Adobe Photoshop 5.5, ImageReady 2.0

Reviewed by: Doug Reed, send e-mail
Published by: Adobe, go to the web site
Requires: Win95/98, 64 MB RAM
MSRP: $609 ($199 upgrade)

Adobe's Photoshop has long been the premiere graphics design software on both Mac and PC computers. Adobe maintains that lead by constantly releasing new versions with new features while still maintaining the same basic interface, allowing you to feel instantly at home. Adobe's stated goal in the Photoshop manual is for this software to be a comprehensive environment for designing graphics for print or the web. Included with Photoshop 5.5 is version 2.0 of ImageReady, an application which can optimize graphics for the web as well as create some of the nifty effects and animations you see on the web. Photoshop is as powerful and comprehensive as anyone could possibly wish; ImageReady is probably perfect for graphics designers migrating to the web although to this web designer it feels a little rough around the edges.

Installation Photoshop comes with two manuals, a hefty User's Guide and a Supplement that describes how to use ImageReady. The software itself comes on a single CD, and includes the latest versions of Adobe Acrobat Reader, Quicktime, and a postscript print driver for Windows. A second CD provides the tutorials, essential for anyone who is a newcomer to using Photoshop. Installation requires about 100 MB of space, although this can be customized; installing the optional extras (like Quicktime and Acrobat Reader) require additional space but I would recommend finding the space to install them. The two applications are real hardware hogs - Adobe recommends 64 MB RAM minimum for running one of the two, and 100 MB or more if you want to run both at the same time. In my testing on my 48 MB RAM Pentium I noticed no excruciating lag, so that RAM estimate by Adobe must include virtual memory.

Tutorials The two manuals and the tutorial on the 2nd CD are more than enough to teach anyone how to use Photoshop and ImageReady. While they don't describe every feature in detail, anyone who uses these resources will certainly know how to navigate and use the interface to find what they need.

Meat-And-Potatoes In terms of the layout and interface, Photoshop remains basically unchanged from my previous review (version 4.0). Various palettes and toolbars are placed on the left and right hand sides of the screen, leaving the middle for display of your images. Creating those images works by using layers, placing one on top of another and arranging for the look you desire. Effects can be performed on various layers, as well as changing the layers with the various tools. New tools include one that's been on my personal wish list for some time: a background eraser tool. The background eraser can erase more than just a single color; by setting the sampling and tolerance options you can erase everything but the portion of the image you want to retain. In the example given in the book, you can erase the meadow background from around the body of a horse.

Photoshop has substantially improved support for web graphics than the previous version I reviewed. Now you can directly save images in GIF format! JPEG and PNG support is also much improved - including background and transparency effects in PNG.

ImageReady is a really interesting new addition. In the example provided in the User's Guide Supplement, you take a Photoshop image that looks like a web page and carve it up into 'slices'. These slices can then be manipulated, for example, you can ask ImageReady to make an image 'rollover' to display a new image. For example, you could make a navigation menu with buttons that change color when the user moves their mouse over the button. ImageReady does all the coding for you. The possibilities are quite enormous for the kinds of effects you can make. ImageReady also gives you the ability to make animated GIFs. This works very well - you simply open the animation palette and put each image in sequence in the palette. Then you can change the timing of the image display, or the number of the loops, or ask ImageReady to add additional images to create effects like gradual fades between frames. Very cool!

Flies in the ointment The problem I have with ImageReady comes when you save this document as a web page. The page displays fine in every browser I could test it. Those browsers that support the special effects appear to do so nicely. The page even 'degrades' nicely in older browsers - no, you don't get the effects - but at least the full page appears. The problem is that the entire page is sliced into nothing but graphics. Yes, it does display nicely. Yes, the page and the graphics are optimized for quick loading. But what about users who are blind, or who don't want to look at your pretty pictures? They would only see one giant blank page! From a graphics designer's standpoint the page might be considered beautiful. From a web designer's standpoint - Yikes! And unfortunately, ImageReady does not allow you to start with graphics on a webpage - you start with a graphic of the entire page and slice it up. You can use ImageReady, however, to design portions of web pages. You can, for example, design a button with a rollover effect and save it as a web page, then cut and paste the necessary code (as well as the link to the images) into your actual web page. And I think this is what the software designers intended. You should note however that the example given in the Adobe manual implies you can design an entire page, when the truth is the page you design would be an egregious sin in the eyes of most web designers.

Summary Photoshop is still the best and most comprehensive graphics software around. New features make Photoshop a much better tool for designing graphics for the web. The additional ImageReady software is a very useful tool for web graphics design, including animation effects and dynamic HTML effects. The problem I mentioned with ImageReady is a minor one - and one easily avoided by the serious designer. Although it is a point worth mentioning (IMHO), it hardly negates the value of this software. Bottom line: if you are a serious graphics designer, you probably already have this software. If you are a web designer looking to make the leap into professional design, this is the graphics software you need.

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