If you’ve never used image editing applications before, a first look can be pretty daunting. Once opened, your screen seems awash with buttons, tools and palettes: you may wonder where to start. So here is a simplified run-down of the main features you’ll encounter, and how these are interpreted by different applications. Though there are many more applications than we’ve shown, those here are typical of the majority.
Dominating the workspace, the canvas contains the image upon which you are currently working. Using a Zoom tool, you can select whether you see the whole of this image or enlarge a particular area of it for detailed editing. In most applications, two (or more) images can be open simultaneously.
Grouped together in a convenient (and sometimes moveable) block are the tools used to perform edits. These include selection tools (for selecting specific parts of an image), painting tools (such as the Paintbrush and Spraycan, designed to paint on the image), darkroom tools (including tools such as Dodge and Burn that emulate traditional darkroom effects) and other, often specialized tools.
Whether you choose to work using a Windows application or a Macintosh, you’ll find that image editing menus follow the conventional layout for your computer platform. Image editing menus provide access to, for example, effects filters, image layers (sometimes called objects) and additional commands. Through the menus you can also configure advanced settings such as image size, canvas size, colour modes and print options.
These are often called floating palettes, because they can be moved around the screen and positioned conveniently. They provide extra control and adjustment for tools and other features. Individual floating palettes might permit the selection of a paintbrush size (or type), or enable image layer management, or colour selection. The range and type of palettes vary from application to application.
Adobe’s Photoshop has become the industry standard by virtue of the comprehensive tools and commands offered along with a working environment that aids effective editing. Though the full application is expensive, junior version Photoshop Elements offers (at a modest price) virtually all the features required by the non-professional digital photographer. Both versions are available for Macintosh and Windows computers.
Part of the extensive graphics package CorelDRAW!. Photo-Paint is a fully featured image editing package with much the same overall look and functionality as Photoshop. Integration with the vector graphics elements of CorelDRAW! are not seamless, but the two products can be used together to create powerful imagery. Mac and Windows versions are available, along with ‘limited’ editions such as Photo-Paint Digital Camera Edition, that interfaces directly to your digital camera, if you have one.
This Windows-only application has a working environment similar to that of Photoshop. Many of the palettes are tool-sensitive, displaying pertinent options when a specific tool is selected.
Photosuite is organized somewhat differently to Photoshop. Tools are arranged around the canvas, whilst the controls and information normally found on floating palettes is indicated on the panel to the left.