Adobe has announced major updates to its suite of creative tools, including Photoshop CC 2014 - here's our review. You can download it for free to put it through its paces, before moving on to a Creative Cloud subscription - but should you? We've taken the new version out for a quick test drive, and have tried out some of the new enhancements.
As with the Creative Cloud releases a year ago, the full set of tools are now only available through the subscription model, so to get the 2014 version of Photoshop you'll have to pay that monthly subscription fee and download the software; there's no option to buy it on disc. Head to the Adobe website to get started with a free Photoshop CC trial version.
If you're already a Creative Cloud subscriber, you have access to the latest versions of Adobe's seminal toolset, including the flagship Photoshop CC 2014. In an interesting departure, Adobe has made a big fanfare about this milestone release, rather than just issuing iterative updates - perhaps because it helps to convince subscribers that they're getting new tools on a regular basis.
There's a new (2014) suffix to this version of Photoshop. But it's not quite the same milestone release as that of a year ago - here's where you can read what we thought of what we're now calling Photoshop CC 2013. There are a host of nice new features that are useful and welcome, but this really isn't a step-change release.
New and improved
As ever, Photoshop CC 2014 brings a raft of time-saving improvements and new features. Much of these are workflow enhancements rather than major stand-out features, but they add up to a worthwhile set of improvements.
Many of the most important improvements are just focussed on saving time, which isn't as exciting as the 'amazing new manipulation tools' in the marketing blurb, but are just as valuable to time-pressed designers.
Keep in mind that Adobe have also been rolling out updates to the CC versions of its products throughout the lifecycle so that some additional features have already appeared since the original launch of Photoshop CC. These include Perspective Warp, Linked Smart Objects and 3D printing - which we reviewed in this article. You can see a full list of the features added since 2013 here.
Cloud and app-to-app connectivity
Adobe no longer thinks of its products as being standalone software islands - instead everything is integrated, designed to work in concert with the other tools in the suite of CC apps.
The Creative Cloud website provides a central hub to allow you to install apps, share files and access resources including tutorials. Adobe has just updated this to reflect the renewed integration focus - Photoshop is now obviously engineered to be a connected app that provides a starting point for many different potential projects across a range of disciplines.
Much of the work involved in post-processing an image inside Photoshop centres around generating, manipulating and saving selections. This has always been a strength of the software, but Adobe have been progressively improving the range of selection tools with each new version.
Photoshop CC 2014 now features an all-new selection tool, named Focus Mask. Focus Mask creates selections by examining which areas of the image are in focus, and selecting these parts. It's a really useful automatic way to get a selection started, although as with all the selection tools you'll need to manually tweak the initial selection to get best results.
More Motion Blurs
Photoshop CC 2014 adds two new blur filters to the Blur Gallery: path blur and spin blur. Path blur, as the name suggests, allows you to add blur along a path that's either straight or curved. This opens up a range of creative possibilities for creating a feeling of movement.
Spin blur allows you to create elliptical blurs perfect for making objects within the frame appear to be rotating - think in terms of wheels, vinyl and so on.
Better Layer Comps
The idea of Layer Comps has always been a good one, but the reality of them is that they've been a bit clunky to use. This latest iteration of Photoshop provides a significant workflow upgrade to Comps, with a redesigned Layer Comps panel that makes it easier to see how changes will affect different comps saved in your file.
Smart Guides ++
Smart Guides are a handy feature that's perfect for designers who are creating mockups inside Photoshop. In brief, they make it easy to position elements in relation to each other so that spacing is perfectly balanced, or two objects align along an axis. Photoshop CC 2014 brings additional enhancements that make smart guides easier to use, with a newly enhanced method of displaying the distance and alignment of two elements, along with handy snapping options.
Photoshop CC 2014 has had a variety of enhancements in the way type and typography is handled. As well as a new solution for dealing with missing fonts, that automatically fetches fonts from TypeKit where available, there's also an enhanced font search feature that makes it much easier to find the font you're looking for directly within the font selection menu.
Should you upgrade?
Unlike traditional software releases, the decision over whether to upgrade to the latest version of Photoshop is largely going to depend upon whether you have an existing Creative Cloud membership. The 2014 and previous CC version of Photoshop can exist side-by-side, so there's nothing to stop you grabbing the latest version right now.
If you're still on an older boxed version, and are wondering whether Photoshop CC 2014 is enough to persuade you to jump to the subscription model, there's plenty here to get excited about. Overall Photoshop hasn't come on significantly since CS6, but there have been a lot of nice little enhancements that make the experience of using the tool more creatively rewarding.
It's also worth pointing out that Creative Cloud comes with various additional benefits including a Prosite via Behance, a Typekit subscription and the ability to legitimately install all the tools on a laptop and a desktop machine.
Review by: Sam Hampton-Smith