Monthly Archives: February 2009

Covers, best & worst

The CD Cover Meme is pretty terrific, challenging you to combine randomly selected Wikipedia topics, quotations, and images from Flickr into album covers. Check out some of the results. (Here’s my personal fave of the moment.) [Via Kent Christiansen]

Elsewhere in cover-land:

Friday Illin': Edgiest quilts ever & more

  • Quiltsrÿche promises to let you “bark at the moon in the coziness of a hard-rocking, handcrafted heirloom.”
  • MoMA’s The Printed Picture is “an exhibition of physical specimens made using all the different ways that type and image can be printed on paper, metal, glass, etc, with a special emphasis on dozens of photography techniques, from albumen prints to dagguereotypes to color photography.” [Via]
  • I like the ghostly simplicity of Levi van Veluw’s ‘Light’ Portraits. (To spare you any suspense, nothing really happens in the videos.)
  • You can view now extremely high-res presentations of famous artwork, courtesy of Google Earth.
  • These brand-name ripoffs seem like dyslexic Photoshop jobs, but they’re apparently real. [Via]

Optional plug-in disables trackpad rotation

During the CS4 development cycle, the Photoshop and Bridge teams worked closely with Apple* to support the multitouch gestures supported on MacBook Air and newer MacBook Pro systems.  As a result you can zoom and rotate documents using three-finger combinations.


The rub is that especially on the latest systems (with the enormous trackpads), it can be too easy to zoom or rotate accidentally.  Unfortunately Photoshop doesn’t ship with a preference that would govern the behavior.  Therefore we’ve released an optional plug-in that will disable zooming and rotating via the keyboard if you’d like.  Just drop it into your Plug-Ins folder, restart Photoshop, and you’ll be set.


* Next time you hear someone start in with a bunch of “Adobe doesn’t care about the Mac” crap, I’d like you to think of this.  People here go the extra mile because they do care.  Deeply.

Photoshop CS4 update now available

Adobe has released an update for Photoshop CS4 (Mac|Win). You can also get the update by choosing Help->Updates from within Photoshop. From the download page:


  • A number of issues that could cause slow performance have been addressed.
  • Pen barrel rotation with Wacom tablets now works correctly.
  • Photoshop now correctly recognizes 3D textures edited by a plug-in.
  • The quality of the results of Auto-Blend Layers (Stack Images) has been improved.
  • A problem that could result in a crash when pasting formatted text has been fixed.
  • A crash that could result from a corrupt font no longer occurs.


I’m sorry that these problems got past us in testing, and the team thanks everyone who helped bang on the fixes before the update was released.


[On a related note, InDesign CS4 has also been updated (Mac|Win); see the download pages for details.]

Tuesday Illustrations: Pea Pea Dancing & more

GridMaker panel released for Photoshop CS4

I’m pleased to see that Andrew Ingram has released Gridmaker For Photoshop CS4. This panel helps build column-based layouts by setting guides at specified intervals; here’s a screenshot. Andrew notes that he hasn’t had time to polish various rough edges or to make a nicer looking UI, but I think the panel is useful even in its current form. Thanks to Andrew for his efforts to tune Photoshop for designers. For more info on why to use guides, plus a link to GridMaker for Fireworks, see previous.

Sunday Photography: Simplicity, squalor, and scares

New HDR camera, Lightroom tips

  • Ricoh’s new, compact CX1 camera offers “a dynamic range double shot mode.” This mode “takes two images in succession with different exposures and then combines them automatically to present the best of both images.” DPReview offers additional details. Very cool. It’s rare that I need much more than the 8MP offered by my slightly aged SLR, but I’d always like less noise and greater dynamic range. I’d love a future cam that could shoot high resolution when desired, but if necessary shoot with lower res/broader dynamic range. [Via Jerry Harris]
  • HDRsoft, makers of the popular Photomatix Pro, offer a Lightroom export plug-in. They’ve just posted a step-by-step tutorial showing how to send multiple images from LR to Photomatix for processing, then automatically pull the results back into your LR library. (Note the little “Next” arrow up top for navigating to subsequent pages.) [Via Tom Hogarty]
  • If you’re looking for a detailed primer on the whole topic of dynamic range, check out The Online Photographer’s thorough write-up.

Cool Pixel Bender experiments, resources

  • The always inventive Mario Klingemann has created a pair of interesting pieces:
    • Feedback couples motion tracking with a Web cam + Pixel Bender. He’s uploaded a set of screenshots created with the app. (It makes me look like a bad hallucination out of Natural Born Killers.)
    • Passing By is a “meditative piece which uses copyright-free images from the Flickr Commons project to generate a never-repeating illusion.”
  • Lee Felarca does on-the-fly green-screening with your Web cam.
  • The new Pixel Bender Explorer AIR app that demonstrates how to apply PB animations & effects to your JavaScript-based AIR applications. [Via]

Creative Suite dev summit reg opens

Registration for the 2009 Creative Suite Developer Summit (May 11-15 in Seattle) is now open.  Check out the site for details, or watch this brief overview from developer evangelist Mark Niemann-Ross. He writes,

This isn’t just for commercial developers – if you are working in a “captive” IT department, and trying to determine the best way to automate your production tasks, the developer summit will be a jump start for your efforts.

The summit is free: you only pay for your transportation, hotel and meals. Due to venue size, however, we are limited to 200 people live at the event.  MNR writes, "If you can’t attend live, you can always watch the Connect presentations – but you’ll miss out on meeting your peers, and the Adobe Staff."

Paving the cow paths: Auto-build panels?

People sometimes feel overwhelmed by Photoshop & other large applications: the tools and commands they need seem buried among a bunch of irrelevant stuff.  We want to improve matters.


Configurator lets you build your own interface panels, grouping your essential tools and commands for easy access.  Configurator is ridiculously easy to use, but actually building a useful panel might take more effort than you’d expect.  You have to give some thought to how you work and to what, exactly, you want to accomplish.


So here’s an idea: What if Photoshop could watch how you work, then suggest panel configurations?  In other words, the app would become smarter, adapting itself to your specific workflows.


PS would collect data on your usage patterns & feed it to Configurator in order to auto-build a panel containing your most-used tools and commands.  Thinking aloud, I’m imagining something like this:


  • PS would ask whether you want to enable the data-gathering process (invisible, with no impact to performance).
  • If you opt in, you’d work for a few days without interruption.
  • At some point PS would say, "Okay, I’ve gathered some data on how you work.  Would you like to assemble a panel containing your most frequently used items?"
  • If you say yes, Configurator would appear and present a list of these items, letting you uncheck unwanted ones.  (For example, maybe you don’t need a button for New Document if you’re always going to hit Cmd-N.)
  • The remaining items would be laid out automatically on a new panel.  You could of course tweak things from there, or you could start running the panel as-is in PS.


Unlike Microsoft Office, PS wouldn’t try to be clever & modify your work environment on the fly (e.g. hiding menu items you haven’t used recently).  Rather, it would just present you with some info & give you the opportunity to take action.  If you’re game, great, but in any case it won’t be sneaking around, doing stuff "for" you while you’re not looking.






PS–Re: the title of the post: "Paving the cow paths" refers to streamlining existing behavior without trying to change it.  A panel of most-used tools wouldn’t change the tools you use; it would just make it easier to group & access them (and by extension to hide the rest).  Going beyond cowpaths–helping people discover "best practice" ways of working–is another can of worms that I’ll address in a separate post.

Wednesday Illustrations: Excellent Photoshoppery, scary logos, & more

New painting tools: Watercolor, Pollock, and iPhone

Slick typographic apps: Hidden messages & more

  • Stewart Smith’s Histoface lets you embed secret text into an image’s histogram, making it show up in Photoshop’s Levels dialog. That’s rad. IronicSans has the details. [Via Nicolas Chaunu]
  • “Whip out your iPhone and snap a photo, and WhatTheFont for iPhone will identify that font in seconds!” How freakin’ great is that?
  • If that’s up your alley, check out i love typography’s round-up of iPhone typography apps.
  • TypeDNA’s interesting FontShaker offers “a new way to visually explore the fonts you have installed locally using Flash. It also gives you a place to save comments, tags, rating and samples… We have also started to add the ability so that you can open a font file in Photoshop from the flash movie.”

A Valentine's treat: New baby PM

Terrific news: just after midnight on Valentine’s Day, one little Miles Lewis Hughes was born to mom Alex & dad (Photoshop PM) Bryan.  Congrats, guys!!  The wee man (photos one, two, and three) is doing great, and his birth weight was recorded as "One (1) MacBook Pro 17." :-)  Taking after the old man, Miles is keeping a list of proposed "Just Do It" tasks.  Early entries include Feed Me, Change Me, and Stop Jabbing Me In the Dang Heel.  The team can’t wait to meet him.

Julieanne blogs, right inside Photoshop

Adobe evangelist Julieanne Kost has started a blog in which she’s sharing all sorts of good miscellaneous tips. It’s already chock full of useful info, with lots more to come.

Just for the heck of it, Jeff Tranberry & I fooled around with Configurator a bit and created a panel (see screenshot) that displays the RSS feed from Julieanne’s blog right inside Photoshop. Download the panel from her site, double click it to install, restart Photoshop, and then look under Window->Extensions for “Daily_PS_Tip.”

And if you’d like to follow my blog from within Photoshop, well, why not? Here’s the download.

All of this is more proof-of-concept right now than anything, but I believe that over time it’ll be possible to knit community & desktop together in some really interesting ways. For more thoughts on that subject, see my previous post about P2P notes inside PS.

[Update: I’ve posted a new version of the panel for my blog. If you had problems installing the original version, you may want to try again.]

Layer Tennis starts today

It’s game on in about 3 minutes (less by the time you see this). For the uninitiated:

In the coming weeks, we’ll be hosting a series of live design events called Layer Tennis…
Two competitors will swap a file back and forth in real-time, adding to and embellishing the work. Each artist gets fifteen minutes to complete a “volley” and then we post it to the site live. A third participant, a writer, provides play-by-play commentary on the action, as it happens.


Friday Illin'

Scrubby sliders & more

You may well know about "scrubby sliders" in Photoshop–the little finger-with-arrows icon you get when your cursor hovers over the label next to a numerical field, such as "Opacity" on the Layers panel.  (Here’s a screenshot borrowed from Photoshop Essentials.)  With scrubby sliders you can click and drag on the text label, moving left and right to adjust the field’s value up and down.  You may not have discovered a couple of nuances, however:


  • Holding Opt/Alt while scrubbing makes the values change 10x more slowly.  This is great for fine-tuning a value.  Conversely, holding Shift while scrubbing makes the values change 10x faster.  This is great for making an audience sick while demoing canvas rotation.  (Open a really big image, zoom out, hit R, and then Shift-drag over the Rotation Angle text on the Options Bar. Entreat your viewers to stare at the center. Watch them become your willing thralls…)
  • Some fields don’t have text label next to them, and it therefore seems that you can’t use scrubby sliders with them.  Ah, but that’s where holding down Cmd/Ctrl while mousing over the field comes into play.  By holding the modifier while dragging, you can use a scrubby slider on these fields.  (Adding Opt/Alt or Shift works as you’d expect.)


On a related note, when you put focus on a text field in Photoshop, you can nudge its value up and down by using the up/down arrow keys.  Holding Shift while arrowing naturally makes the increment of change 10x larger.


It’s all these little custom behaviors that help make moving Photoshop from Carbon to Cocoa a rather involved affair.  The app has developed a lot of little tweaks (e.g. holding down Opt/Alt in dialog boxes to turn Cancel into Reset) that don’t just come along for free.  It’s also an illustration of why custom widgets are sometimes desirable.  I’d like to see Photoshop and other CS apps make scrubby sliders much more universal/discoverable via something like the Adobe video apps’ sliders (screenshot). [Update: See also the ones in Flash CS4.]

There’s one other related thing, which I hate to mention as it’s a bug, but I can offer a solution.  In CS4 if you click on a text label to highlight a field, then use a mouse wheel to adjust values, you may notice that the field stops changing.  The workaround is to keep your cursor over the text label, or anywhere outside the field itself.  Sorry about that rough edge.

Bryan Hughes shares ideas, tips

My fellow Photoshop PM/Best Man/unindicted co-conspirator* Bryan O’Neil Hughes has posted a guest entry on Scott Kelby’s blog.  In it Bryan talks about some of his favorite photographic enhancements in Photoshop CS4, and he shows off some new ideas for using the new Auto-Blend Layers options to combine flash/no-flash images.


*And, any minute now, father.  Something is in the water, with Photoshop PM babies a go-go (four due in the next five months, Miles H. being first in the queue).  You know we’re doing it just for the cute test files...

SF PUG meeting tonight

Sorry for the late notice, but if you’re in the SF Bay Area this evening, you might want to check out the meeting of the local Photoshop User Group.  Kate Chase will be speaking about the business photo retouching & portfolio review, and as always the pizza is on the house.  Complete details are here.

New blog from the Adobe installer team

A couple of months ago, some of the managers from the group that builds Adobe’s installer technologies posted their notes here.  Now they’ve started a dedicated blog in order to communicate more readily with customers.
From speaking to them, I know they’re eager for readers to be open and candid while recognizing the spirit that’s intended here: providing greater transparency, listening to the community and improving the experience for Adobe customers.

Motion goodness: Killer batteries, vegetables, and Elvii

Layer-related shortcuts you might want to know

Based on some recent comments (e.g. “Please add a way to navigate through layers via the keyboard”), I get the impression that many people don’t know some/all of the following:


  • Opt/Alt + left/right bracket keys change layer selection, selecting the layer above/below the current one.
  • Those shortcuts plus Shift extend the layer selection.  For example, to select the layer above the current one while keeping the current one selected, hit Shift-Opt-]/Shift-Alt-].
  • Shift-Opt-,/Shift-Alt-, (comma) selects the the current layer and all those below it.  Shift-Opt-./Shift-Alt-.  (period) selects the current layer and all those above it.
  • Opt-,/Alt-, selects the bottom layer.  Opt-./Alt-. selects the top one.
  • Cmd-G/Ctrl-G groups layers into a layer group (aka layer set, aka “little folder thing”).  Shift-Cmd-G/Shift-Ctrl-G ungroups layers.
  • Cmd-Opt-A/Ctrl-Alt-A selects all layers.
  • Shift-Cmd-N/Shift-Ctrl-N makes a new layer. Add Opt/Alt to do so while skipping the layer options dialog box.


And while we’re at it, you can also change blending modes via the keyboard:


  • Shift-plus (=) selects the next blending mode.  Shift-minus (-) selects the previous one.  Note that the target of these changes depends on what tool is active.  If you’ve got a painting tool (Brush, Clone Stamp, etc.) selected, the changes apply to the tool’s blending mode.  If you’ve got other tools selected, they’ll apply to the blending mode of the selected layer.  (My rule of thumb is to tap V to make the Move tool active before applying blending changes to a layer via the keyboard.)
  • Shift-Opt-letter/Shift-Alt-letter will set the selected tool/layer to a specific blending mode.  For example, M is Multiple, N is Normal, and H is Hard Light.  A fairly complete list is here (scroll down).


If you find this kind of thing useful, check out Trevor Morris’s list of PS shortcuts, or Michael Ninness’s old but useful Photoshop Power Shortcuts book.  (I updated it for PS7.)

[Update: See the comments below for more good suggestions.]

Gut-busting photos & more

  • Puking up mud isn’t half as scary as some of the attire seen in the Tough Guy Challenge.
  • Interesting structures:
  • From the NY Times:
  • Funky angles:
    • Flipbac promises to let you “shoot from the hip,” adding a little extension to your camera’s LCD. [Via]
    • The Super-Secret Spy Lens is “basically a periscope that attaches your SLR’s zoom lens… you can shoot left, right, up, or down, all while appearing to shoot straight ahead.” [Via]

Expanding Smart Objects

Thanks for all the great feedback regarding ways to manage complex documents.  I should probably toss in the inevitable disclaimer that we’re just gathering feedback, none of this is a promise/hint about future work, void where prohibited, blah blah.


A couple of people have mentioned the idea of expanding Smart Objects back into the layers that formed them initially.  That is, you’d be able to select multiple layers, turn them into an SO, do various things to the SO, and then explode the layers back out into the main layer stack.  It’s a great idea, and of course (you knew this was coming) it’s really hard to make work, which is why it’s not supported today.  In case you’re interested, let me explain why.


Smart Objects let you apply a variety of transformations to the selected object.  You can scale, skew, perspective-transform, warp, and filter them.  The trick is, how would you turn the transformed content back into layers while preserving its appearance?


In some cases the job would be easy.  Let’s say you put four layers into an SO, then scale it up & want to expand the layers back out.  That seems pretty straightforward: apply the same scale factor to each layer, then move it so that the positions match.  The same might go for skewing & distorting, though I may be overlooking some cases.  But what about warping and filtering?  It gets tough, if not impossible, quickly.  I’ve made a little illustration (read it left to right) that may help illuminate the challenges.


The upshot is that expanding Smart Objects back to layers could be made to work some times and not others.  Addressing at least the simpler cases would be a worthwhile effort, though that task would have to jockey for position relative to other SO-related enhancements.


For instance, if PS offered an option not to save the composite data of an SO in a file, the SO wouldn’t add file size above and beyond the layers it contains. That would in turn open the door to PS creating SOs automatically when transforming layers, which is essential to getting more people using this feature.  The consequence would be more time spent opening files, however, as SO composites would have to be rendered on the fly.  That in turn adds new requirements to other PSD-reading apps–e.g. that they be able to run filters on the fly in order to preserve appearance.  The whole thing becomes a quasi-religious argument about format compatibility and trading one kind of performance for another. There are many cans of worms here.


If you’ve read this far, my fellow geek, you may be interested in previous entries about The Secret Life of Smart Filters and the closely related Simplicty vs. Power in Photoshop.  Nobody ever said progress was gonna be easy. 🙂

Friday Illustrations: Painting as a game & more

Feedback, please: Managing complex PSDs

Designers–and Web designers in particular–create some of the most complex, intricately layered Photoshop compositions possible.  How could we make the management & navigation of these files more efficient? I’d love to get your take on the following ideas:


  • Layer panel search/filtering:
    • Photoshop could offer a small search field at the top of the Layers panel.  As you’d type in text, PS would narrow down the display of layers (e.g. typing "b-u-r-r.." would hide everything but the layer called "burrito").  Searching would also find custom tags applied to layers.  Hiding layers in the list would have no effect on the appearance of the document.
    • Separately, PS could offer buttons on Layers that would let you filter the view so that you could, say, show only type layers, or only type layers and bitmap layers, etc.
  • Layer sorting: Photoshop would offer the ability to sort the Layers panel by layer type, layer name, etc.
  • Symbols (i.e. reusable objects that enable "edit one, update many"): Photoshop already supports this concept to some degree via Smart Objects.  You can convert a layer to be an SO, then duplicate the object, edit one copy, and have both copies update.  The interface could be made clearer, however (e.g. through adding a Symbols panel for managing objects).
  • Linked files (place a file, update it externally, and have all placed copies updated in PSDs): Again, Photoshop already supports linked files in a couple of ways.  If you double-click a Smart Object placed from Illustrator, PS will open a copy in AI.  You can also choose Layer->Smart Objects->Replace Contents… to have an SO replace with a file on disk.  Oh, and video layers are always linked to external files.  The raw materials for a traditional linking implementation are there, but PS would need to add things like a Links panel.
  • Type styles:  As you can in Illustrator and InDesign, you could assign a style to type layers in Photoshop, and when you changed the style definition, PS would update all layers that have the style attached.
  • Other?  Anything I haven’t mentioned?  Anything you like in other apps?


To gather feedback I’ve created a very quick survey, and of course your comments (below) would be most welcome. (And in the interests of sharing ideas freely, you can browse others’ responses, too. Note that I can’t edit/reply inline to suggestions posted via the survey.)




Recent infographics

Drawing from sound

  • "Want to try something hard?" asks Ze Frank.  His sound-powered drawing toy produces some wacky results.  Low volume produces counterclockwise curves, medium volume goes straight, and high volume curves clockwise.  I’d love to see videos of people trying to use this thing.  (I’m letting it run in a team meeting, but voices are too faint to do much interesting.) [Via]
  • Johannes Kreidler fed Microsoft Songsmith with charts based on plunging stocks, deaths in Iraq, and other dismaying stats.  The results are kind of depressingly awesome. [Via]

Typographic density & more

  • Density:
    • The groovy Wordle is “a toy for generating ‘word clouds’ from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.” So go rock it! [Via]
    • 389 Years Ago charts African American history.
    • Missed Connections turns Craigslist notices into attractive maps. [Via]
    • This year’s Grammy Awards feature a typographical portrait of Thom Yorke. [Via]
  • Double Buttcheek Score: Scrabble-inspired pillows are among 15 typography-based objects. See also the
    Scrabble keyboard. [Via Bryan O’Neil Hughes]
  • Jen Renninger brings the feel of old-school flash cards to her Modern Design deck.
  • Authentic Ink is a drippin’ good old fraktur font.
  • Hand-made fonts beg to be touched. [Update: Reader Hanford Lemoore reports getting malware notices with the link, so I’ve removed it from the main text.  I’m not seeing any problems (at least via Mac browsers), so here’s the active link if you still want to click it.]

Adobe magnetism

Heh–now these I dig: the folks at Brazil’s Meninos are selling sets of magnets styled like the palettes (panels) in Illustrator and Photoshop.  As Gizmodo notes, “These magnets can make a whiteboard full of photos look like a screenshot of Photoshop or Illustrator.” (The same guys also offer a fun set of iPhone-inspired coasters.)  [Via Lori Grunin]


The project of course recalls the recent “Photoshop adbusting” stunt in Berlin, and it makes me think of the little lapel pin sets of Photoshop icons through history that the Adobe Japan office commissioned a couple of years ago.  That’s the kind of unique stuff that I’d like to see offered through the Adobe merchandise site. [Update: I didn’t notice that the merchandising site says that its use is, for whatever reason, restricted to Adobe employees.  Tattoos, however, remain a free-for-all.]