Adobe Photoshop Versions

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Mention Photoshop and everyone will know what you’re talking about. It’s even entered the common vernacular as a verb (“has this model been photoshopped?!”).

This wasn’t always the case. Once, Adobe Photoshop was a very specialized software that only professionals knew how to use, and even then, not all of them could afford it.

Photoshop was born in the early days of the digital era, in 1988. Adobe Systems bought the license from its creators, Thomas and John Knoll, and since then the software has developed and improved into what you know today.

This article is a journey that goes through the different versions to show you the evolution that made Photoshop the number one photo-editing program to date.

Despite the big competitors that are now available, Adobe Photoshop has managed to remain as the industry leader.

Looking at its history, you might get an idea of why that is. Let’s dive in!

A Brief History of Adobe Photoshop Versions

adobe photoshopping image editing

Adobe Photoshop Version 2020 offers numerous features to help photographers.

There’s not a lot to be said about the very early days of Photoshop. Adobe published seven major and lots of minor Photoshop versions throughout the ’90s.

Where the software really took off commercially was with the introduction of Creative Suite in 2003.

Photoshop CS (2003)

Officially the 8th version of Photoshop, this was a landmark thanks to the introduction of Creative Suite.

Photoshop CS was launched in the fall of 2003. It had great improvements in the user’s control which made it very popular.

One of the major hits was the real-time histogram palette. This is because the histogram is the most important tool to determine the correct exposure of a photograph.

Also, the hierarchical layer groups allowed for a more efficient workflow. These are some of the highlights from this version:

  • Camera Raw 2.0 addition
  • Better user control
  • Match Color command
  • Reworked file browser
  • Highlights and Shadows command
  • Enhanced sorting & sharing
  • Hierarchical layer groups
  • Real-time Histogram Palette
  • Smart Guides

Photoshop CS2 (2005)

This expansion dates to May 2005 and had a major improvement that I’m sure you appreciate even today: it became possible to edit non-destructively.

This wasn’t the only thing that got major attention though. Can you imagine your post-production process without Lightroom’s Presets or Photoshop Actions? Well, it all started here. This was the first version that allowed for custom presets.

As for the efficiency upgrades, the introduction of Adobe Bridge was the highlight. Today most of the browsing, organizing, and labeling of your library happens in Lightroom. However, it’s powerful predecessor was Adobe Bridge.

Some of the Photoshop CS2 features were:

  • Improved interface
  • Camera Raw 3.0
  • Introduction of Adobe Bridge
  • Upgraded Spot Healing brush
  • Warping editing tool
  • Custom presets
  • Non-destructive editing
  • A filter for lens correction
  • Introduction of Vanishing Point
  • Smart Objects

Photoshop CS3 (2007)

Photoshop CS3 was released in 2007 and came together with an improvement in Adobe Bridge. With this Photoshop version, the software went through an overall upgrade and became faster and more efficient.

Several tools were enhanced – for example, the Curves and Vanishing Point filters that had been introduced in CS2.

New features made their first appearance to simplify the work of heavy users, like the Quick Selection and Refine Edge tools.

One of the biggest hallmarks, though, was the Black & White conversion. Today you can turn a color photograph into grayscale with a single touch in any app, but back then it was very difficult to achieve a clean and realistic result.

With Photoshop CS3, this became much easier.

  • Faster with a better user interface
  • Improved Vanishing Point tool
  • Better support for multiple file formats
  • Quick Selection & Refine Edge tools were introduced
  • Enhancement in adjustment tools like Contrast and Curves
  • Potentiated Black and White conversion as well as Image Stitching
  • Upgraded Adobe Bridge
  • Addition of Dust Busting tool, Fill Light tool, and Clone Source Palette.

Photoshop CS4 (2008)

The idea behind this Photoshop upgrade was to deliver a friendlier user interface.

Also, for the first time, there were two different versions. Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop CS4 Extended were released simultaneously.

The extended Photoshop version incorporated 3D capabilities as well as motion graphics. It was more targeted to video and filmmakers while photographers might have been satisfied with the regular CS4.

It became easier and faster to work on an image in Photoshop because you could scroll through it with better zoom and panning possibilities.

The scaling algorithms were highly improved and the Content-Aware feature was also incorporated. This was a great hit.

  • Scaling with content-aware
  • Canvas rotation and faster zooming and panning
  • Additional improvements in Adobe Bridge
  • 3D
  • Introduction of tabs in the interface
  • Adjustments Panel
  • Flash extension panel SDK for better integration of Photoshop plugins.

Photoshop CS5 (2010)

In April 2010, Photoshop CS5 was released, marking the twelfth version of the software. At the time, Facebook had become very popular and the Adobe marketing team didn’t miss the opportunity.

In 2009, they launched a sneak peek of the new technologies that the upcoming CS5 version would have.

They also opened up to feedback and incorporated some of the most requested tools. This was the starting point for a more user-driven development.

One of the biggest novelties was the Content-Aware Fill, which was derived from the Content-Aware Scaling from CS4.

Some other favorites that we still know and love are the Auto Straightening tool to correct the horizon, the Cropping tool with the visual rule of thirds, and the Color pick up.

Noise reduction and special filters like the Vignette were also the results of audience input.

In all, there were more than 30 improvements to this latest release in the lineup of Photoshop versions. Here are some of the main ones:

  • Shadow Catcher for 3D objects
  • Content-Aware Fill
  • Auto-straightening and rule of thirds crop
  • Video editing
  • 3D brushes and materials
  • 64-bit support and jpeg saving options for 16-bit images

Photoshop CS6 (2012)

Adobe Photoshop CS6 released in May 2012. This was the last licensed version sold before they introduced the membership program with Adobe Photoshop CC.

Since Content-Aware was such a big hit, it continued to evolve and the Content-Aware Patch and Content-Aware Move became available.

The video editing features kept growing, making Photoshop a very competitive choice for videographers and photographers alike.

Not only that, but graphics also started to be a target area, with the introduction of many graphic design tools.

Another perk from this version is the Auto-Save to avoid losing your work accidentally. It also allowed for the saving process to continue in the background while you edit another file.

In sum, these were some of the major features from CS6:

  • Design tools and vector options
  • Increased video editing tools
  • Camera RAW 7
  • Content-Aware Move and Patch
  • Customizable auto-save
  • Image straightening tool
  • Background saving

Photoshop CC (2013)

Starting in June 2013, the Adobe Creative Cloud was launched online. The program stopped being Photoshop CS (Creative Suite) and became Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud). This is something that even today remains controversial.

Because the one-off license had been very expensive, many celebrated Adobe’s decision of making the application more accessible. Instead of paying a large sum that only a few professionals could afford, a small monthly fee would grant you access.

For others, it’s not such a good thing that you’re paying for something you don’t own. This debate was particularly sparked last year when users were warned of legal problems if they didn’t upgrade to the latest Photoshop version.

In any case, from this moment on you could subscribe and further upgrades would be included in the cost. To make it more appealing, you could sync up your preferences with the cloud and many new tools were added.

The Smart Sharpen tool and Camera Shake Reduction were some of the favorites. Some other improvements included:

  • Intelligent Unsampling
  • Linked Smart Objects
  • Cloud sync
  • Smart Sharpening
  • Camera Raw filter
  • Camera shake reduction
  • Camera RAW 8.3

Photoshop CC (2014)

With updates now included in the subscription, they became more frequent. That’s why just a year later, in June 2014, there was another new Photoshop version.

The shorter time between releases meant fewer additions – but not necessarily less improvement. For one, the content-aware tools continued to advance.

The innovation came mostly in the blur filters that presented the Spin and Path tools to add radial and directional motion.

Also, Smart Objects were improved, and the performance overall increased in speed.

The major changes were:

  • Spin blur
  • Path blur
  • Focus Mask
  • Improvements in Content-Aware tools and Smart Objects
  • Enhanced speed
  • Camera RAW 3.0

Photoshop CC (2015)

Another year went by for Adobe Photoshop, before bringing in some important additions in June 2015 – the year that marked its 25th anniversary.

From inside Photoshop, you could now browse Adobe Stock, which is a library with stock images. This not only made it easier but also cheaper as there were in-app discounts included.

One of the most appealing upgrades for creative users was the ability to add more than one layer style. For example, you could add two shadows to create depth or to simulate two light sources.

The Export menu was enhanced with the addition of the Export As feature. It also had a better user interface and it became easier to use with touch-enabled devices.

Overall, the silver anniversary was celebrated with:

  • Cleaner and friendlier UI
  • Up to 10 layer styles
  • Adobe Stock
  • Camera Raw 9.1
  • More exporting options including Export As
  • Design Space for previews
  • Libraries

Another release was made in 2016 with smaller changes. It would be more of an upgrade than a version in itself. Although, if you’re keeping count, this would technically be version 17.

In short, some more capabilities were added to the Export menu. The libraries were also enhanced with better integration and functionality. On top of that, Adobe Portfolio was introduced.

Photoshop CC (2017)

As we approach our current version, you’ll notice how the upgrades are smaller and more frequent – similar to the way apps on our phones requires constant updating.

In this case, the big release was made in November 2016 when Photoshop started supporting SVG OpenType fonts.

It also incorporated the ability to search for tools and help articles. Some other minor improvements were done in this version.

About a month after that, another upgrade became available to support the MacBook Pro Touch Bar.

Photoshop CC (2018)

Photoshop CC 2018 was another big version heavily focused on the brush tool. For example, each brush could save a different color and opacity.

The highlight of this, though, was the addition of over 1000 brushes designed by Kyle T. Webster after Adobe acquired his website.

A much-appreciated addition to this Photoshop version was the Curvature Pen tool. This helped to shorten the learning curve of the Pen since we all know what a tricky (yet incredibly useful) tool it can be.

To continue helping the selection process, the tool Select Subject was added.

Many things were added or improved in this version so here’s just a taste:

  • Eraser Tool
  • Copy-Paste Layers
  • Enhanced brush tool
  • Select Subject Tool

Photoshop CC (2019)

In October 2018, another new version of Photoshop got released. This time the aim was to support better interactions between the apps from the Creative Cloud.

Also, more cloud-services were added for remote access and collaborative tools.

The live preview for the blending modes was also a helpful change. And a time-saving upgrade was the multiple undo capabilities.

Also, the Content-Aware Fill got a big improvement by allowing the user to choose the pixels that were being used as a source.

Here’s a quick summary of the new features:

  • Live preview of the blending modes
  • In-app color wheel
  • Japanese fonts support
  • Text placeholder with Lorem Ipsum
  • Image placeholders

Photoshop 2020 (21.0)

You’re probably using one of the following Photoshop versions, so I’ll go more into detail from here on.

Released in November 2019, this version aimed to improve the user experience. Because of this, not many things were added, except for Cloud Documents.

With Adobe’s Creative Cloud and Cloud Documents, it’s easier to access your files across devices and the different applications. It also allows you to work offline.

In general, it was more about enhancing previously-introduced features. For example, the presets that include shapes, swatches, patterns, gradients, and styles.

Another panel that got reworked was the Properties panel, with the new Quick Actions option that helps you to make a more efficient workflow by speeding up common tasks.

Also, the Scaling tool is now set to proportional as default. So no more holding the Shift key every time. If you don’t want to maintain the aspect ratio, then you can deactivate it in the options bar.

Elsewhere, the Subject Selection tool got an update with the addition of Object Selection, and the Content-Aware Fill got revamped as well. The algorithms were improved to achieve better results.

Here are some of the top enhancements in this version of Photoshop:

  • Presets
  • Object selection tool
  • Proportional scaling
  • Quick tasks in the properties panel
  • Convert the Smart Objects back to layers
  • Improved transform warp
  • Better Content-Aware Fill
  • Animated GIF supported in Save As
  • Easy access to stylistic sets for fonts
  • Enhanced Lens Blur

In February 2020, a new update was made available, becoming version 21.1. Only some minor tweaks were done here because it was very close to the release of 21.0.

If you’ve been reading the entire timeline, you might have noticed that the popularity of the Content-Aware Feature caught Adobe’s attention from a very early stage and they’ve been continually working on it.

This version was no exception, as the Content-Aware Fill got another improvement – this time by allowing you to work on different areas of the image without leaving the panel. Just click Apply instead of OK to commit the changes and start a new edit.

The Lens Blur filter also got further renovation for better performance. For example, it now produces a more realistic bokeh and gives richer specular lights.

Finally, the interface was made more responsive both for mouse or tablet users, and some minor reported bugs got fixed.

Photoshop 2020 (21.2)

This is the latest version available at the time of writing. It was launched in June 2020, but there were some monthly updates in-between versions to fix customer reported issues.

If there’s a task that gives every photo retoucher a headache, it’s selecting hair. With this in mind, Adobe has been constantly working to solve the problem.

In this release, the Select Subject tool became better and faster for working on portraits. With just one click, the program detects the person and refines the selection for human hair with more details and better edges.

The Camera RAW got updated as well with a better interface that makes edits more efficient. This applies to single images and batch-processing.

Another update is that Adobe Fonts automatically syncs with your library every time you go online so that you’re never out of date.

And now it’s possible to rotate patterns in any direction. This feature works in Overlays, Strokes, and Fill Layers. The best thing is that it’s non-destructive, so you can change it at any point.

Matching fonts from a photo with the ones available in Adobe Fonts’ library just got easier too. Not only is it improved for better matches, but it now supports the detection of vertical text and multiple lines.

In Summary

As technology keeps advancing, the updates need to be closer together and it’s more difficult to keep track of all the different versions.

I’ve tried to give you an overview of the many Photoshops throughout history but, as you can see, it’s not easy to fit 32 years of innovation in one article!

I do hope you enjoyed this post and found it useful. If you need an in-depth feature summary of the latest versions it’s possible to check Adobe’s official website.

The same goes for the iPad’s Photoshop versions, which developed with different features at a different pace.

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Ana Mireles is a Mexican researcher that specializes in photography and communications for the arts and culture sector.

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