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Photoshop CS6 vs. CS5 Comparison - What Are the New Features?

[UPDATE (May 7th, 2012) – CS6 is now shipping!]

At Photoshop World last week, we had the chance to sit down with Adobe Senior Product Managers Bryan O’Neil Hughes and Zorana Gee for hours of in-depth walkthroughs of the new Photoshop CS6 release. And all we can say is – on top of what we already knew and experienced – this is the Photoshop version you’ve probably dreamed about…

Download the Photoshop CS6 Extended Free Trial!

And with over one million downloads in record time, clearly we’re not the only ones thinking that. The reviews are in: Gizmodo calls it, “The best update in recent memory, I’m in love” … PC Maga­zine says, “The future of creative image editing is upon us – this new version will thrill nearly all categories of users, from photo­graphers to designers” … USA Today writes, “Having lots of fun with the new tools – the beautiful and streamlined new inter­face is a huge improvement, and the images really do look sharper and more pronounced.”

For expediency we put together a quick “cheat sheet” below of the top differences and new features in Photoshop CS6 as compared to PS CS5. Naturally if you’re still on CS4, CS3, or earlier, then you’d also need to add in the differences between CS5 vs. those older versions.

But really, it’s also a fit and polish thing – with two years since the last major release (and having no architectural challenges to worry about), the Photoshop team had plenty time to hone this into a smooth and polished product. This is reflected in the 62% more new features added in this cycle contrasted to the previous one, and nearly twice as many JDI requests (user-focused “Just Do It” items) addressed.

Importantly, Photoshop CS6 will run alongside any previous PS version(s) you may have installed, without difficulty or conflict. So you can safely download and check out the free trial version for 30 days, and then easily uninstall it if you decide not to purchase it in the end.

Photoshop CS6 System Requirements and Performance

How about performance? This is always a big question for users, because sometimes moving forward in software necessitates moving up in hardware. But not so here. We asked Bryan about this directly on how Photoshop CS6 performs versus CS5 on identical machines. The answer (thanks for streamlining, optimization, and much broader use of the GPU): “On the same hardware, in almost all cases, Photoshop CS6 is considerably faster than CS5… and not just on the newest computers, but CS6 will support older machines as well.”

Now, some notes on support and the official system requirements… Officially, Photoshop CS6 is not supported on Windows Vista, because Adobe found that current Vista use is tiny compared to Windows 7 and XP. So Win 7 and XP will continue to be supported – which was a relief to those worried the same thing might happen with Photoshop and XP as what they did with Lightroom 4. But note importantly, though Windows Vista is not “officially” supported for Photoshop CS6, Adobe does not restrict users from installing and using it on Vista… Also, PS Extended’s 3D features and some GPU-enabled features are not supported on Windows XP.

On the Mac, the major specification change is your processor must be 64-bit capable (most Macs are, but here’s how to tell).  But the good news is outside of those spec changes, the system requirements remain the same as they are now for Photoshop CS5, on both platforms. And there are no known issues running Photoshop CS6 on the future Windows 8 or on Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion).

What’s New in Photoshop CS6 vs. CS5?

Here’s the lengthy list:

  • The long-rumored darker and modern user interface
  • Redesign and clean-up of all icons, buttons, dialogs – and new rich cursors
  • New Content-Aware Move, Extend, and Patch Tools, plus better Content-Aware Fill
  • Terrific [DSLR] video editing in both Standard and Extended versions, for many formats*
  • Skin-Aware Masking with Face Detection – auto-generation of skin-tone masks
  • Complete overhaul of 3D in Photoshop CS6 Extended – 1 tool now does work of 14
  • Some great new (and realistic) brushes – Erodible Tips and Airbrush Tips
  • Brand new Camera Raw 7 technology like in Lightroom 4
  • White Balance and Noise Reduction as a selective Brush
  • Text/Character Type Styles and Paragraph Styles
  • Adaptive Wide Angle Lens Correction to fix distortion and straighten lines
  • Enhanced and more flexible Brush Pose, Brush Projection, and Color Dynamics
  • PixelBender now built in to Photoshop CS6 for oil painting filter
  • Rewritten vector engine, real vector strokes with Dashed and Dotted Lines
  • Mercury Graphics Engine gives 10-100X faster Liquify, Transform, Warp & more
  • Big gains in performance throughout due to much greater usage of the GPU
  • New Gradient Map “Photographic Toning” presets and Color Lookup adjustment layer
  • Blur Gallery for creating shallow depth of field, tilt-shift blur and graduated blur
  • Much smarter “Auto” for better starting points and one-click corrections
  • Lighting Effects is back and better than ever, with much improved controls and 3D
  • Completely reengineered and nondestructive Crop Tool, like Lightroom’s
  • Background Save, including tunable Auto-Save and Crash Recovery
  • Integrated Layer Search/Filtering – by name, effect, style, mode, or attribute
  • Easy migration tool that imports/exports custom presets and settings
  • New “Bicubic Automatic” default for Image Size always does the right thing
  • Path snapping & anti-aliasing improve­ments – critical for exacting work
  • Easy insert of Lorem Ipsum text from the Type Menu
  • The return of Contact Sheet II and PDF Presentations in Photoshop
  • A completely redesigned and enhanced Print dialog
  • Refined HDR tool with better quality including Edge Smoothness option and new presets
  • Timeline animation panel now in Standard version, no longer an Extended-only feature
  • Ships with Bridge CS6, which now has native 64-bit support for faster performance
  • Mini Bridge taps the power of Bridge in a panel, and can now run in a filmstrip
  • Photoshop CS6 is 4.5 million lines of code that took 10,000 staff hours to build!

For more information on most of these, see the Photoshop FAQ: New Feature Overview

To the disappointment of some, the much-buzzed Photo Deblurring feature demoed at MAX hasn’t made it into CS6… that is still considered “early-stage research” – but we can always hope for it in Photoshop CS6.5 or CS7!

* Photoshop CS6 imports a wide variety of video formats, including the popular AVCHD, MPEG4, FLV/SWF, AVI, MOV, and H.264 formats… See all supported file formats in PS CS6.

Download now

Top Favorite Features in Photoshop CS6

Here’s a great video series reviewing all the major new features in detail… (runtime 40 mins.) also has an excellent and free 2½-hour video introduction to everything new in Photoshop CS6, with 29 chapters from Deke McClelland, who calls it “a remarkable upgrade.”

Your Turn

Have you used Photoshop CS6 yet – either purchased it or tried the beta or run the free trial? What do you think?

Share your thoughts in the comments below or at Adobe’s Photoshop CS6 Feedback Forum or the new published User Reviews

See Also

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Do you have any questions about CS6? Just ask them below and we’ll get you answers fast!

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41 thoughts on “Photoshop CS6 vs. CS5 Comparison - What Are the New Features?”

  1. I am completely ecstatic about CS6!! Improvements galore and some new things that I am ready to try. Well done thus far Adobe. Keep it going!

  2. As always very good content. What do you mean by not support Vista?

    I still run it and the PS CS6 Beta works really good so far on my machine.

    The same is with the CS5.5 Suite. If I upgrade to CS6, I’m not going to spend $$$ for new hardware at the same time. As long as it works on Vista I don’t see a problem.

    My laptop has Win7 but this is not for editing due to a too glossy screen

  3. @Josh – Agreed!

    @Adam – Welcome back and thank you for the kind words. With Vista, Adobe is just saying they don’t “officially” support it… They are not saying Photoshop CS6 won’t work or you can’t run it well on Vista.

    We think they might have a hard time turning a customer away for support though, even if if someone has Vista… But if there happens to be some major problem or issue that crops up down the road due to that particular operating system, then perhaps they might fall back on this position.

    The reason they’re making this move (and they’re not alone as we’ve heard other software companies doing the same) is because most folks have either stayed on XP or moved up to Windows 7. Vista was never well-loved and is the smallest by far now of the three in terms of usage, less than 10% worldwide and even lower in Photoshop’s user base.

  4. The truth is, I’m still using Photoshop CS4, even though I bought CS5.5 almost a year ago. Why? Because Adobe’s brain-dead installer didn’t import any of my scores of custom settings, workspaces, plug-ins, third-party filters, actions, etc. Dragging all these things into a dozen different places in the new CS5.5 installation is something I just haven’t gotten around to yet–I have better things to do. And really, why should I have to?

    When I buy a new Mac, on initial startup it offers to import everything from my old Mac. One click of the mouse and all my applications, documents, settings, preferences, accounts, passwords and permissions are seamlessly imported to the new machine. If Apple can do this for an entire computer, surely Adobe can do it for a single application!

    More than anything else, “the Photoshop version you’ve probably dreamed about” for me would be one that makes installation smooth and effortless. But I don’t see anything in this article to indicate that Adobe has gotten its act together when it comes to installation.

    • Hi Andy, thanks for your comment. And actually there’s good news for you – Adobe has taken care of your exact issue… One of the items listed in the CS6 featureset above is a new capability to export/import your existing Photoshop presets, settings, actions, etc – exactly what you described. This new migration tool is intended to make new PS installs, reinstalls, upgrades, and system moves as painless as possible.

      On top of this – and not mentioned above yet – is Adobe’s new installation process for all CS6 tools… From what we’ve heard recently through Evangelist Paul Trani, “actually the whole download and installation process is a lot more seamless now, it’s more like an app store.”

      So yes, Adobe has been listening and hopefully you’ll find your concerns addressed – and your dreams come true! ;)

  5. Am i really the only who thinks that UI changes are not features ? When the forst two lines in every review talk about how much better it looks I know i’m not paying for this upgrade.

    It is application software to help me do stuff.
    If the UI sucked before then it should be improved for free.

    So how much real feature improvement is there here. What new things can i do to pictures text and photographs that i could not do before.

    Or are we now living in an Apple world where people only worry about what they look like when they use it, not what it actually does ?

    • Hello Mike, thanks for your thoughts. Have you actually tried it yet, downloaded the free beta release and checked it out for yourself?

      If it were simply cosmetic, you’d be right. But it’s not just a facelift – it’s a complete reengineering of the interface to make it faster, smoother, more intuitive, and more streamlined. Better workflow, fewer clicks and dialog boxes, simpler and cleaner operation, more consistent and integrated, faster time to get things done. Yes, the previous interface worked but customers who have used CS6 say they have a hard time going back to CS5…

      You remember Steven Wright’s old joke, “everywhere is walking distance if you have the time?” Well similarly, anything can be done in any version of Photoshop if you have the time and can afford to spend it. So ultimately the goal of most new features is to make doing important things faster – and the new user interfaces in Photoshop, Illustrator, and Premiere Pro succeed in this regard.

      But, just try the free beta yourself and you’ll see what we mean. You can also grab some chances to win the final Photoshop CS6 for free.

      And if you still didn’t like that included on the new features list above, well, there are 27 others to benefit.

  6. I’m at that crucial decision phase, I’ve been using CS 4 all this time – do I leap up to 6 or save some money and just go to 5. I was leaning towards saving some bucks but some features listed here are interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  7. My beauty upgrade Adobe lady arrived before yesterday. I didn`t need to uninstall the trial in order for upgrade serial to work. Yeah! My Suite CS5.5 is gone from PC except Flash Catalyst and Adobe Flash Builder, which are not in CS6 anymore. I don`t use them yet, but who knows, so I’ll keep them for time being.

    I’ve fallen in love with AI CS6 too :-) The black UI makes me feel better as in PS. One can concentrate on work. Besides, with new features so much more can be done. Also, my first designed InDesign pamphlet has already been submitted to printing. My wife is also so excited about InDesign. She learned the basics within a couple of minutes, and could continue to do the work while I was working on photos which we included in the pamphlet.

    I have a question. I`m going to change my PC. Do I have to install CS5.5 in order to install the CS6 upgrade?

    • Hey, great to hear from you again Adam, and thanks for letting us know how it worked out! Sounds like everything is going terrifically, really glad to hear it.

      To answer your question – it’s easy to switch the software between computers and no, you do not need to install CS5.5 again to put CS6 onto the new system. All you need to do is enter the older serial number when prompted for it during the CS6 installation process – that’s all!

      Hope you continue to enjoy CS6 and thanks again for stopping by.

  8. Thank you again. It will save me a lot of time. I thought I would have to install CS5.5, then CS6 upgrade, and at the end uninstall CS5.5 again.

  9. The Photoshop Image Deblur Feature is already available?? Will this deblur app work with Adobe Photoshop CS6 only??

    If the application is not available now, when you expect it to be available?

    Thank you

    • Hey there Larry, the answers depends on what you get. If you buy the traditional (boxed) version of Photoshop, then the licensing and software is for either Windows or Mac OS, but not both. So people that want to run that on both operating systems have bought two licenses, yes.

      If you get the subscription instead to the latest version of Photoshop (currently CS6.1 for $19/month), then you will be able to download for both platforms and install a single license on both PC and Mac, as well as receive future upgrades included. The same thing goes if you get the Creative Cloud.

      Does that answer what you wanted to know?

  10. Can we upgrade from Photoshop CS3 to CS6? If not, what will the CS6 Extended version cost us to download?

    Also we need to use it on 4 computers.


  11. Hi…
    I am ashamed to say I have an old copy of PhotoShop 7 that I bought from a friend. I had used it for a long time on my Dell PC that I purchased back in 2005.
    I have recently bought Windows 8 and for some reason I can not use this program with my new computer. Well, actually, it will run with PhotoShop Image, but not just PhotoShop 7 …is this because its a newer system? Or…I just need to break down and do the right thing and buy PhotoShop CS6?

    Thank you for your help,

  12. Hello… I have never purchased any of the Photoshop CS software… I am finally to the position to do the monthly charge. CS6 is what I have wanted. But I am a little confused… Can Photoshop CC do the exact same thing as Photoshop CS6? or no?

    I plan on using Photoshop to edit photos. Such as Wedding, babies and product photography. I am not interested in graphic design or 3D. So, I am not sure what to do. Knowing what I am using the software for… Do you have a recommendation?


  13. Hello. I am trying to download Photoshop CS 6 for my photography class. Every time I search for it, I get a message it’s no longer available. What is the new version?

    • Hi James,

      Adobe ceased selling CS6 standalone on their website last year. The reason is because it’s over 4 years old now (from spring 2012) and increasingly unsupported; they stopped releasing updates for it last summer as the newer CC rapidly grew and took over.

      With the CS6 software EOL and end of support, there are no updates, no bug fixes, and no guarantees it will run on future operating systems. So at this point we’ve stopped recommending it as a good or viable option going forward.

      So really the only path forward for Adobe is CC, which are considered much better tools as well as more budget-friendly), or downgrade that to use CS6 instead – because Creative Cloud subscribers can choose either or both versions.

      With Creative Cloud, all ongoing upgrades, compatibility updates and product additions are always included – so becoming obsolete will never happen. The monthly payments are also more budget-friendly in the new model than in the old CS model – where the software used to cost many hundreds or often thousands of dollars upfront, and never evolved.

      The new and latest version is Photoshop CC, which is available together with Lightroom CC (plus ongoing updates included) in the CC Photography Plan:

      Adobe Makes $10/Month Photoshop + Lightroom Package Permanent

      If you like, you can download a free trial here.

  14. Hi,
    I would like to purchase the Adobe CS6 Master Collection for students. Proof (ID or registration proof) available upon request. I do not want the CC yet, I just want to play around and learn how to work with the software. I’ve seen the price sheet but I don’t know how to order. I need some help, please.

  15. 4.5 million lines of code in only 10,000 hours? As a retired professional software engineer I can tell you, that is DEFINITELY wrong. That would mean the programmers produce 450 lines of code per hour! impossible!. Typically programmers programming for large systems produce about 30 to 50 lines of code per DAY

  16. I like CS6 cause it has a properties tab, and CS5 doesn’t. I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for the properties tab. Let me tell you of my origin. I was a simple boy, growing up on the hard streets. It wasn’t easy, but one day, I was told the promise of the properties tab. From that day on I worked hard, studied hard, and played hard; y’know what they say: it’s Nerf or nothing. After the loss of my goldfish when the road man intruded my home to “collect his earnings”, things got bad again. First my fifth dad in the War of 1812, now Tangerine the goldfish, things were really looking down. But then there was the properties tab. It gave me an embracing hug and let me know that, even when the edges of life are blurry, you can always turn down that feathering. I cried when I spent all my good boy money on CS5, only to find no properties tab in Window. Thank god for CS6 though (but now I have to pay back my second cousin for getting me it :/).


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