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29Dec

What version of Photoshop should I be using?

Photoshop is probably the first application people think of when digital artwork is brought up. Whether you work in print, web, video, or photography (just to name a few), it’s very likely that the software is integrated into your workflow. And it’s not just digital artists who know of it, as even my technology-inept mother will joke and say something could be “Photoshopped” eventually to fix a particularly awful photo. But with the different versions of Photoshop that have been released over the last few years, which one is right for what you’d like to do? The answer is simple, and I’ll adapt a great photography quote to shed some light on the matter: “The best version of Photoshop is the one you’re using.” It’s true to a point, but there are a few considerations you might want to ponder before you make the investment.

What features distinguish the recent versions of PS?

We’re now on version CS5 or CS5 Extended, but version to version, the software really hasn’t changed that much since about CS3. I could probably even get away with saying that CS2 was the last major update, as it included more functionality when dealing with RAW files from DSLR cameras. What CS3 did add was native support for Intel processors in Macs and better support for Windows Vista users. Beyond that, it changed some of the adjustment dialog options and included Smart Filters. There was also mobile graphics optimization and a somewhat revised user interface (though not by much) within the CS3 version.

You may look at that above paragraph and say, “huh?!?” And that’s just the point I’m trying to make. While there certainly are enhancements added from one version to the next, what Adobe seems to be focusing on much more is designing tool sets and functions for particular users. For instance, CS4 added a lot of 3D tools for working with models and painting on textures. Most people will never even play around with that, and the ones that do will use it as a selling point. If you’ve used a version from as far back as 7.0 (when I started) and been able to do what you wanted in it, you’ll continue using the subsequent versions exactly the same way for the most part.

Above: The changes look vast, but they're really not...

So what are the cases when you might truly benefit from selected a more current version? As few as they are, I’ll highlight them here.

You really want to use those 3D tools. – You may be one of the people who could benefit from being able to paint on textures within Photoshop. If that’s the case, CS5 Extended includes various tools as well as a renderer in the package.

You’re using a new system. – While CS4 included 64-bit support for Vista users, it was CS5 that had the support built into the Mac version. You’ll also need OSX Snow Leopard to take advantage of it, but any Mac from the last year will support it. Expect faster speeds from startup to applying effects, as well as saving. Open GL (a rendering engine that uses your computer’s graphics card) is enabled starting in version CS4, which adds little interface enhancements to people with better cards. However, I personally disable them because I find them more distracting than anything. Again, I end up using my new version just like I used 7.0, with very few differences.

You need a whole suite of software. – If you buy software for an office or an art department, buying the whole Adobe Creative Suite might be an option for you. This is a package that includes much (or all, depending on which one you choose) of the software from Adobe. In this case, there are enhancements that are more dramatic than we’ve seen recently with Photoshop, so it would make sense to get the latest version. It would be a good idea to have the same version of all the software to ensure that they can all interact properly.

Just saying, is all.

Of course, having Photoshop CS5 won’t hurt a thing. I’m just stressing to not go out to spend the money just for the latest version, unless there’s a certain feature that would make your job easier. For me, there hasn’t been a feature that I’ve used since about version CS3 that wasn’t included in previous versions. I am, however, on a newer Mac and therefore benefit from the 64-bit support in the current version. I don’t look to upgrade any time soon.

The alternatives.

I also wanted to point out that there are alternatives to Photoshop if you’re just starting out or your job doesn’t require advanced features of Adobe’s software.

Gimp – This software has been open source and available on all desktop platforms for quite a while now. It functions very similarly to Photoshop and is completely free and pretty great in every way. You can get it here.

Pixelmator – This is an OSX-exclusive application, but my Mac brethren would be wise to check it out. It has the same basic functionality from Photoshop is there, but with a very unique and intuitive interface. Better yet, it’s available for a mere $59 and you can find it here.

So weigh your options carefully, and consider saving the extra cash you’d have from not jumping to the current version of Photoshop right now. Check out this article on Wikipedia if you’d like to compare the versions yourself. Happy ‘shopping! Tee hee.

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