First of all, I would to thank Porter Novelli, the PR firm representing Adobe in Canada, for offering a copy of Adobe CS4 to do this review. CS4 has been out for quite a while and I hope you have already upgraded because the new CS4 is all about maximizing your productivity and making your work easier. In this post, I’m going to write about my experience with using the new features of Photoshop and Illustrator.

Photoshop CS4

What is New?

If you want to see what is new in CS4, go to Window > Workspace > What’s New in CS4. Now you will see the new features in the menus highlighted.

what is new


Photoshop CS4 has made a lot of changes to the interface. Photoshop CS4 now encloses everything in a window called Application Frame and organizes multiple documents in tabs.

application frame

I’m not a big fans of the tabs and Window Frame. But what I like is the quick access of the Arrange Documents menu. It allows you to organize the open documents in various arrangements.

arrange documents

Layer Adjustments and Masks Panel

Another obvious change is the new Adjustments and Masks panel. The Layer Adjustments and Masks now have separate panels, providing you quick editing. Now, you don’t need to configure the adjustment setting in a modal dailog box. You can quickly change the setting in the panels.


What I like about the new Masks panel are the Density and Feather option.

masks panel

Rotate View Tool

If you are using the new Macbook Pro with multi-touch trackpad, Photoshop CS4 could be your best pal. With the multi-touch trackpad support, you can zoom and rotate the canvas smoothly with two fingers. Shortcut tip: when your canvas is in angle, double click on the Rotate View Tool (on the toolbar) to return the Rotation Angle to 0.

rotate view tool

Rotate View tool is extremely useful when you have to do a lot of brushing (ie. editing large images or digital painting). It allows you to rotate the canvas as if you were rotating paper on a desk.

At the beginning, I always accidentally rotated the canvas while trying to zoom with the trackpad. It took me a while to get used to it. Now, I enjoy using the multi-touch trackpad to zoom especially when working on a large illustration. If you don’t like the Rotate View tool or want to disable it, go to Preferences > Performance, uncheck "Enable OpenGL Drawing". There is also a plugin that helps you to disable the canvas rotation via trackpad, yet the feature remains available through the Rotate View tool.

enable opengl

Smooth & Animated Zooming

I love the new zoom handling. Now you will see smooth looking images at any zoom level. This means you’ll no longer see jagged edges when viewed at odd percentages.

animated zooming

Another enhancement is the animated zooming. With the Zoom tool selected, click and hold the mouse button, watch as the image zoom in continuously.

Navigation Shortcut

If you use the Navigator panel a lot, I have a shortcut tip for you. Open an image and zoom in to the max. Select the Zoom tool, hold the H key, click on the image, it will quickly zoom the image to fit in the window, you will see a rectangle box, drag it around and release it where you want to go.


Pixel Grid

When you zoom in over 500%, you will see the Pixel Grid. It is handy if you need to distinguish between adjacent pixels in the zoom mode. Personally, I don’t find it useful, so I turn it off most of the time (View > Show > Pixel Grid).

pixel grid

Flick Panning

Flick panning is another time-saver feature that lets you move the image in the direction based on your mouse gesture. You may find it useful if you work with high-res images or in zoom mode.

Content Aware Scaling

Have you ever received off-size images from your clients and you have to spend hours on cropping and retouching them. For example, you have a landscape image placeholder, but your client send you a portrait format image. With the CS4 new tool called Content Aware Scaling, it automatically preserves the important areas of the images as you resize it.

content aware scaling

Clone Tool Live Preview

The improved Clone tool now provides a live preview in the cursor as you are brushing the image. Minor, but a nice enhancement.

clone preview

Brush Size Adjustment Shortcut

I just discovered another new Photoshop shortcut for adjusting brush size. Select the Brush tool, hold down the Control + Option key (PC: hold down Alt + right mouse button), click on the image and it will show you a preview of your current bursh size. Now, drag left to decrease the brush size, drag right to increase. This shortcut works on all brush tools such as Clone, Smudge, Dodge, Burn, Pencil, etc.

clone preview

Illustrator CS4

Tabbed Document

Same as Photoshop CS4, Illustrator CS4 organize multiple documents in a tab view.

illustrator tabs

Multiple Artboards

For those who use Illustrator to design multi-page brochure or print work, here is good news. Now you can create multi-page documents of varying size with the Artboard tool. They can be overlapped, side by side, or stacked on top of each other. You can also export or print the artboards separately or together. For example, you can export them as a multi-page PDF file.

multi artboards

How this tool benefit me is now I can create my icons in multiple artboards and then export them to PNG files with one simple step.

multi artboards

Gradient Transpancy

I’ve been waiting for the gradient transpancy for years! Finally, it is released in CS4. Before, I had to use the Opacity Mask to create transpancy in gradients. It was not efficient at all because I had to release and then re-apply the mask to edit the transparency.

gradient transparency

New Gradient Tool

Two years ago, I suggested this idea to the Illustrator product manager, Philip Guindi. I’m so happy to see this happened in CS4.

gradient suggestion

With the new Gradient tool, you can edit the gradient on the object itself. It provides a slider in the object where you can: add or change color stops, apply transparency to color stops, and change the direction or angle of the gradient.

gradient sliders

Shortcut tip: double click on the color stop to activate the color palette where you can change its color. It works on both the object slider or the Gradient panel.

gradient sliders

The image below shows how I can easily create a glossy orb with the new Gradient tool (before I had to use the Blend tool or Mesh to create such effect). In case you don’t know, I use Illustrator to design the stock icons and this new enhancement makes my process so much easier.

glossy orb

Key Object Alignment

Illustrator CS4 provides a new alignment option called Align to Key Object. A key object is the one object that you want other objects to align to. To do that: select all the objects that you want to align, click again to select a key object (you will see a thicker stroke outline), now choose an aligment in the panel.

key object

View Outline in Isolation Mode

Another great enhancement is being able to view outline (Cmd + Y) in the isolation mode. It makes editing the group or mask objects in isolation mode easier.


Photoshop CS4

I would recommend Photoshop CS4 to those who are often dealing with high-res images such as the digital artists and photographers. You can improve productivity with the new features such as the Rotate View tool, animated zooming & panning, Ajustments, and Masks panel. The Content Aware Scaling is totally awesome. I think it will be useful for web or banner designers (because clients often send off size images!).

Illustrator CS4

Should you upgrade Illustrator CS4? Absolutely! It is a must upgrade, the best version ever. Just the the new Gradient tool and multiple artboards along is worth the upgrade.


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