First Look: Photoshop Elements 6 for the Mac

First Look: Photoshop

If you enjoy touching up and editing digital photographs, you can use the free iPhoto program that comes with every Mac. However, if you want to go beyond simple editing and create more sophisticated visual effects, your only other choice might be shelling out $649 for Photoshop CS3. Fortunately, there's now an alternative in between. After years of neglect, Adobe has finally released a Macintosh version of Photoshop Elements 6 for $89.95.

The new Photoshop Elements 6 for the Mac finally brings the program equal to features that were previously only available in the Windows version. More importantly, this is the first version of the program that is a Universal Binary, able to run natively on both Intel and PowerPC Macs.

The User Interface

Since Photoshop Elements is meant for novices and intermediate users, the program offers a redesigned user interface. Besides the traditional pull-down menus and toolbox icons, the program also sports a three-tab interface that provides quick access to three common tasks: Edit, Create, and Share.

Three tabs provide easy access to commonly used features

Each tab contains additional tabs to isolate different program features. For example, the Edit tab offers Full, Quick, and Guided tabs. The Full tab allows you to choose a visual style to apply to your pictures, the Quick tab provides various sliders for adjusting the lighting, colors, and contrast, and the Guided tab displays plain-English questions to guide you into choosing the feature you need.

The Edit tab consists of Full, Quick, and Guided tabs to help you modify a picture

The Create tab contains Projects and Artwork tabs to help you create a photobook or PDF slide show, as well as unique background images that you can modify.

The Create tab provides Projects and Artwork tabs for creating new pictures or ways to display pictures

The Share tab provides one-click access for sharing your pictures with others through a webpage, email attachment, an online ordering service, or burning to a CD/DVD. The combination of the Edit, Create, and Share tabs allows you to use the program without wrestling with multiple commands chosen from pull-down menus.

Editing Pictures

In previous versions of the program, editing pictures meant knowing which tool to select and then knowing how to use a particular command, buried in one of its many pull-down menus. Although you can still use this method with Photoshop Elements 6, the main focus of the program is not only on adding new features and improving existing ones, but also making all features easier to use.

For example, one common task for editing pictures involves removing parts of an image, such as the background behind a person. In the past, this meant either dragging the mouse around the area you want to select, or using the Magic Wand tool to have the computer automatically select a certain area based on similar colors.

Since both methods can be clumsy, Photoshop Elements 6 offers a Magic Extractor tool, which lets you click on the items you want to keep and then click on any surrounding areas that you want to remove. The program then shows you a preview of how your modified image looks so you can decide whether to keep it or modify it some more.

The Magic Extractor tool lets you select which images to keep or remove by clicking on them

If you routinely work with multiple files at once, Photoshop Elements 6 helps keep you organized by displaying thumbnail images of each file at the bottom of the screen in an area called the Photo Bin. By double-clicking on an image in the Photo Bin, you can switch to the window containing that particular file rather than manually wade through each separate window.

The Photo Bin helps you work with multiple files

Even a simple process of converting a color picture to black-and-white has been given multiple options for greater control, while still remaining easy to use. The program lets you manually adjust the Red, Blue, Green values of a picture, or choose a predefined black-and-white image style such as Newspaper or Infrared. With Photoshop Elements 6, you can choose to modify pictures manually for finer control, or select simplified options that let you alter a picture with a few mouse clicks.

Nearly every advanced feature allows manual control or simplified options for modifying a picture

Digital Photography Tools

Since the main audience for the program are digital photographers, Photoshop Elements 6 offers greater support for RAW files from a greater variety of digital cameras. Besides the ability to import digital camera files, the program can also pick a single frame out from a movie. Whether you capture the perfect image with a digital camera or a video camcorder, you can improve that image in Photoshop Elements 6.

The program can capture a single frame from a movie

Since few digital photographs will be perfect, Photoshop Elements 6 provides a series of automatic correction tools that can fix common problems in a single mouse click, such as Auto Contrast or Auto Red-Eye Fix.

The Enhance menu lists the program's auto-correction features

One particularly handy feature is PhotoMerge, which lets you pick and choose parts of multiple pictures and paste them together. Now your merged picture contains the best parts of multiple images, but looks like it was captured in a single shot.

PhotoMerge lets you combine parts of multiple images into a single picture

For more fun, the program's blending technology allows you to take faces apart and paste them together to create new images. Take the nose or lips from your favorite movie star and see how they might look on you. By blending images together, you can create images that look like they were original photographs.


If you have a previous version of Photoshop Elements, version 6 is a massive improvement with new features, a refined user interface to make both new and old features more accessible, and native speed on both Intel and older PowerPC processors. Given the program's low cost ($89.95) and packed feature-set that nearly rivals its more expensive sibling, Photoshop Elements 6 is a bargain for both novices and intermediate users.

Whether you just want to touch up pictures, modify and create new images, or output your pictures in a variety of formats, Photoshop Elements 6 will likely provide the features you need and be easy to use as well. You may be able to find less expensive Photoshop alternatives (such as the $59
Pixelmator), but you probably won't find any program that blends advanced features in a simple user interface like Photoshop Elements 6.
  1. MacnnChester 03/29, 11:46am

    I like the interface except for the weird colors chosen.

  1. MatildeMatilde 03/29, 12:27pm

    I just upgraded from Elements 3, and this new version is quite good. I actually like the colours, which I would rate as being the biggest improvement, as it focuses your eyes on the image and reduces Adobe's famous interface clutter.

    It also shows samples of fonts in the font selection tool, which is something I've wanted for years.

    It's not much faster than Elements 3: I have a Mac Mini Core Duo 2.0 GHz with 2 GB of RAM, so Elements 3 ran through Rosetta: Elements 6 is native. I did notice that when Elements 6 starts up, it loads a "Core PPC" library. Oh well. At least it's not a step backwards.

    At last, Elements has a decent dock icon.

    To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from Elements 6. Adobe applications tend to me lumbering monoliths with poorly organised user interfaces. But this version is a definite improvement over Elements 3. It's a tiny bit faster and is nicer to use because it has a better interface.

    If you're not keen to cough up $70 and choke back the 1.3 GB download, you could probably get it bundled for free with some useful bit of hardware in a few months, such as a Watcom tablet.

  1. chelsel 03/31, 06:49pm

    It makes me sad that Best Buy still has Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 on its shelves in the "new" Apple section :-( as of March 2008.

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