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AECbytes Product Review (October 14, 2010)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended

Product Summary

Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended is the new release of the specialized version of Photoshop targeted towards some specific fields that require advanced digital imagery including architecture and engineering, science, healthcare, film, and video.

Pros: New Content-Aware feature can almost magically remove unwanted objects from a scene; enhanced edge-selection controls allow easier and more accurate creation of masks and selections of intricate elements; new HDR capabilities available for enhancing photographic quality; new painting tools provide more flexibility and creative control; new Puppet Warp capability allows precise repositioning or warping of a selected part of an image; native 64-bit support for Mac and Windows enhances performance; includes over 30 additional features requested directly by the Photoshop community.

Cons: No substantial AEC-specific improvements; no increase in the number of 3D file formats supported, which remain limited to 3DS, OBJ, COLLADA, KMZ, and U3D; 3D navigation tools do not automatically maintain the verticality needed for buildings models, which makes them somewhat difficult to use; limited functionality and interface compared to other specialized applications that are available for model-based visualizations.

Price: $699 for Adobe Photoshop CS5; $999 for Photoshop CS5 Extended; $349 for upgrade from any previous version of Photoshop; volume licensing is available.

Earlier this year, Adobe released its new Creative Suite 5 which included a new version of Photoshop along with a large number of other design and development applications such as Illustrator, InDesign, Flash, etc. for a wide range of industries. Many of these, including Photoshop, are available as stand-alone applications in addition to being bundled with other applications in various Adobe Creative Suite editions. As with the earlier CS3 and CS4 versions, the CS5 release includes both Photoshop as well as Photoshop Extended, which is the specialized version of Photoshop targeted towards some specific fields requiring advanced digital imagery such as architecture and engineering, science, healthcare, film, and video. It is an especially momentous release for Photoshop as it marks the 20th anniversary of the application.

Looking back, the first version of Photoshop Extended, which was in the CS3 release launched in 2007, introduced an impressive array of 3D capabilities such as the ability to import 3D models and manipulate aspects such as camera views, the size and orientation of the model, lighting, render modes, and the textures applied to the model, opening up a whole new slew of possibilities for the use of Photoshop in architectural design. It also included new measurement and analysis tools for extracting and recording quantitative data from images, and a cross-sectioning capability, allowing architects to display not only sectional views inside their buildings but also combine the use of two rendering modes on a model for interesting and creative results. The next release, Photoshop CS4 Extended, included some additional 3D enhancements such as the ability to work on 3D layers directly, convert 2D images to 3D objects in various ways, edit properties like light, and create more realistic renderings with a new high-quality ray-tracer.

Similar to its predecessors, Photoshop CS5 Extended includes the improvements in the regular version of Photoshop as well as the enhancements specific to the Extended edition. This review looks at both types of enhancements to explore how they can help AEC firms handle traditional digital imaging tasks as well as the growing need for 3D model-related visualizations more effectively.

Imaging Enhancements in Photoshop CS5

One of the most exciting new features in Photoshop CS5 is the ability to remove any image detail or object and have the space left behind be automatically replaced by details that match the lighting, tone, and noise of the surrounding area, so that it looks as if the removed content never existed. This is done by activating the new “Content-Aware” option for the Spot Healing Brush. Figure 1 shows how this feature has been used to remove the portion of the car that appears in the lower right corner of a photograph of a residential street, with the application almost magically filling in the space with the details of the house that would have been seen if the car wasn’t there to begin with.


Figure 1. Using the new Content-Aware feature to remove the portion of the car that appears in the lower right corner of the selected photograph (top image) and automatically replacing it with details that looks the car wasn’t there at all (lower image).

Of course, this feature does not work perfectly all the time, especially if an object has to be removed from a more complex backdrop. Still, this is an extremely useful capability for any kind of image editing, and it is an amazing technological achievement for the Photoshop team. Adobe had posted a “sneak peek” video of the team’s work on the Content-Aware feature a few weeks prior to its release. It quickly became the number one viral video online, with close to 2 million views and its “magic” was one of the top trending Twitter topics of discussion.

Another useful capability in Photoshop CS5 is the ability to create accurate masks and selections of intricate elements quickly and more easily with a set of new edge-selection modification controls that allow edges to be detected more precisely. The new options are available in the Refine Edge dialog that is available when any selection tool is active. Figure 2 shows them being applied for more precise selection of the background of a photograph with many trees, which typically have many intricate edges. The Smart Radius option automatically matches the selection with the different edge conditions of different elements in the photograph, while the accompanying Refine Radius tool can be applied to specific parts of the selection to fine-tune it as desired. There is also a new Decontaminate Colors option that can be used to eliminate any residual background color from around the edges of the selection. In addition, the Refine Edge dialog has extra view modes that make it easier to preview the quality of the selection, as well as an expanded set of output options for more flexibility when using the completed mask.


Figure 2. Using the new Refine Edge options to make a more accurate selection of the background of a photograph that includes a lot of trees with intricate edges.

For photographers, Photoshop CS5 offers enhanced high dynamic range (HDR) capabilities. When combining multiple exposures into a single HDR image, it preserves the full tonal range of a scene with high contrast. A new HDR Pro has been introduced that provides more control over the HDR merging process and greater tone mapping and adjustment control. For those who are not professional photographers and typically take a single photograph of a scene, Photoshop CS5 also offers an HDR Toning option that can be used to emulate the striking look of an HDR image using a single photo. Figure 3 shows the HDR Toning option applied to dramatically improve the quality of a photograph. Various adjustments can be made to achieve the desired look. Other photography-related enhancements include better raw-image processing with the Adobe Camera Raw 6 plug-in, which supports more than 275 camera models for conversion of raw files, and provides better noise removal, image sharpening, automatic correction of common lens aberrations, and the ability to add creative effects with new styles of vignettes and film-like grain. There is also a new Lens Correction filter that can correct multiple key-lens distortion errors automatically.


Figure 3. Applying HDR Toning to a single photograph (top image) to emulate the look of an HDR image (lower image).

Other key enhancements in Photoshop CS5 include a new Mixer Brush, which blends an infinite combination of colors onto a single paintbrush tip, and Bristle Tips, which lets you create lifelike, textured brush strokes. Both of these provide more flexibility and creative control to painters and can help them achieve more natural and realistic painting effects. An interesting new Puppet Warp capability allows users to precisely reposition or warp any image element, such as straightening a bent element in a photo or manipulating an entire photo for interesting effects, as shown in Figure 4. On the interface front, a new customizable Adobe Mini Bridge panel is available directly in the software for faster file browsing and management, along with a new Workspace Switcher, which makes it more convenient to switch between preconfigured and custom workspaces. In addition, Photoshop CS5 is now a native 64-bit application on both Mac and Windows, allowing users to work more quickly and easily on complex, high-resolution projects.


Figure 4. Using the new Puppet Warp capability to distort an entire photograph. The original and resultant images are also shown.

In addition to these key new improvements, more than 30 features and enhancements requested directly by the Photoshop community have been added to this release, including automatic image straightening, the ability to drag and drop a file onto an open Photoshop file to create a new layer, the ability to adjust the opacity and fill of multiple layers, faster import of OBJ files, the ability to save 16-bit images as JPEGs, and several improvements to the Lens Correction tool. The goal was to address seemingly minor enhancements that directly impact everyday workflow, but aren’t always at the top of the development list for a new release.

It should also be noted that all Adobe Creative Suite 5 products now integrate with Adobe CS Live, a set of five online services, complimentary for a limited time, that are intended to improve design workflows. The ones most relevant to Photoshop are Adobe CS Review and Acrobat.com. Adobe CS Review enables online design reviews directly within Photoshop, while access to Acrobat.com services, such as Adobe ConnectNow Web conferencing, allows discussion and collaboration on projects with colleagues and clients around the globe.

Enhancements Specific to Photoshop CS5 Extended

Of the new features in the Extended edition of Photoshop CS5, the one that would be most relevant to AEC professionals is the ability to add realistic materials to 3D objects to achieve higher quality images. Recall from my review of Photoshop CS3 Extended that you can import 3D models in one of five different formats: 3DS, OBJ, COLLADA, KMZ, and U3D. While the ability to apply textures was available even in CS3, you could not apply any textures, or even plain colors, to those surfaces of the model that were not textured to begin with. Photoshop CS4 Extended introduced the capability to paint directly on the surfaces of the model, even those surfaces for which no texture had been applied in the original authoring application. In the new version of Photoshop Extended, a new Materials library has been introduced with a large number of materials that can be applied to capture the realism and appearance of 3D objects (see Figure 5). You can select materials from this library of included presets, download additional materials from an online resource, create your own, or edit existing materials to customize them as desired. Materials that include reflection or refraction properties can be rendered with the new Ray Tracer engine for added realism.


Figure 5. Importing a SketchUp model into Photoshop CS5 Extended using the KMZ format, and subsequently changing one of the textures of the original model to a brick texture available in the new Materials library in Photoshop.

The application also includes an expanded set of lighting options. A new Shadow Catcher feature allows you to easily generate a shadow on the ground plane of a scene, and then adjust how the shadow interacts with the image content of other layers by altering its opacity and softness. It is also possible now to use images—even 32-bit HDR photos—as a source of lighting for 3D models. This means that you can take any image and utilize its Color and Luminance properties to light the scene, so that the model will look as if it was photographed within the same environment, as shown in Figure 6.


Figure 6. The use of image-based lighting in Photoshop CS5 Extended. (Courtesy: Adobe)

The other main feature of Photoshop CS5 Extended is more relevant to graphic artists who create logos and 3D artwork for use in websites, video frames, or layouts. It is called Repoussé, and its name comes from an ancient metalworking technique for embossing artwork on the surface of metals such as gold, silver, copper, tin, and bronze. It allows users to easily convert 2D artwork into 3D objects and then create depth by altering the extrusion properties of the 3D model. The look of the 3D model can be altered by manipulating its key extrusion properties—depth, scale, bend, shear, twist, or inflate—located in the Repoussé dialog box, as shown in Figure 7.


Figure 7. Using Repoussé to convert 2D artwork into a 3D model.

Analysis and Conclusions

The CS5 release of Adobe Photoshop is a special milestone in the application’s history. When it was launched 20 years ago, it was a seemingly simple software application, but it soon became the top selling graphics editing program on the market. Today, Photoshop is ubiquitous on the desktops of most creative professionals, who use it to create a wide array of digital content across a range of industries. The advances in digital imaging technology have fueled demand for improved imaging capabilities in other industries as well, to which Adobe responded by introducing Photoshop CS3 Extended, which included 3D graphics, interactivity, and other related features. One of these vertical markets that Photoshop Extended serves is architecture, engineering, and construction, a field heavily dependent on communicating visual concepts to clients. Photoshop Extended lets AEC users bring what they create in other 3D modeling programs directly into different layers in Photoshop and use the 3D painting capabilities to edit the appearance of existing materials and textures, so that the resultant renderings look more realistic. Figure 8 shows an example of a professional architectural illustration that was created using the 3D capabilities of Photoshop Extended.


Figure 8. A rendering created by architectural illustrator Robert Frank by importing a 3D model in Photoshop Extended and using the 3D painting capabilities to edit the appearance of existing materials and textures. (Courtesy: Adobe)

Looking at the new release, Photoshop CS5 as a whole includes some remarkable new capabilities, most notably the Content-Aware feature that can almost magically remove unwanted objects from a scene. The new HDR capabilities will be helpful to both professional and amateur photographers, and the enhanced edge-selection features will be especially useful for architectural compositing, as they can be used to make accurate selections of image parts for deletion or for cutting and pasting against another background. The new painting features as well as Puppet Warp are fun to work with and can be used to explore different creative presentations of design proposals. Collectively, all of these features indicate that innovation is still alive and well in the Photoshop development team, and that it is still possible to bring out the “Wow” reaction in an application that has been around for 20 years.

In contrast to the sophisticated imaging enhancements in Photoshop CS5, I was disappointed to find that the improvements in the new Extended version have been fairly marginal, just as with Photoshop CS4 Extended. The bulk of the functionality remains the same as it was in the first release, Photoshop CS3 Extended. There has been no increase in the number of 3D file formats supported, and the 3D functionality still remains quite difficult to work with, compared to other visualization applications that work with 3D models. While graphic artists that already use Photoshop extensively may find it easy to extend the use of the application to create 3D artwork, AEC examples similar to that shown in Figure 8 would more likely be created using other applications. Even the 3D navigation problem I had pointed out in my review of Photoshop CS3 Extended—where there is no easy way to maintain the verticality of a building model—has still not been addressed in the new release. Adobe seems to be continuing to focus on developing broader features in Photoshop Extended that can work across a range of disciplines rather than the requirements of specific industries such as AEC. This may seem understandable from a business perspective—especially given the current state of the economy—but is still quite unfortunate for AEC users, given that the application is so technologically advanced on other fronts.

About the Author

Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at lachmi@aecbytes.com.

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