Photoshop Touch: The Power of Photoshop in Your Pocket

Photoshop is a tool I use almost daily, and have since 2007. While I’m nowhere as good a lot of other professionals, I’m more than competent when at using Photoshop for photo editing and design work. So, when Adobe Photoshop Touch for Phone (the app’s actual name) was released in late February, my curiosity was instantly piqued.

With Photoshop being such a power desktop application, I asked myself if it was possible for Adobe to develop an adequate version for a phone. After spending time with Photoshop Touch, though, I came away with a definitive answer to my previous question.

Like the article? You should subscribe and follow us on twitter.

Navigating the Interface

The biggest challenge with developing a version of Photoshop for the iPhone is creating a UI that is both intuitive and uncluttered. While not perfect, Photoshop Touch certainly hits this mark very well. The Canvas takes center stage, and you can zoom in and out by performing a pinch-in or pinch-out gesture. When zoomed in, there’s not clear method to move to a different area of the photo, so you’ll need to zoom out and back in, respectively.

You'll need to pinch and zoom to navigate the canvas.

You’ll need to pinch and zoom to navigate the canvas.

The top menu displays four icons that group categorized functions and tools together. For instance, the first icons are all selection based actions (e.g. copy, deselect, select all). On the far right you’ll find the ever so handy Undo tool, which is always one of the most important functions in any photo editing app (though I’d prefer a history menu like in Luminance).

You'll find a number of great tools in the top toolbar.

You’ll find a number of great tools in the top toolbar.

The bottom left icon allows for quick access of the most popular Photoshop tools, such as the Magic Wand, Brush, Eraser, Clone Stamp. To the immediate right you’ll find the options menu, which like the desktop app, is used to make adjustments to your selected tool (e.g. Brush Size, Color). Finally, the bottom right icon opens the Layers menu. From here you can add new layers, make layer adjustments and reorganize layers by tapping the desired layer and sliding it up and down.

The layers menu is very well designed for a phone interface.

The layers menu is very well designed for a phone interface.

If you’re familiar with Photoshop, finding and using most tools and functions will be a piece of cake. However, I spent over 10 minutes trying to figure out how to move an object, which is typically done with the Move Tool. To save everyone else a bit of time, moving an object is performed by selecting the Transform tool (found by tapping the ampersand icon), and then tapping anywhere outside of the selected object and sliding it to your desired location.

Crop, rotate and add text are all found here.

Crop, rotate and add text are all found here.

Unique Tools & Options

I absolutely love the manner in which numerical adjustments are made in Photoshop Touch. For instance, when changing the size of the Brush, you’re able to use sliders to increase and decrease the size number. If you want a particular number, which is often difficult to achieve with sliders, you can tap the number and a keypad pops up, allowing you to quickly input the number and tap the checkmark button. This may seem like a rather small feature for me to tout so highly, but most apps would simply use the built-in keyboard for numerical inputs of this nature, which is the opposite of convenience.

Photoshop Touch offers one of the best number input interfaces I've ever seen in an app.

Photoshop Touch offers one of the best number input interfaces I’ve ever seen in an app.

Out of the barrage of tools available in Photoshop, a large number ended up making it into Photoshop Touch. While that alone is pretty cool, Adobe created a pair of selection tools unique to Photoshop Touch. The Brush Selection Tool can be used to paint objects you wish to select, while the Scribble Selection Tool is used to highlight objects you wish to keep and objects you wish to remove. I found that these tools worked very well in conjunction, with the Scribble Selection Tool being used as a starting point and the Brush Selection Tool being used to make more precise adjustments.

The Scribble Selection and Brush Selection Tools are unique to Photoshop Touch

The Scribble Selection and Brush Selection Tools are unique to Photoshop Touch

Workflow & Stylus

I can’t speak for everyone, but my workflow in Photoshop Touch isn’t nearly as fast or smooth compared to working in the desktop app. However, it would be foolish to think this wouldn’t be the case. When using tools, there are a number of additional taps you’ll need to perform in Photoshop Touch that aren’t necessary in Photoshop. With that being said, once I got used to where each tool was located, I was able to tap and navigate quickly to each new selection and make quick adjustments to tool options.

A critical tool for some Photoshop users when dealing with workflow, is the pen tablet. Luckily, this experience can be replicated with the use of a stylus. For the sake of research, I experimented with both my finger and a stylus. I experienced issues with my sausage fingers when attempting to perform actions that required a bit of finesse, but broader strokes were performed with ease. However, I ended up growing fond of my stylus, as it allowed me to see each stroke without my handling blocking the view.

Powerful Editing

While some may dismiss Photoshop Touch as substandard version of the desktop app, lacking the ability to perform powerful editing, I don’t believe this is the case. It’s true that some of best and/or my personal favorite features of Photoshop, such as Masks, Burn Tool, and Adjustment Layers, are nowhere to be found. However, it doesn’t mean that powerful edits aren’t possible.

Original photo on the left and the Photoshop Touch on the right.

As I test, I attempted to duplicate a personal project I created in celebration of Impossible Astronaut Day (all Whovians should understand, hopefully). My original edit required several layers, in which I used various tools and filters. Since Adjustment Layers and Mask weren’t available, I had to make adjustments (e.g. Saturation, Hue, Brightness & Contrast) to the layers themselves (never a good editing strategy if it can be helped). While I was unable to duplicate my previous efforts exactly, I found both versions to be equally well constructed.

Importing & Sharing

Photoshop Touch offers integration with Adobe Creative Cloud, which when used will automatically sync all projects to your Creative Cloud account. If you happen to use Photoshop CS6, this is a great feature because you can import synced files and continue your work. For those individuals using a previous version of Photoshop, which includes myself, you can always save a JPEG or PNG version to your Camera Roll, or to a number of third-party apps (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, Dropbox).

There are number of methods available for sharing your photos and designs.

There are number of methods available for sharing your photos and designs.

The Bottom Line

As a Photoshop user, I’m quite at home with Adobe Photoshop Touch for Phone. I certainly miss Masks and Adjustment Layers, but for the most part I’m able to find simple workarounds. The biggest problem I found with Photoshop Touch, however, is that without prior Photoshop experience the app is very intimidating to use. The Help section offers a lackluster explanation of the app’s features and tools, so inexperienced users will often be left to fumble in the dark, so to speak, in an attempt to use many of the apps functions.

So, if you’re in the market for a great photo editing app but aren’t experienced with Photoshop, I suggest trying out less intimidating apps such as Luminance or Snapseed. Both offer powerful photo editing, but only require a basic understanding of editing tools. For those of you that have a familiarity with Photoshop, Photoshop Touch is very much worth the price of admission ($4.99), but only if you don’t feel that apps like Snapseed or Luminance do not fulfill your photo editing needs.


Adobe's flagship product comes to the iPhone.