Photoshop CS6 improvements

The Photoshop CS6 beta is now available. It includes a ton of big and small improvements over previous versions. Here are the ones that matter to me, as an interface designer.

Layer searching

Search for layers by layer type, name, effect (layer style), blending mode, colour or by large range of attributes. Want to find all layers that have a pattern overlay layer style? Just search for effect and overlay. CS6’s improved searching should make traversing 1000+ layer documents a whole lot easier.

Vector pixel snapping

Pixel snapping behaviour has been drastically improved in Photoshop CS6, negating the need for some of the janky workflows required when editing vector points in CS5.

There’s two main settings to control everything, Align Edges and Snap Vector Tools and Transforms to Pixel Grid.

Align Edges snaps the edge of entire objects to the pixel boundary, while maintaining the relationship of non-edge points. This means crisp edges, without rounding any of the inner points. It can be found in the Options Bar and is enabled on a per-layer basis. If my description doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. It’s easier to use than it is to explain.

Snap Vector Tools and Transforms to Pixel Grid controls all vector creation and editing. All vector tools can now snap to pixel boundaries, including the pen and ellipse tools (yep, pixel snapped circles). For me, these changes alone are worth the upgrade price. Snap Vector Tools and Transforms to Pixel Grid can be found in Preferences under the General tab. My only complaint would be that the setting is pretty well hidden. It’s actionable though, so that’s exactly what I’ve done. If you’d like to enable and disable it via a keyboard shortcut, download our Bjango Actions and use F15 to enable snapping and shift-F15 to disable it.

Layer Styles on Groups

Layer styles can now be applied to groups in the same way they can be applied to bitmap, vector and type layers. There’s many reasons why this is an awesome feature, but my main use for it will probably be to apply more layer styles to objects — you can now have two or more drop shadows by nesting layers inside groups and applying layer styles to the groups. In my opinion, this is a far better technique than using Smart Objects for the same purpose, because this will allow documents to scale and maintain quality (Smart Objects don’t, depending on how you’ve created them).

Group Clipping Masks

Layers can now be clipped to groups, allowing for some pretty wild masking possibilities. Use in abundance and in combination with group layer styles to impress and confuse your CS5-using friends.

Pasting from Illustrator fixed

Pasting vector shapes from Illustrator now always aligns to the pixel boundary. No need for Jedi mind tricks any more.

Rotating 90° fixed

Rotating vector and bitmap layers by 90°, 180° and 270° is now perfect. Another hack can be removed from my bat utility belt.

Copy Shape Attributes and Paste Shape Attributes

Right clicking on a vector layer in the layers panel presents these two new functions. Copying the Shape Attributes puts the fill (be it solid or gradient) and stroke into a clipboard so you can apply it quickly to one or more layers. Yep, you can select lots of vector layers and paste the attributes to all of them at once. Also, I said “a clipboard”, because the shape attributes clipboard is different to the image clipboard and layer styles clipboard, so you can use them all independently.

Paragraph Styles and Character Styles

These behave like Paragraph Styles and Character Styles in InDesign and many other design apps, letting you store a text style and apply it quickly to text throughout your document. You can even edit the master styles and have all instances update. Very handy for larger, text filled documents.

Strokes on paths

Just like it says on the tin. Handy, because you can use the vector strokes in combination with the stroke layer style for stroke on stroke action. There’s also a bunch of associated options, including dashed stroke editing that’s similar to Illustrator.

Create shapes by dialogue

If you know the exact size you’d like your shape to be, select the corresponding shape tool and click anywhere on the canvas, then type in the dimensions you’re after.

On canvas dimensions

Moving and transforming now shows a small box on the canvas with related values, as you perform the adjustment. Far easier than watching the info panel out of the corner of your eye while you work. There’s some options to control how this works under the Interface tab in Preferences.

User interface brightness

Photoshop CS6 ships with four different interface brightness options. The default is dark grey with white icons, giving CS6 a vastly different look. Call me boring, but my favourite is actually the second lightest grey, which is one step darker than the CS5 interface colour. I’m sure the near-black interface will make some photographers and designers really happy.

Dithered Gradient Layer Styles

Gradient layer styles can now be dithered, bringing them in line with gradient layers and gradients drawn with the bitmap gradient tool. You can now create high quality gradients, no matter which method you use. Hazzah!

Gradient layer scale now goes to 1000%

Gradient layers can now scale to 1000%, up from 150% in CS5. Gradient layer styles still have a maximum scale of 150%.

00 sets layer opacity to 0%

Pressing 0 twice quickly now sets the layer opacity to 0%, in the same way pressing 0 then 1 quickly sets it to 1% in Photoshop CS5. This is a great feature, initially suggested by Edward Sanchez on the Photoshop Feedback site.

Shift-00 sets fill opacity to 0%

Shift-00 works the same way layer opacity does, but controls fill opacity rather than layer opacity.

Command-J dupes anything

In previous versions of Photoshop, pressing command-J duplicated a single bitmap layer, or a portion of the bitmap layer if there was also a selection. It now duplicates groups, vector layers or mixed selections of layers as well. This means you can hit command-J without worrying about the type of layer or layers selected — it’ll always work. Suggested by me on the Photoshop Feedback site and in my CS6 wishlist. Thanks for listening, Adobe!

Better shape layer naming

Shapes are now created using their tool name. “Rectangle”, “Rounded Rectangle” and “Ellipse” are used instead of “Shape”. You don’t care about this because all your layers are meticulously named, right?

Tab while renaming layers

Double click on a layer name to rename, then hit tab to go to the next layer or shift-tab to rename the previous layer.

Mask feather improvements

The mask feather setting under the properties panel blurs the mask of vector layers (the mask only, not the content). It’s a great feature, but I’ve shied away from using it in previous versions because I found its behaviour unpredictable. That’s not the case in Photoshop CS6. I’ll be using it a lot from now on. Feathering is now also more accurate (radius can be floating point, rather than integer).

Pasting HEX colours with

The colour picker now accepts HEX colours that include a # and 3-digit HEX values, like #f00. These kinds of small improvements make all the difference. Suggested by Jon Nutting. If you’d also like the HEX field to be selected when the colour picker opens, please let Adobe know.

Remote Connection improvements

I don’t have specific details on why, but Remote Connection seems more robust. Also, undo is now available even when Remote Connection is in use. This will be great news for Skala Preview and Adobe Nav users.

Antialias fixes

Smart Objects pasted from Illustrator have improved antialiasing (there were situations previously where they contained some strange artefacts and posterisation).

Lock multiple layers at once

Locking multiple layers works exactly as you’d expect — select more than one layer, then click the appropriate lock icon.

Change the colour of multiple layers at once

Layer colour labels can now be changed for multiple layers at once. To do so, select more than one layer, then change the colour of one of the layers.

Close or open all layer styles

Option-clicking the layer styles disclose triangle now opens all layer styles if the layer styles of the layer you clicked was close, or opens all layer styles. This is a big help in cleaning up messy documents. This also works for groups (and has since Photoshop CS5).

New crop tool

The new crop tool functions the opposite way to how it did previously — the canvas shows the result with the base of the cropped canvas parallel to your display. In CS5, the crop area would rotate. A little hard to explain the difference, but it’s better, once you get used to it.

Change blending mode on multiple layers at once

Both blending mode and opacity can be changed on multiple layers at once — select lots of layers and choose a blending mode or opacity to set it for all selected layers. Blending mode and opacity now also shown correctly when layers are hidden.

Merging shapes

Selecting two or more layers and using Merge Shapes (or command-E) merges without converting to a bitmap, provided all the layers selected are vectors.

Paste lorem ipsum

Dummy text can now be added to text layers from the Type menu within Photoshop.

Background saving

It’s only really noticeable on larger documents, but CS6 can also save in the background, while you keep working.

Automatic Recovery

Photoshop CS6 can now autosave as you work. It saves every 10 minutes by default, but there’s settings to control the interval, if you so desire. If Photoshop crashes, there’s a good chance you won’t be set back by more than a couple of minutes. CS6 has been really stable for me, so I have only seen this in action once or twice (it worked).

Should you buy Photoshop CS6?

If you design for screen, value your time, and can afford it, I’d definitely recommend upgrading. You don’t need to take my word for it though — grab the Photoshop CS6 beta and make up your own mind.