I used to own an old Windows Tablet that supported pen input, and being able to use Photoshop with a pen was fantastic. Ever since capacitive screen tablets have become popular, those of us who create graphical images have been clamoring for a powerful photo editing and drawing app that puts fingers to good use. The loss of pen input (Galaxy Note users notwithstanding) has made drawing on a tablet a bit tougher, and though you could never get as accurate with the tip of your finger as you can with the tip of a pen, the software could help make the touch experience better.
There have been many drawing apps for Android tablets, such as AutoDesk’s SketchBook Mobile, and Fresco. Though these apps are good in their own ways, to me they have always felt slightly lacking. This is probably because I have been using Adobe Photoshop since the early 90’s and have become accustomed to the way Adobe does things… layers, filter effects, selection tools, etc.
Last year, I had the opportunity to be part of the beta team for an Adobe tablet app codenamed “FunTa”, short for “Fun Tablet”. Yeah, I know, not the best name, but it was just a codename. This tablet app is what is now known as Adobe Photoshop Touch, part of Adobe’s Touch series of apps, which include Adobe Photoshop Touch, Adobe Collage, Adobe Debut, Adobe Ideas, Adobe Kuler, and Adobe Proto.
Before I get into the review, here’s a couple of sample drawings I created using the beta version of Photoshop Touch.
Beyond the Beta
After the beta testing of FunTa was over, I decided to pay the $9.99 for the released version of Adobe Photoshop Touch. Installing the public release I noticed just a few minor differences between it and the beta. Mostly, it was just a final bit of polish added, and the social side was enabled, namely integration with Facebook and Google images. Also, the Creative Cloud, Adobe’s own free 2GB of cloud storage, was now fully active.
The Creative Cloud
Adobe is positioning Photoshop Touch more as a supplement to the full desktop version of Photoshop. To that end, they use the Creative Cloud as a “Dropbox” for your Touch projects that can then be opened in your desktop Photoshop with all layers intact. This is useful if you are using Photoshop Touch to do some work while mobile, and later plan to finish on your desktop. One limitation, however, is that Photoshop Touch can only work on images up to a maximum size of 1600 x 1600 pixels. That’s pretty small for most serious art work. You could, with a little work, use the Creative Cloud to work on smaller portions of a larger desktop project. The reason for the size limitation is purely hardware based. The larger the image, the more memory is required to handle it. Tablets are limited both in RAM and storage space for swapping to disk. Placing a hard size limit to your images allows Adobe to make sure the app runs smoothly on most tablets. In other words, it’s a necessary evil.
When you first launch Adobe Photoshop Touch, you are presented with two choices: Begin a Tutorial, and Begin a Project.
If you are familiar with the traditional desktop Photoshop, the user interface of the touch version won’t be too unfamiliar, at least in a general sense. But for those who have never used Photoshop at all, there is a bit of a learning curve, especially since most options are presented as simple icons, so it’s not immediately obvious what each icon does. Also, how to use each feature in a useful workflow can only really be learned by doing it. This is why Adobe included a set of tutorials walking you through some common real-world use cases, such as how to add or remove people in images, create camera layers, make photo frames, etc.
These tutorials are great since they walk you through the process step-by-step while actually using the tools in the app. By the time you finish any of these tutorials, you will know how to use all the tools that tutorial was focusing on, plus you get a good idea of some ways to apply those tools. Very nice touch, Adobe.
Starting a Project
When you start a project, you get the option to import an image from your camera, your device’s gallery, Facebook, the Creative Cloud, or Google. If you don’t want to start with an image, you can simply create a blank image of any size up to 1600 x 1600 pixels. In my example, I am going to import a picture from my Facebook feed.
I chose this picture of a cat statue we have in our backyard.
Adding Depth of Field – Blurring the Background
So let’s say you want to take this image and blur the background to create a greater depth of field to the photo, making the cat statue stand out more. To do that, we’re going to have to select the background. Photoshop Touch provides many selection tools and modes, just like the desktop version, but it adds one new selection method unique to the touch version: Scribble Select.
Scribble Select is a special selection mode that takes advantage of your fingertip. The way it works is that you use your fingertip to draw around the very edge of what you want to select, then you draw a second line just outside the first, basically around the edge of what you don’t want to select. Sounds harder than it is. Here’s the first line:
And here’s the second:
Once the second line is finished, the selection is made. Of course, I said I wanted to select the background, but I selected the cat in the foreground. So next I have to invert the selection. This is done through the selection menu dropdown at the top of the screen.
Once the background is selected, it’s usually a good idea to feather that selection, which essentially just makes it a softer edge. The feather option is available from the same menu dropdown as above. Once you select it, you can control the edge of the selection.
Now that we have the background selection how we want it, we need to apply a blur. The blur effect is found under the FX menu.
Select the Gaussian Blur tool and adjust the parameters until satisfied.
As you can see, the background is now blurred and the foreground pops.
Other features ripped from the desktop version includes a whole slew of color adjustments.
Let’s apply Black & White.
Make it Look Old
Making a photograph look old is usually done using a Sepia tone filter. Adobe Photoshop Touch makes it easy by including an Old Sepia filter under the FX menu.
The Old Sepia filter has a couple of adjustable parameters, namely saturation and intensity. This is a nice addition since it makes it easy to dial in the exact amount of “oldness” you want applied to your photo.
All this image needs now is some text. I decided I wanted to name our little statue “Old Mr. Whiskerson”. The text tool is available under the ampersand icon in the top menu.
The fonts available are plentiful and you should be able to find one that matches your design.
After selecting a font and entering text, you can select a color, change text size and position, and more.
One of the most powerful features of the desktop version of Photoshop is the concept of layers. Layers contain designs, such as images or text, and can be stacked on top of each other and operated on independently. In this example, when the text was added, it was created in its own layer on top of the cat layer.
Layers can be hidden or deleted, reordered, and their opacities can be adjusted. Also, the blend mode of each layer can be changed to create some interesting effects between layers. Blend Mode basically adjusts how one layer is displayed over another layer, with options such as Darken, Multiply, Lighten, Difference, and more. The best way to see what each mode does is to try it.
Saving and Sharing
Once your work of art is complete, you can just touch the back arrow at the top left of the screen to get the save prompt.
Once you save your project locally, it will show up on your main projects page.
From here you can choose to share your image. The icons across the top of this screen act on the projects. The first icon allows you to upload your project to your Creative Cloud account. The second icon displays the share options, which include Save to Camera Roll (local gallery), Share to Facebook, and Share by Email.
Interestingly, the email option would better be labeled “Share by Email or Other” since what it actually does is open up the standard Android share list so you can choose any app to share to.
Here’s what the final image looks like:
What I’ve done in this review is go through an example project from start to finish to give you a good idea of some of the features that Adobe Photoshop Touch provides. It is indeed very powerful, but also comes at the cost of a moderately steep learning curve. Users of the desktop version should feel right at home after half an hour of use, but newbies will need a little more time to digest all the concepts and tools this powerful app provides. The built-in tutorials are highly recommended for all users to go through at least once.
Let me list what I feel are the pros and cons of the app:
- Layers support
- Creative Cloud integration
- Many color adjustment filters
- Many special effects filters
- Designed with the fingertip in mind
- Full set of powerful selection tools, including Scribble Selection
- Facebook image integration
- Google image search
- Very well done tutorials built in to app
- Makes great use of your tablet’s camera (importing as well as live camera fill during editing)Cons:
- Maximum image size of 1600 x1600
- Touch is still not as good as pen for precise drawing
- Can get slightly laggy with large images or multiple layers
- Text is not editable after being added
- No Google+ images or Picasa integration.
Overall, I give Adobe Photoshop Touch a huge thumbs up. For those of us who use traditional Photoshop on a daily basis, a powerful mobile version is a nice supplement. Will it ever take over for the full version? No, but that’s not what it’s meant to do. I can see using it to create small images for blog posts or websites, but not for doing a final print ad or poster design. Also, it’s a great tool to get inspired and work out some ideas while on the go, a sort of mobile digital sketchpad with enough depth to get your ideas across meaningfully.
For me, it is certainly worth the $9.99 I paid for it. For those just looking for a simple drawing app for your tablet and don’t plan to do anything serious, it’s probably over the top. This is truly a professional tool.
Download Adobe Photoshop Touch from the Play Store link or QR code below.