Adobe Photoshop Touch for the iPad

| In-Depth Review

Photoshop Touch, like its desktop cousin Photoshop, is an image editor with features designed to give more control over your photo edits than simply applying basic effects. The iPad app doesn’t include as many features as the OS X version, and the interface is designed to be touch-friendly instead of requiring a keyboard and mouse. Most of those limitations, however, make sense considering this is an app designed to work with the iPad and iOS’s touch-based gestures.

Photoshop Touch: before and after imagesPhotoshop Touch lets you enhance your photos on the go

Features
The app includes most of what you’d expect from a product bearing the Photoshop name, such as support for layers, filters and effects, color adjustment controls, and the ability to extract parts of images. You can share your projects from Photoshop Touch, and the app offers a few ways to get images in for editing, too.

If that sounds like exactly what you need, double check to make sure you have the right iOS gear before dropping your hard earned cash on the app. Photoshop Touch requires an iPad 2 or third generation iPad (available March 16) and iOS 5.0 or higher. Our tests show it runs fine under iOS 5.1, too, so don’t let that hold you back from installing that update.

Interface
Photoshop Touch’s interface is only vaguely similar to Photoshop in that it has rudimentary tool and layers panels, menus with filters, and a few more tools for adjustments and effects. While the interface isn’t overly complicated, it isn’t exactly intuitive, either. It works fine for touch, which is how the iPad was designed to be used, but it also feels like Adobe forgot that Apple’s tablet doesn’t ship with a keyboard and mouse because some features seem like they’d be much easier to use if your fingers weren’t touching the screen.

Photoshop Touch's interface looks a little familiar to Photoshop usersPhotoshop Touch’s interface looks a little familiar to Photoshop users

I recommend using a stylus with Photoshop Touch because the tools, filters and effects are much easier to handle with a good stylus instead of your fingers. A stylus gets your hand out of the way so you can see your tools along with the image you’re editing. Working sans stylus was an exercise in frustration and left me assuming that Adobe’s coders have longer fingers than I do. Much, much longer.

The app’s menus and tools feel a little disorganized, modal tools waste valuable screen space, and some tools are cumbersome with limited controls. I eventually realized the interface felt like it belonged on an Android tablet, which made sense considering Adobe released Photoshop Touch for that platform first. That said, there is plenty to like about the app.

Modal dialogs waste lots of valuable screen spaceModal dialogs waste lots of valuable screen space

Tutorials are always nice considering most iOS apps don’t ship with manuals, and Adobe did a great job of covering Photoshop Touch’s features with the included step-by-step lessons. They’re good for showing not only what you can do with the app, but also how. The trick to avoiding confusion with the tutorials is in knowing that the on-screen highlights sometimes point to the tool or feature you need to access, and other times simply point to the panel where you can find the referenced tool or option.

Tools
Photoshop Touch’s tool set feels fairly well rounded considering the platform and inherent limitations when working with a touch-only interface, although the lack of a Straighten tool is a glaring omission. Fixing the alignment in an image is a fairly basic feature and something that photographers do all the time. Of all the features to leave out of version 1, Straighten was one I didn’t expect.

The edits and changes you make to your images are destructive, and there aren’t any adjustment layers, so be sure you’re happy with your work before committing because there isn’t any going back later. There is, however, an Undo option which gives you a little reprieve if a change doesn’t work out the way you want.

The Scribble Select tool makes it fairly easy to cut out parts of imagesThe Scribble Select tool makes it fairly easy to cut out parts of images

Photoshop Touch’s tool set includes Marquee, Magic Wand and Scribble selection, Paint and Spray Paint, Healing Brush, Clone Stamp, Smudge and Blur, Eraser, and Text. It also includes Cut, Copy, Copy Merged, Paste, Clear, Extract, and more.

Overall, the tools are fairly easy to use, although the Text tool is too limited because what you type rasterizes immediately once you’re done with your initial edits and effects. That means you can’t later change the text; instead, you’ll have to start over and hope the next time around your text turns out the way you want.

The Extract tool works surprisingly wellThe Extract tool works surprisingly well

The Extract tool is worth the price of admission. Thanks to its ability to help me cut out parts of images intelligently, Photoshop Touch has earned a place on my iPad and gets me another step closer to traveling with a tablet instead of my MacBook Air for some events. It’s the killer feature in this app and puts a big smile on my face.

I was able to cut the background out of my test images so I could see lower layers, and using the Scribble Select tool worked surprisingly well when I also relied on a stylus.

Even though the Extract tool works well, don’t expect to remove an image background quickly. Cutting the white background out of my test images typically took about 20 minutes because I spent quite a while using the Refine Edges option to make sure I cut out only what I didn’t need. The same process on my Mac took a fraction of the time.

Zooming uses the standard pinch gesture and is a feature you’ll likely use a lot so you can better see image detail. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to jump back to actual size or fit-to-screen. Both would be great additions in a 1.1 update (Are you listening, Adobe?).

The Crop tool hidden under the “&” menu, includes an aspect ratio lock — an essential and welcome option. The app also includes color adjustment tools that seem to work well, although color correction isn’t an option because there aren’t any true display calibration systems for the iPad. More often than not, however, colors were fairly close when I compared the same image on my iPad and in Photoshop on my Mac.

Photoshop Touch’s Effects menu is an interesting collection in that you can’t tell from here if Adobe is targeting casual users or professional photographers with the app. While much of what Photoshop Touch can do seems to be aimed at more than the casual user, the Effects menu includes filers such as Moonlight and Color Drops.

Plenty of Adjustments options, but not much controlPlenty of Adjustments options, but not much control

While the Adjustments menu includes a nice selection of options, such as Saturation, Color Balance, Levels and Curves, the control you have over those are fairly coarse. Black & White, for example, doesn’t include any options; it simple changes an image to black and white with its own pre-defined settings.

Import and Export
Photoshop Touch can grab images from iOS’s Camera Roll, the iPad’s built-in camera, Facebook, Google Image Search, and Adobe Creative Cloud.

The Google Image Search option looks for images by default tagged for reuse with modification, although you can also look for all images regardless of licensing requirements. It also includes an option to search by color and displays the images it finds as easy to see thumbnails.

Grabbing images from Adobe’s Creative Cloud requires an account for the service. As long as you can live within a 2GB storage limit, you can sign up for free. While the service can be a little cumbersome to use, it still comes in handy if you plan on moving images to your Mac for additional edits.

Don’t plan on working with big images in Photoshop Touch. It’s maximum file size is limited to 1600x1600 pixels, which means images that are larger than that will downsize on import.

Exporting images is limited to JPEG format. Images can be sent to your iPad’s Camera Roll, emailed, shared with Facebook, and printed via AirPrint. Since JPEG doesn’t support Photoshop’s layers, your images will export flattened, which really cuts down on your editing options later on.

You can keep your layers, but only by exporting to Adobe Creative CloudYou can keep your layers, but only by exporting to Adobe Creative Cloud

If you want to retain the layers in your Photoshop Touch projects, you’re only export option is Adobe Creative Cloud. The app exports its own PDSX format, so you’ll need to download Adobe’s plug-in for opening the files in Photoshop. The plug-in is free, which takes a little of the sting out of the export process.

The Creative Cloud Web page is your only path for exporting files for PhotoshopThe Creative Cloud Web page is your only path for exporting files for Photoshop

Downloading files from Creative Cloud requires a trip to your Web browser because there isn’t any way to connect to the service directly from Photoshop. The upside is that the Creative Cloud website doesn’t require Flash.

Performance
I’m certain Adobe’s decision to leave the original iPad off the list of supported devices doesn’t have anything to do with the lack of a camera. Instead, I’m sure it had everything to do with performance. Photoshop Touch can be sluggish on an iPad 2, and at times feels slow enough that I’m betting if the tablet had internal fans it would lift off the table.

Selecting tools and filters was responsive, and jumping between layers was quick, too. Adobe’s spinning squares animation that lets you know the app is in the middle of processing something, however, appeared often enough that I was left wondering if Photoshop Touch was written in Flash and ported to iOS.

The Scribble Select tool may make it easy to grab the parts of an image to extract, but if those areas are large — or the edges are fairly detailed — you’ll see performance hits as the app sorts out exactly what should be selected. It works, but it takes time and isn’t something I’d want to deal with in a rush.

The Bottom Line
Photoshop Touch is a capable app for photo editing, although I don’t like when I have to say “It’s good for version 1.” I’d prefer to be able to say that it’s just great.

While casual photographers may find Photoshop Touch fun to experiment with because it includes more features than other iPad image editors, pro and semi-pro users may feel it’s too limiting for more than experimenting and quick image fixes.

Despite the app’s limitations, it’s Extraction feature alone makes Photoshop Touch worthwhile. Support for layers, along with the built-in filters and the ability to export for Photoshop makes the app even more useful, too.

Instead of being my primary iPad image editor, however, Photoshop Touch will serve me just like every other image editor I use on the go: It’ll handle certain tasks while other apps will get to do what they do best, like applying enhancements and filters. We’re getting closer to a one-app-does-it all iPad image editor, but we’re still not quite there — although Adobe is off to a good start.

Product: Photoshop Touch 1.0

Company: Adobe

List Price: $9.99

Pros:

Nice selection of image editing tools and filters, supports layers, flexible import options. Extract tool is great.

Cons:

Exporting for Photoshop requires cumbersome steps and Adobe Creative Clud account. Unorganized interface, difficult to use without a stylus, sluggish at times.

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