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What is Photoshop

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› What is Photoshop
  • Published on February 2, 2018

Adobe Photoshop is a software application for image editing and photo retouching for use on Windows or MacOS computers. Photoshop offers users the ability to create, enhance, or otherwise edit images, artwork, and illustrations. Changing backgrounds, simulating a real-life painting, or creating an alternative view of the universe are all possible with Adobe Photoshop. It is the most widely used software tool for photo editing, image manipulation, and retouching for numerous image and video file formats. The tools within Photoshop make it possible to edit both individual images as well as large batches of photos. There are several versions of Photoshop, including Photoshop CC, Photoshop Elements, and Photoshop Lightroom. Adobe Photoshop is available on its own as a subscription that includes Photoshop Lightroom, and as part of the larger Creative Cloud subscription.

How is Photoshop Used?

Adobe Photoshop is a critical tool for designers, web developers, graphic artists, photographers, and creative professionals. It is widely used for image editing, retouching, creating image compositions, website mockups, and adding affects. Digital or scanned images can be edited for use online or in-print. Website layouts can be created within Photoshop; their designs can be finalized before developers move on to the coding stage. Stand-alone graphics can be created and exported for use within other programs.

What is Photoshop CC?

Adobe Photoshop CC is the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, available by subscription. It is considered to be the professional-level version of the Photoshop family of products. Photoshop CC is available together with Photoshop Lightroom, or as part of a larger Creative Cloud subscription. Photoshop CC is an advanced imaging software used by designers, web professionals, video editors, and photographers to alter or manipulate digital images. Photoshop is primarily used to edit 2D images, although it does offer some 3D image editing functionality. Photoshop includes image analysis functionality, and can be used to prepare images for use online or in-print.

What is Photoshop Elements?

Adobe Photoshop Elements is the consumer-level version of the Photoshop family of products. Photoshop Elements contains many of the professional capabilities that are found in Adobe Photoshop CC, yet they are provided with more simplistic options designed with an entry-level user in mind. More specifically, it is designed for amateur photographers and digital photography hobbyists. Photoshop Elements is built using the same core digital imaging technology as Photoshop CC. Commonly used capabilities of Photoshop Elements include:

  • Manipulating the color of an image.
  • Cropping images.
  • Repairing flaws, such as dust on the lens or red eyes.
  • Drawing on an image with a pen or pencil.
  • Adding text to images.
  • Removing people or objects within an image.
  • Organizing photos for quick access.
  • Publishing images online or send via email.

What is Photoshop Lightroom?

Photoshop Lightroom is part of the Photoshop family of products and is primarily used by photographers for batch processing of large volumes of images. Lightroom does have the ability to create and save image presets that can be applied to a large batch of photos at one time. It also features non-destructive imaging tools; so that the original files remain intact. Lightroom has the ability to edit RAW files. The light balance and white exposure can be manipulated or adjusted within a RAW file. However, Photoshop Lightroom does not have many of the operating features or functions of Adobe Photoshop CC or Adobe Photoshop Elements, and uses a different interface.

How much does Photoshop cost?

The cost of Adobe Photoshop varies for each specific Photoshop product. Photoshop Elements costs $100 and can be used forever after purchasing it. This software is considered to have a perpetual license. The cost of the other Photoshop products ranges from $10 per month to $60 per month depending upon the type of subscription and the length of the subscription. The lower cost options include the Photoshop-only apps, while the higher cost options include Photoshop along with other Creative Cloud tools. Discounted plans are also available for students, teachers, and organizations looking to purchase licenses for groups of 10 or more employees.

How to learn Photoshop

There are several ways to learn Adobe Photoshop. Popular methods include taking in-person Photoshop classes, live online Photoshop classes, learning via online Photoshop tutorials, and Photoshop books. Classes are designed to help students benefit from both group learning activities and one-on-one instruction. Classroom learning also has the advantage of helping students overcome challenges or obstacles through guided instruction. These learning opportunities are particularly helpful when new features or tools are released. American Graphics Institute offers Photoshop classes in Boston, as well as New York City and also Philadelphia.

Adobe Photoshop training with an online instructor is the ideal solution for students with busy schedules who are not able to travel to a classroom. Online classes offer a hands-on approach to learning that can be particularly beneficial to beginners. They can help first time users navigate all of the features and tools of Adobe Photoshop. From learning how to create paths to understanding which file format should be selected, online instructors can help beginners quickly become Photoshop experts.

Finally, online tutorials, such as those found in videos, digital texts, guided experiences, or FAQ pages, can be used to learn Adobe Photoshop at a personal pace. Learning Adobe Photoshop via online tutorials and self-guided experiences are the ideal choice for students who enjoy overcoming challenges through their own intuition. These tools are especially helpful for students who want to learn through trial and error, as well as those individuals who learn best through a hands-on approach.

Organizations, groups, and individuals with specific needs can also benefit from private Photoshop training which can occur on-site or off-site. Such private training can focus on learning specific aspects of Photoshop.

Photoshop Mac vs. Windows Differences

There are very few differences between Photoshop on MacOS vs Windows computers. Menus, options, panels, and tools are found in the same location on both Mac and Windows versions of Photoshop. There is no functionality difference between Adobe Photoshop on a Mac or Windows computers. Before Adobe Photoshop can be used on either Mac or Windows computers, the computer itself must meet the following minimum requirements.

Computer Requirements for Photoshop

The following are the minimum requirements for using Photoshop on Windows or Mac OS computers.

Computer requirements for Photoshop Windows:

To use Photoshop on a Windows computer, a computer must meet these requirements:

  • Intel® Core 2 or AMD Athlon® 64 processor; 2 GHz processor or greater.
  • Microsoft Windows 7 with Service Pack 1, Windows 8.1, or Windows 10.
  • 2 GB or more of RAM.
  • 2.6 GB or more of available hard-disk space for 32-bit installation; 3.1 GB or more of available hard-disk space for 64-bit installation; as well as the additional free space required for installation.
  • 1024 x 768 display with 16-bit color and 512 MB or more of dedicated VRAM.
  • OpenGL 2.0-capable system.
  • Internet connection is required to activate software, validate subscriptions, and access various online services.

Computer requirements for Photoshop Mac:

To use Photoshop on a Mac OS computer, a computer must meet these requirements:

  • Multicore Intel processor with 64-bit support.
  • MacOS version 10.13 (High Sierra), MacOS version 10.12 (Sierra), or Mac OS X version 10.11 (El Capitan).
  • 2 GB or more of RAM.
  • 4 GB or more of available hard-disk space for installation, as well as the additional free space required for installation.
  • 1024 x 768 display with 16-bit color and 512 MB or more of dedicated VRAM.
  • OpenGL 2.0-capable system.
  • Internet connection is required to activate software, validate subscriptions, and access various online services.

Photoshop file formats

Adobe Photoshop can save or export images and graphics in a variety of file formats. These formats are used for different purposes. For example, images used on websites generally need to be small so they can load quickly; while images that are being included in a 3D product rendering may need to be of higher resolution and include additional details. Some images may contain only pixels, while others may contain a mixture of pixels and vectors. A few file formats also use compression techniques to reduce the size of the image, and certain compression options intentionally discard data to make the file size smaller. In order to preserve all Adobe Photoshop features, including effects, masks, and layers the Photoshop file format (PSD) is used.

File formats Photoshop can open or save include:

  • Photoshop Format (PSD) -- PSD files can be up to 2 GB in size. Only Photoshop PSD as the ability to save all elements of the edited image or graphic.
  • Large Document Format (PSB) -- PSB files can be larger than 2 GB in size and support up to 300,000 pixels in any dimension. The applied layers and filters are also supported.
  • Tagged-Image File Format (TIFF) -- This flexible bitmap image format is supported by numerous applications and computer platforms. CMYK, RGB, grayscale, and indexed color are supported. TIFF documents have a maximum file size of 4 GB. If a TIFF file is opened in another application, then only a flattened image will be presented even though the layers have been saved.
  • RAW -- RAW files can be larger than 2 GB in size. RAW files are flexible and can be used to transfer images between computers or applications. This format does support CMYK, RGB, and grayscale images; however files must be flattened before saving.
  • Portable Document Format (PDF) -- Fonts, page layouts, vector, and bitmap graphics can be accurately displayed with PDF files. Additionally, electronic links can be included within a PDF file. Up to 16 bits per channel images can be saved without quality degradation.
  • Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) -- This file format is often used to display indexed color graphics or images within a designated HTML document. GIF minimizes file sizes and reduces the electronic transfer time. It does not support alpha channels.
  • Portable Network Graphics (PNG) -- Lossless compression is achieved with PNG. It supports 24 bit images; however, some web browsers do not support PNG files. PNG does preserve transparency in both RGB and grayscale images. It also supports indexed color, grayscale, RGB, and bitmap mode images.
  • Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) -- This file format is often selected for continuous-tone images for HTML documents. It supports grayscale, RGB, and CMYK color modes. It retains all color information within an RGB image, however it compresses the file size by discarding selected data. A JPEG is automatically decompressed when the file is opened.
  • Cineon -- The 10 bits per channel digital format was developed by Kodak. It is used to output back to film without losing image quality. It can be used in the Cineon Digital Film System.

History of Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop was originally developed in 1987 by the brothers John and Thomas Knoll. Since its original development, Photoshop has evolved from a simple image editing tool to a comprehensive suite for image manipulation. While early versions of Photoshop were produced and distributed by the Knoll brothers, the software was acquired by Adobe Systems and became Adobe Photoshop.

The earliest version of the software released by Adobe came in February 1990. It allowed users to display and save files in multiple formats on early MacOS computers. Users could also adjust the hue, balance, and color saturation of images. There were minimal painting capabilities, as well as soft edge selections. Graphic designers were quick to adopt Adobe Photoshop. From the addition of CMKY color support and Duotones in Version 2.0 to the new painting engine and vector text of Version 7.0, each version rapidly become more comprehensive than the last.

Photoshop Photoshop CS vs Photoshop CC

The introduction of the Creative Suite branding provided each version of Photoshop with a "CS" followed by a version number after the first version of the Creative Suite. Thus, the versions of Adobe Photoshop after Photoshop CS became Photoshop CS2, then Photoshop CS3, which continued through June 2013. At that time, Adobe introduced a new licensing program in which Photoshop was rented either by the month or year as part of a subscription. At that time, Photoshop CS was replaced by Photoshop CC for Creative Cloud. The Creative Cloud designation is followed by the year in which the application received its most recent update.

  • Photoshop CS: Photoshop CS was released in October 2003. It represented the switch to the Creative Suite branding. Improvements included: the addition of camera RAW 2.0, match color command, real-time histogram palette, increased user control, and the shadow / highlight command.
  • Photoshop CS2: Released in May 2005, this version featured additional improvements, including: custom presets, an upgraded file browser to Adobe Bridge, non-destructive editing, a lens correction filter, and smart objects.
  • Photoshop CS3: Released in April 2007, this update improved image stitching, offered additional print options, enhanced mobile optimization, and increased the support offered for Camera Raw.
  • Photoshop CS4: Released in October 2008, this version of Photoshop included the following improvements: content-aware scaling, enhanced file management and workspaces, adjustments panel, increases to the Lightroom workflow, and a simplified tab-based interface.
  • Photoshop CS5: Released in April 2010, the following improvements were gained: 64 bit support, color pickup, bristle tips, auto image straightening, a new mixer brush, and the refine edge tool.
  • Photoshop CS6: Released in May 2012, this update provided a redesigned user interface, an auto save feature, revised vector tools, and enhanced video tools, such as the ability to include layers, manipulate color, and adjust exposure levels.
  • Photoshop CC: Released in June 2013, this updated offered Camera RAW as a filter, camera shake reduction, the ability to sync preferences with the cloud, linked smart objects, intelligent unsampling, and edited rounded rectangles.
  • Photoshop CC 2014: Released in June 2014, this update featured improvements, including: task speed increases, smart object enhancements, two new blur tools, a focus mask, and content-aware tool advances.
  • Photoshop CC 2015: Released in June 2015, this update added the ability for more than one layer style, the ability to "export as," increased access to Adobe stock, an updated user interface, and new library capabilities with file linking. A second update was released in June 2016, known as CC 2015.5. This update featured Adobe portfolio, selection and masking space, export improvements, and another update to the libraries panel.
  • Photoshop CC 2017: Released in November 2016, this update featured an in-app search, enhanced integration with Adobe XD, support for SVG color fonts, and an overall improved performance. Subsequent CC 2017 updates were released in December 2016 and April 2017.
  • Photoshop CC 2018: Released in October 2017, this update introduced a new stroke smoothing feature(s), new curvature pen tool, streamlined brush management, the ability to access Lightroom photos in Photoshop, as well as the ability to email creations directly within Photoshop.

About the author

 is a user experience designer, Photoshop expert, educator and author based in Boston. She is the author of more than 20 books on design tools and processes, including Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies, Adobe Creative Cloud Digital Classroom, and Photoshop Digital Classroom. She has been awarded a Microsoft MVP three times for her work with user experience design in creating apps for touch, desktop, and mobile devices.

Jennifer delivers UX training and UX consulting for large Fortune 100 companies, small start-ups, and independent software vendors. She has been hired by Adobe and Microsoft to deliver training workshops to their staff, and has traveled to Asia, Europe, India, the Middle East, and across the U.S. to deliver courses and assist on UX design projects. She has extensive knowledge of modern Windows UX Design, having worked closely with the Windows team to create educational material and deliver UX workshops to key partners globally on behalf of Microsoft. Jennifer works with a wide range of prototyping tools including Fireworks, Photoshop, Illustrator, Blend for Visual Studio, and Balsamiq. She also works extensively in the fields of presentation design and visual design.