Learn new skills in Photoshop CS3 Beta

Adobe recently surprised the world with the release of a public beta of Photoshop CS3, the next version of its flagship photo-editing and design package. Available to anyone with a valid CS2 installation key, the beta shows many of the features that will be included in the final release.

One key change is the arrival of a Universal Binary version for Macintosh. CS2's performance on Intel Macintosh wasn't the best, and the new version has been developed using Apple's own development tools - giving CS3 a considerable speed boost on the latest dual-core Macs. There's also a new user interface, with a single-column tool palette, and collapsible palettes for most of Photoshop's tools. You'll get more screen real estate, and a look and feel similar to other parts of Adobe's family of creative tools.

There's a lot for photographers in this new release, with Adobe having learnt several lessons from the many beta versions of its Lightroom photographic workflow tool. You'll find simpler ways of adjusting image levels, along with a new set of Curve tools. Other improvements include better image healing tools, an improved version of Camera Raw, and a new set of black-and-white conversion tools that won't quite make you the new Ansel Adams. There's also better workflow management, with closer links to a new version of Bridge and to Version Cue.

One of the biggest changes is a whole new set of layer blend and layer merge tools, which can be used to bring elements from two different images together. Using a new graph cut algorithm, the results are nearly seamless. An automated action uses these features to build photomerges, automatically aligning images and blending them into a single image. It's a tool that gives excellent results, often much better than those of third-party panorama tools.

Designers aren't left out of the equation. The Vanishing Point tool has been improved, and can now wrap images around more complex planes. However, the biggest change is the introduction of Smart Filters, which finally give Photoshop non-destructive filters. Once you've applied a Smart Filter, you can go back and change any of its parameters at any time.

We'll take a walk through the new version of Photoshop by building a double-page spread from a brochure for a travel company specialising in tours of unusual places. The photographs were all taken at CERN, Europe's centre for high-energy physics research - and the birthplace of the web.

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