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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