A Brief History of Photoshop

Thomas and John Knoll created Photoshop in 1988, with the release of Photoshop 1.0 following in February 1990. It started as a simple raster graphics editor, but has gone on to become the predominant industry standard for digital image editing.

At its heart, it has a suite of tools that allow the user to edit, assemble and compose images using multiple layers and masks. It is this use of layers and masks that are the core features of Photoshop’s power. Such layer-based editing means you can build very complex images and create incredible works of art using this method.

The Tools for the Job

Photoshop also has a large variety of tools that allow the user to edit their images in numerous ways. Broadly speaking, the tools cover areas such as drawing, painting, navigation, content selection, text, masking and retouching. Many of the tools have additional variants that allow you to perform different tasks and functions.

As well as the ability to create pixel-based images and art, it can also create and manipulate text and handle a number of vector graphic formats, including EPS files and Adobe Illustrator files. Older styles of Photoshop had extended versions that allowed the creation and handling of 3D graphics, whereas Photoshop CC, the cloud-based subscription service version, has 3D capabilities built in as standard. It can also, to a limited degree, import and edit video files.

The program’s main functionality can be enhanced with the addition of numerous, small add-on effects and programs called plug-ins. Although Adobe has a number of plug-ins, such as Adobe Camera Raw, it is mainly third party companies that develop them. Most of the plugins require specific versions of Photoshop to run, but a few of them can also act as stand-alone image editing applications.

Formats and Versions

When a Photoshop document is saved, it creates a default file that has the .PSD file extension. This stands for Photoshop Document and it contains all of the layers, adjustments, masks, transparent items and other content that make up the finished document. There is another Photoshop file format known as .PSB, which stands for Photoshop Big. This is a large document format that lets you use vastly increased image dimensions and file sizes.

Throughout its life, the program has undergone a large number of updates and version numbers. In 2003, the version numbers were replaced with CS plus a number, to reflect its current Creative Suite branding in use at the time. It wasn’t until 2013, when Adobe changed its business model to subscription-based rental and the introduction of the Creative Cloud brand, that CS was replaced by the suffix CC. At the time of writing, Photoshop is in stable release CC 2019 (20.0.5).

Photoshop’s Strengths

  • Photoshop is a pixel-level editor. Where Lightroom allows you to adjust pixels in an image, Photoshop lets you move them and manipulate them in a way that’s nothing short of magical.
  • Photoshop allows multiple layers to be applied to an image. You can keep images and edits on separate layers and modify them accordingly and independently. This is the basis of non-destructive editing.
  • It’s huge. Mind-bogglingly huge. The toolbox alone is the stuff of legend and contains everything the professional designer and photographer would ever need from a piece of software.
  • You can record specific actions within Photoshop, allowing you to apply those actions to other images with a click of a button.
  • You’re able to blend many different layers together, masking areas of an image to protect it from being edited, even down to the pixel level.
  • Almost anything is possible in Photoshop. If you can imagine a scene, then you’re able to turn your wedding photos into a dramatic space battle or have a picture of the kids playing with a T-Rex. Remove objects, add objects, touch up skin tones, the list goes on and on.
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Russ Ware

Russ has been testing, reviewing and writing guides for tech since the heady days of Windows 95 and the Sega Saturn. A self-confessed (and proud) geek about all things tech, if it has LED's, a screen, beeps or has source code, Russ will want to master it (and very likely take it apart to see how it works...)

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