El­e­men­tal Powe rs Adobe’s stripped-back version of its pop­u­lar soft­ware em­braces so­cial net­work­ing, but will this move suit the bud­get-con­scious dig­i­tal art com­mu­nity?

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At £79 it’s good value for money, but you can pick up a year-long sub­scrip­tion to Pho­to­shop CC for £105

You might be tempted to dis­miss Pho­to­shop El­e­ments out of hand. It’s the Fisher Price version of Pho­to­shop CC. The PG-13 cut. It’s the kind of soft­ware your un­cle uses. Boot it up and it brims with so­cial me­dia fea­tures: Face­book photo com­pi­la­tions, YouTube mon­tages, Twit­ter shar­ing. And there’s a quick edit fea­ture so your un­cle can per­form vi­tal ad­just­ments, such as re­mov­ing those dreaded red eyes.

Yet tucked away be­neath this ve­neer of con­sumer-friendly fea­tures and enor­mous icons there’s a sem­blance of the full-blown Pho­to­shop CC. And, as usual, the best fea­tures from the lat­est edi­tion of CC have trick­led down into this version of the soft­ware.

One of CC’s most amaz­ing re­cent ad­di­tions was its Haze tools. Not only can th­ese re­move at­mo­spheric arte­facts from murky pho­tos, but they can also add haze. El­e­ments’ version, how­ever, is sim­ply for re­mov­ing haze, which means you can’t add mys­te­ri­ous fog to your back­ground lay­ers. It’s still a clever ad­di­tion, but photo ed­i­tors will use it more than dig­i­tal artists.

More use­ful is a Smart Se­lec­tion tool. We of­ten wake up in a cold sweat thanks to the night­mares of cut­ting out fine wisps of hair. In El­e­ments you can cre­ate a broad se­lec­tion, then fine-tune it to tackle more de­tailed ar­eas with the stroke of a brush. It makes se­lect­ing in­tri­cate and ill-de­fined char­ac­ters a breeze, and it’s par­tic­u­larly use­ful if re­com­pos­ing some­one else’s art.

El­e­ments lacks Pho­to­shop’s more ad­vanced fea­tures. There’s no Mag­netic lasso, no 3D func­tions and

no vec­tor tools. You will find all the es­sen­tials here, though: blur fil­ters, a se­lec­tion of brushes and trans­form tools will get you started with paint­ing dig­i­tally, and it’s tablet com­pat­i­ble so you can draw and paint just as you would in the real world.

The ele­phant in the room here is the price. At £79 it’s good value for money as stand­alone soft­ware, but thanks to Adobe’s weird pric­ing struc­ture you can pick up a year-long sub­scrip­tion to Pho­to­shop CC for £105. For that ex­tra £25 you get the full Pho­to­shop ex­pe­ri­ence, with all the plug-ins and brushes you can chuck at it, as well as Adobe’s Light­room pro­fes­sional file or­gan­iser. Yes, it’s an an­nual cost, but think of what you could achieve with Pho­to­shop CC in a year!

There’s an ex­cep­tion, though – and that’s if you’re an ab­so­lute be­gin­ner. The guided tu­to­ri­als in­cluded in Pho­to­shop El­e­ments are so hands-on that they prac­ti­cally glue your fin­gers to your sty­lus. They cover ev­ery­thing from colour tweaks to re­com­po­si­tion, and they’re a great way to learn the ba­sics and gen­tly ramp up to the ad­vanced fea­tures. We rec­om­mend this ap­proach for any­one who’s yet to reach Pho­to­shop first base, fol­lowed by en­rol­ment in CC once you get to grips with it.

Though it’s known as the lit­tle brother of Pho­to­shop, El­e­ments has plenty go­ing for it. Most dig­i­tal artists would pre­fer to have the abil­ity to add haze than re­move it.

As you might ex­pect, El­e­ments lacks some of Pho­to­shop’s more ad­vanced fea­tures, such as the Mag­netic lasso, 3D func­tions and vec­tor tools for ex­am­ple. All the es­sen­tials are in­cluded: blur fil­ters, a se­lec­tion of brushes and trans­form tools, to get you started. Adobe puts all El­e­ments’ most eye-catching fea­tures up front, so you can quickly im­prove your pho­tos with some im­pres­sive ef­fects.

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