(Re)touching on a quarter-century of Adobe Photoshop

The next person to use the Twirl filter deserves a kicking

Cropping out the competition

Adobe’s Russell Brown says the program truly opened up to artists when David Hockney came in for a training session. Apparently he used Photoshop at the time without an automated feature for such a purpose, to reproduce his famous panoramic Polaroid collages on-screen. “For the first time,” said Russell, “Photoshop was put into the hands of really creative people, and it went on from there.” Or as Steve Guttman put it: “Photoshop democratised image editing and made it available to artists.”

How Top Gear would look if it were presented by women. Artwork by stevecaplin.com for Radio Times

How Top Gear would look if it were presented by women, for Radio Times
Artwork courtesy of Steve Caplin

Indeed, Photoshop is either the principal or the only software package used by cartoon and graphic novel artists around the world today. Sure, other packages popular with artists exist, from Corel Painter to Manga Studio, but nothing can touch Photoshop when it comes to working across multiple transparent layers.

That said, with Photoshop so universally recognised today, even among members of the public who have never actually seen it, it’s forgotten that the program faced stiff competition throughout its early years. Right from the start, Fractal Design’s ColorStudio was the choice product for professionals in specialised markets, while Photoshop looked too friendly in comparison. In the event, this did it no harm whatsoever.

Aldus Photostyler

Aldus Photostyler

By the time Adobe, with Tom Knoll’s help, had rewritten all of the original code to support 16-bit colour images and released for Mac and Windows together (version 2.5), Photoshop was facing a direct competitor in the form of Aldus PhotoStyler. When Photoshop 3.0 came out, a powerful multi-layer program called Live Picture joined the fray. Macromedia then went head to head with Photoshop 4.0 with a highly regarded image editor and processor called xRes.

It was by no means certain that Photoshop would see them all off, not least when Adobe entered into a deliberate process of upsetting its own loyal user base by re-inventing the user interface for version 4.0. The tools and panels looked good, of course, but users found the menus had been “re-organised” (mixed up) and many of the keyboard shortcuts had been “improved” (buggered around with).

Adobe Photoshop history

Hooray for the History panel in version 5.0. Making mistakes is cool

To ease things, Adobe acted like any other US creative corporate: it bought the direct competition and killed it off, in this case Aldus PhotoStyler. Then after allowing the dust to settle following the re-invented interface debacle, it puffed it up again with more fiddling with Photoshop 5.0’s interface, but complaints quickly died down. HSC Software’s Live Picture never lived up to its potential and xRes simply faded away, Macromedia itself eventually being absorbed into Adobe in 2005.

But in the late 1990s, Adobe dealt a master-stroke. It used the core code from Photoshop to release a cut-down package for hobbyist photographers with digital cameras. Initially called Photoshop LE for its first two releases, it was renamed Photoshop Elements in 2001 and was sold cheaply to those few people who hadn’t already found a copy bundled with their digital camera or domestic image scanner. For the world at large, Photoshop was image editing and it already had a copy, so why buy anything else?

Adobe Photoshop 7 – Dabbsy with no eyebrows

A younger, fitter (Reg columnist) Dabbsy finds out with Photoshop 7.0 what he would look like if he shaved off his eyebrows

Photoshop 6.0 and 7.0 saw off the true competition entirely, leaving Windows-only packages such as Paint Shop Pro and Corel Photo-Paint with plenty of admirers but only a tiny fraction of the market.

Returning to the late 1990s, the release of the full Photoshop 5.5 was notable for coming with a secondary image editing program called ImageReady, targeted at designers creating web graphics. ImageReady was slow, clumsy and about as integrated with Photoshop as your home’s gas pipes are with your water pipes, but it produced extremely good online results.

Adobe ImageReady

So what’s different about ImageReady? Check out the button states in the Rollovers panel.

Although ImageReady was eventually given the boot with the release of Creative Suite 3 (CS3) in 2007, it established Photoshop not just as an essential tool for web designers but the one they would go to first for roughing out and slicing up complex site designs.

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