A Review of Photoshop Touch for the iPad

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Adobe’s Photoshop Touch has been out for Android tablets since late last year, and the company has now delivered on its earlier promise to release a version for iOS. The new version, which is compatible only with the iPad 2, is now available from the App Store for $9.99. We took it for a spin to see how it performed, and came up with some pretty favorable impressions – and some not-so-favorable ones too.


Photoshop Touch (PSTouch, for short) brings some core functionality from the desktop version of the app down to the iPad, with a tablet- and touch-friendly set of tools. “Core functionality,” in this case, doesn’t mean “basic,” however; PSTouch brings some pretty powerful capabilities for photographers that are worth looking into.

A comprehensive list of features can be found on the PSTouch website, but let’s take a look at a few standouts.

  • The Scribble Selection Tool
    The Scribble Selection Tool

    Really powerful selection capabilities: There’s a tool called the Scribble Selection Tool. You basically scribble with your finger on the spaces you want in your selection, then switch to the “Remove” brush and scribble again on the parts you don’t want to keep.The result is pure magic – PSTouch does the rest. You can refine that selection by inversing it, resizing it or using brush tools to fine-tune it. This kind of selection power on a tablet device is pretty awesome.

  • Filter Brushes: Grab the brush tool, switch it to “fx” mode, then pick your filter. From basic ones like dodge and burn, to more advanced effects like color temperature and curves, you can paint in your effects where you need to.
  • Layers and Blend Modes: PSTouch allows you to create multiple layers in your project, then change the opacity and blend modes for those layers. If you’re familiar with blend modes, you know how powerful they can be. PSTouch now brings that power to – quite literally – your fingertips.

There are a host of others filters – Stylize filters like Halftone and Posterize make it from the desktop version, as do Artistic ones like Graphic Pen, Chalk and Charcoal, and Comic. There’s a half-dozen photo-specific options like Old Sepia, Sleepy Holly, and Grainy Night as well.

In addition, there’s also Transform, Warp, Levels, Curves, Fill and Stroke, and a really cool “Add Fade” feature that lets you blend one layer into another, like you would with masks in the desktop version.


The PSTouch Interface
The PSTouch Interface

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think the interface would translate well into a tablet app. While I’ve enjoyed using Nik Software’s Snapseed, another photo editing app for the iPad, that’s a pretty specialized app. PSTouch is intended to be a more complete editing suite and I wasn’t sure that the interface would work well in the iPad’s 10.1″ display.

I was also unsure as to whether the app’s interface would work well in a touch environment. I’ve used FilterStorm Pro, a very powerful and capable editor for the iPad, and the interface is kind of a mess. Few editors get it right – Photogene does a good job by using a combination of tabs, buttons and panels, as does Luminance.

But this is Photoshop, and I wanted something that didn’t reinvent the interface as those editors have. I wanted a tablet version of Photoshop, an app that would be as familiar to me as the desktop version.

Well, Adobe delivered. Launch the app, open a photo and it’s instantly familiar. The tools palette is on the left, layers are on the right, and even the menu bar is represented in the form of a row of icons across the top

There are some nice tweaks to the basic interface – when a tool is selected, for example, the tools palette changes to show all the options for that tool. It’s also easy enough to go full-screen on your image as you work with your brushes, or just collapse a toolbar or panel into the side of the screen.

All in all, Adobe did really well on creating an experience that’s familiar, yet works well on a touchscreen tablet.


Layer Blend Modes in PSTouch
Layer Blend Modes in PSTouch

Opening and saving images is relatively smooth, if not particularly fast. Filters, blend modes, selection tools, edits, crops and transforms are real-time (no lag) and smooth.

The warp tool is particularly impressive; there’s a bit of lag as you drag the handles around, but the fact that you have a tool that is performing this complex operation in real time on a tablet is just darn impressive.

Ditto for the other tools; the healing brush, the clone stamp tool and the blur/smudge tools – they all work smoothly and as expected.


All is not right with the world when it comes to Photoshop Touch, however. For starters, there’s no RAW support.

That might not seem like a big deal, but when you consider that apps like FilterStorm Pro have support for up to 22MP RAW images, the lack of RAW support in PSTouch is somewhat surprising.

Image size is another issue. The max resolution that PSTouch will handle is 1600 X 1600 pixels at a paltry 72ppi. That’s a bit annoying too, especially when you consider that the next version of the iPad will almost certainly have a Retina display (which has a resolution of 326ppi). Hopefully, this is something that will be fixed in a later update.

Finally, I did run into some issues with tools suddenly not working. When selecting the Transform tool, for example, the handles suddenly stopped responding to any touch inputs, necessitating a restart of the app. Fortunately, I was to save my work as other controls still worked.


Adjusting Levels in PSTouch
Adjusting Levels in PSTouch

I wanted a photo-editing app with powerful features and an interface that was instantly familiar. I wanted something that could work with the desktop version of Photoshop, swapping .psd files back and forth. I wanted an app that would handle high-resolution files out of my 5D Mark II for field edits.

I feel like I got 1.5 out of 3 requests. PSTouch is powerful, and the interface does, I think, deliver (I really like the way tools like Levels and Curves are designed). And you can send PSTouch files to the desktop version of Photoshop (though you need to use Adobe’s cloud storage solution and a free plugin from them for it). You cannot, however, import .psd files with layers intact into PSTouch, something that seems like a strange oversight on Adobe’s part.

The last item on my wishlist, however, isn’t there – but I think it’s a matter of time before Adobe comes through. Perhaps the release of the iPad 3 will prompt an update that lets you import and export larger, higher-resolution files. For now though, I consider the file size limitation to be a reasonably big disappointment.

Quibbles and disappointments notwithstanding, the app is powerful, elegant and brings a great set of features to the iPad. It’s definitely worth the $9.99 – and perhaps a bit more than that too.

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