Hands-on: Adobe Photoshop Touch for the iPad 2

Photoshop fans have been waiting a long time for something akin to Photoshop for the iPad. Now that it's here, how well does it work?

Adobe Photoshop for the iPad 2 launched Monday for $9.99, offering a raft of photo-editing features. I found on the first day of testing that if you need to quickly edit a photo or create a collage, this app can do the job. Here's what you can expect to find.

Photoshop Touch includes layers that operate smartly--more so than the desktop Photoshop's own layers, in fact. Click the + icon in the Layer palette along the right of the screen and choose to add a layer. Once you select a photo layer, you can load an image from your iPad or from the Creative Cloud, capture one with your camera, or grab one from Google or Facebook. When you do this, you can resize rotate or flip the image before making further edits.

Once you've imported an image, you can apply one of a series of adjustments to it. Adjustments include Saturation, Brightness/Contrast, Shadow/Highlights, Reduce Noise, Curves, and more. If you choose Curves, for example, you can adjust the image's tonal range using your finger much as you would drag on the curve line in Photoshop for the desktop. You can even select to adjust the composite RGB channel or individual color channels.

Photoshop Touch includes many features that Photoshop users will be familiar with, including the capability to adjust the opacity of a layer, to merge a layer with the layer below, to flatten the image, and a match color feature which borrows the colors on the layer below to recolor the current layer. You can drag layers up and down in the layer stack, and tap each one to toggle its visibility on or off.

There is also a small range of layer blend modes, including Normal, Multiply, Screen, and Overlay. While this isn't the full Photoshop set, it includes the most useful of them.

Use the new Scribble Selection tool to extract a subject from its background. It's on the left-hand panel of tools with a torn corner icon, alongside the Magic Wand and Brush Selection. It has two options; Keep and Remove. Select one of the options and paint over the portion of the image you wish either to keep or remove, and Photoshop Touch makes the selection for you. You can fine-tune this selection using the Refine Edge feature on the Select menu, then use the Extract command on the Edit menu to extract the subject from its background.

Other features include a small selection of filters and a range of basic tools, such as a paint brush, a clone stamp, a spot healing brush, selection fill and stroke, warp, as well as image resizing and cropping.

You can save a finished image by tapping the arrow icon in the top left corner, keeping its layers intact. Once it's saved, you can send the image to your camera roll, share it via email, upload it to Facebook, or print it. And you can create folders to organize your work.

While there is a lot to like about Photoshop Touch, there are some disappointments, such as the lack of layer masks or adjustment layers. When you add type to an image, it's raster type that can't be edited. These are drawbacks if you're trying to make non-destructive edits to an image. In addition, the image size is limited to 1600 x 1600 pixels, which is larger than an image captured with either of the iPad 2 cameras, but still relatively small. And the app only works in landscape orientation and won't flip to portrait mode.

That said, Photoshop Touch doesn't look much like Photoshop for the desktop, and it offers a relatively easy learning curve that will appeal to new users. If you're already a Photoshop user, many tools you're used to are here but the arrangement of icons and their very appearance is different, so it's not all familiar territory. That said, after an hour or so of tinkering, you should be comfortable moving around and be well on the way to editing photos and creating images.

While it doesn't offer all that the full Photoshop or Photoshop Elements do, Photoshop Touch is a great app nevertheless. Compared with Photoshop.com, it offers more control over the photo edits and doesn't require you to be online to do the work. You can't get files from the Web or upload them if your iPad is not online, but Photoshop Touch works in airplane mode, so you can perform and save most of your editing offline.

This app isn't designed for heavy work and it won't replace Photoshop, but it will do just fine for light photo-editing, such as cleaning up images or mocking up projects you will complete later on a desktop. Photoshop Touch ranks as one of the better image-editing apps for the iPad. In addition to this standalone download, it's included in the new Adobe Creative Cloud suite, which will ultimately deliver integrated tablet and desktop applications including Lightroom and the Creative Suite 6 for $49.99 per month. All of that is set to launch sometime in the first half of this year.

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Helen Bradley

PC World (US online)
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