Adobe’s Photoshop CS6 Beta: Even a Little More Magical

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Harry McCracken /

Sometime in the first half of 2012, Adobe plans to release Photoshop CS6, the new version of the image-editing software that’s synonymous with image editing. It’s been providing sneak peeks at selected new features — such as this and this — for awhile now.

Now the company’s releasing something way better than a sneak peek: a free downloadable beta version of the new software. It’s part of Adobe Labs and is available here.

Photoshop’s user interface hasn’t changed much over the years — except to get more convoluted and inconsistent as Adobe has packed in more and more features. With CS6, it’s getting a meaningful makeover. It’s not an utter reinvention, and learning how to take advantage of the software’s nearly infinite bag of tricks still takes time. But it’s certainly a step forward.

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The most obvious change is the color scheme: Photoshop now has a dark color scheme made up of various shades of gray. It’s a more trendy look — Photoshop Elements already has it — and Adobe says that it helps the tools retreat into the background so you can concentrate on your image. Various elements such as dialog boxes, sliders and other controls are now more consistent, too.

When Photoshop CS5 debuted in 2010, its signature new feature was probably the amazing Content Aware Fill, which can intelligently fill in space in a photo based on what surrounds it — to extend a cloudy sky or a grassy field, for instance. In CS6, Content Aware Fill has some new companion features. Content Aware Patch, for instance, lets you specify which part of an image Photoshop should analyze when it fills in space, which is helpful when Photoshop’s first stab at doing it on its own doesn’t turn out well.

Harry McCracken /

Even cooler, Content Aware Move lets you drag objects or people around in a photo — and Photoshop automatically repairs the background. With the right type of image, it works remarkably well.

At right is the new version of the image at the top of this post that Photoshop created when I moved the kids to the right. It’s not perfect — you’d probably want to finesse the gravel background a little further by hand — but Photoshop did all the work itself.

Photoshop CS6 Blur Gallery

Harry McCracken /

Another nifty addition, the Blur Gallery, lets you apply a variety of effects to photos, including tilt-shift and simulated bokeh background blurring.

Photoshop CS6 has plenty of other stuff — Adobe says it has “62 percent more new features,” which sounds impressive even though I don’t know how to do that math. There are more video-editing features, and the beta has additional features for rendering 3D images that will end up as part of Photoshop CS6 Extended, a pricier premium edition. Under the hood, it uses something called the Adobe Mercury Graphics Engine to speed up performance.

One of Photoshop’s most mundane enhancements may be the single most important fix: It finally has an auto-save feature. (Only Photoshop users who save a lot more fastidiously than I do don’t know the sinking feeling of seeing one’s computer crash and take a nearly-completed Photoshop creation down with it.)

When the final version of Photoshop PS6 ships, it’ll be available in standalone form, as part of its new Creative Cloud pay-as-you-go service and in the Creative Suite and Master Collection bundles. Adobe plans to announce pricing and other details closer to the release date.

MORE: I reviewed and liked Photoshop Touch for the iPad.