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Learning Photoshop in Every Graphic Detail

April 27, 1998|KRISSY HARRIS

What's big and expensive and can color all over?

The answer: Photoshop.

Sure, the punchline was kind of a letdown. But that does illustrate the point. Adobe Systems' Photoshop, one of the primary applications for serious graphics work, is no joke. At about $500 a pop, there's just nothing funny about it--especially if you don't know how to use it.

Because of that hefty price tag, you may be reluctant to plunk down $50 more for a book. But it's a worthy investment, whether you've used an earlier version (there are lots of changes) or are trying it for the first time.

There's simply no point in having it if you can't exploit it for all--or more than--it's worth.

PHOTOSHOP 4 STUDIO SECRETS by Deke McClelland (IDG Books Worldwide, $49.99; CD-ROM for Macintosh and Windows).

Not only is this a case study in Photoshop, it's a case study in contradictions. "Studio Secrets" is the most esoteric of this bunch but also the most useful. It makes images more accessible but makes you appreciate them more. Sometimes the simple images are the most complex to create.

"Photoshop 4 Studio Secrets" is a look at what 16 very different graphic designers have done using Photoshop and how they did it. Most of them are hired hands; almost none of the images in the book were created just for fun. This is worth mentioning because you get a real taste of their process, as McClelland takes you step by step through every stage of the design, from concept to execution.

But it's not a how-to. This is the book you need if you're more interested in the artwork than in the tools. Don't get me wrong--you'll read about type, 3-D, collage, making buttons, designing for the Web, layers, masks, digital cameras and more. But the focus is on the results rather than the process. And with pages upon pages of awesome graphics, it's just plain fun. You won't need to refer to a glossary every three minutes--the book is in plain English and can even prompt a good laugh once in a while.

Each artist overview ends with some weird question, such as "Favorite '70s TV shows?" "Favorite working wardrobe?" "Favorite mouthwash?"

PHOTOSHOP 4 WOW BOOK by Linnea Dayton and Jack Davis (Peachpit Press, $44.95; CD-ROM for Macintosh and Windows).

They aren't kidding. Wow.

They have more pictures than you can shake a graphically enhanced stick at. The book takes a plain old photo, piece of text or a sketch and makes it look, well, artistic. But it also lets you in on the secret. You won't have to try every filter to see what it does, because this book has pictures right there for you.

This book is about how to use Photoshop. Find a technique you like, follow some really simple instructions and--presto! The complex and expensive program is completely demystified. You'll be amazed at how cool you can make stupid stuff look. It's a must-have--especially if you just like to play with Photoshop.

Image galleries are sprinkled throughout the book, and each of the galleries' graphics have descriptions of how they were made. You'll learn about tools, system requirements, filters, masks, layers, channels, montage and collage, painting, special effects (such as creating crystal and chrome), multimedia and the Web. Both the basic and the ambitious are covered.

There's also a comprehensive section on what's new in Photoshop 4, though a glossary is conspicuously absent. There's also a CD that's just bursting with filters and file art. (OK, if a CD could burst, this one would.)

PHOTOSHOP 4 BIBLE by Deke McClelland (IDG Books Worldwide, $49.99; CD-ROM).

You're probably thinking that if someone has the gall to call his book a bible, it had better be pretty good. If you're not thinking that, it's probably because you've already experienced "Photoshop Bible" and you know it's good.

The focus here isn't on what you can do with Photoshop, it's just on how to use the blasted thing--every little, tiny tool and option. Everything. And it's good for every user from beginning to advanced--complete, well-organized and easy to understand.

Written by the same guy who did "Studio Secrets," this one leaves the art to you. But if it has anything to do with Photoshop, it's here. Skip the table of contents, and by all means don't try to read the thing. Just keep it on your desk and go right to the index when you have a question.

VISUAL QUICKSTART GUIDE: PHOTOSHOP 4 FOR MACINTOSH and PHOTOSHOP 4 FOR WINDOWS by Elaine Weinmann and Peter Lourekas (Peachpit Press, $19.95).

This is the "Baby's First Photoshop Book" of the bunch. It's cheap and thin, which makes it attractive but not very complete. It's a mini-reference that's crammed and hard to follow. Not the instructions--they're all right--just the book itself.

It will, as the cover promises, probably get you "up and running in no time!" But you're unlikely to learn much else.

Please send comments and topic suggestions to Krissy Harris at

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