

Reorder effects in the layers palette to match the Z-­­order style/blend mode

Liquify Resize Liquify brush with shortcuts  
  Increased maximum Liquify brush size and added option to load last mesh  
Presets Added new document presets for common devices (e.g. iPhone, iPad, etc.)  
  Added new Gradient Map presets for toning and split-toning  
  Sticky reorganization of tool presets Changes maintained after re-launch
  Added Contact Sheet II as an Automation option  
SDK Added the ability to return an array of guides in a document from the scripting SDK  
  Added the ability to access the tool name associated with the tool preset name via scripting  
Selections Marquee, lasso, and mask panel feather values support decimal places Matches the feather dialog
  Remember feather radius when showing dialog for selection from a path  
Transform Improved dragging of vector curves  
  Don't hide smart object icon when transforming a layer  
  Undo or disable auto-­­rotate on open  
UI Removed the app bar and reduced the size of the drag/app bar by more than 30%  
  Windows: New/open document options added to context click on a document tab Previously a Mac-only feature
  Added 'Don't show again' checkbox to Purge warnings  
Miscellaneous Enabled Split Channels for documents with layers  
  Select Hex field by default and allow clipboard pastes with '#' in contents Cannow use #fffffff for example
  Increased GPU stability by prequalifying GPUs on the fly before use  
  Auto-­­select the best resample method based on the type of resize  
  Enabled Invert and Threshold adjustments for masks in 32 -­­bit  
  Holding Shift during startup disables 3rd party plugins  
  Added warning message that 16 ­­bit images cannot display their file size in the Save as JPEG dialog  

There's clearly a lot to explore in the Photoshop CS6 beta, even if you just look at the photography-related features. This is a beta process, however, so if you find a new tool that makes your jaw drop, wish Adobe had done things differently or have discovered a bug, make your voice heard on the CS6 beta feedback forum.  It's your chance to help shape the final CS6 release.

System requirements

The minimum system requirements for Photoshop have changed, particularly for Mac users. Photoshop CS6 does not support 32-bit Macs. You must be running a 64-bit Intel processor and OS 10.6 or higher (read this Apple support document to determine whether your Mac has a 64-bit processor). On the Windows side, minimum requirements are Windows XP with Service Pack 3, Vista Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise with Service Pack 2, Windows 7, or Windows 8.

Photoshop CS6 uses its Monaco Engine to leverage the video card's GPU for many more tasks than in previous versions. Therefore the suggested minimum amount of memory for video cards is 512MB of VRAM.