Photoshop Turns 20


This year marks the 20th anniversary of Adobe Photoshop, the image-editing powerhouse nestled snuggly on the hard drives of more than 90% of creative professionals—not too shabby for a program that started life bundled with 200 Barneyscan scanners! If you think about it, no other application has infiltrated and impacted our culture quite like Photoshop. For example, it’s one of two programs (Google is the other) whose name has become a verb: “Dude, can you Photoshop my ex out of this picture?”

Over the years, the capabilities of Photoshop have expanded well beyond that of a digital darkroom into truly mind-blowing proportions (3D extrusion, anyone?). These days, nary a photo is published that hasn’t spent at least a little time in Photoshop and, as you well know, some have had more ’Shop time than others. Among the most notable Photoshop scandals, Oprah Winfrey’s head was carefully plopped atop Ann-Margret’s body for a TV Guide cover in ’89. Back in 1994, Time Magazine “sinisterized” OJ Simpson’s mug shot for the cover, and more recently, Ralph Lauren landed in hot water after making a model’s waist look freakishly smaller than her head. It’s no wonder we perpetually ponder: Is it real or is it Photoshop? With such power should also come great responsibility—or so we hope!

Nevertheless, this 20th birthday business was a glorious excuse for us to corner the various product managers and evangelists—as well as veteran users—Photoshop has enjoyed over its illustrious career. In the next few pages, you’ll hear from the following luminaries:

  • Russell Brown—Senior Creative Director, Adobe—author, lecturer and member of the Photoshop World Instructor Dream Team (
  • Kevin Connor, Vice President of Product Management for Professional Digital Imaging, Adobe
  • Bryan O’Neil Hughes, Photoshop Product Manager, Adobe
  • Bert Monroy, digital photo-realist artist, author, lecturer, and member of the Photoshop World Instructor Dream Team (
  • Dan Margulis, photographer, author, lecturer, and member of the Photoshop World Instructor Dream Team
  • Jeff Schewe, digital pioneer and longtime user (and abuser) of Photoshop and the first offsite “alpha” tester, and in the NAPP Photoshop Hall of Fame (
  • Lee Varis, digital photography pioneer, author, lecturer (

The Adobe Photoshop Team

Layers: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

R. Brown

Brown: As far as I can remember, I wanted to be a mad scientist who could travel through time and, of course, I wanted to have my own spaceship—growing up was not part of the equation. Perhaps I really did become this mad scientist and I’m only visiting this moment in time, but from the past! (Insert the theme music from the Twilight Zone here.)


Connor: Truthfully, I can’t really recall as a kid dreaming about what I’d be when I grew up. What I will say, though, is this: When I was in high school, if you asked me to describe all of the aspects of my ideal job, the key elements wouldn’t sound very different from what I’m doing right now. I just had no idea this kind of job existed! I feel pretty fortunate that I managed to find my way here.


Hughes: From the age of seven, it was very clear that my passion was photography; I couldn’t paint or draw, but I desperately wanted to capture what I saw. I would photograph my mother’s office parties, sneaking around below everyone’s radar with an old Minolta rangefinder. Any money I could save was spent on cameras, film, and dark room supplies. In many ways that’s still the case, only computer hardware/software has entirely replaced the darkroom. A passion for racing briefly collided with photography and I shot motorsports professionally; but I was looking for something more unique.

Layers:How did you come to work at Adobe and on the Photoshop team?

R. Brown

Brown: I started working at Adobe about 25 years ago as their very first art director. I can recall how unsure I was, to be interviewing with this small startup company called Adobe Systems; however, it quickly became clear to me that this company was going places.

Regarding Photoshop, I was influential in the original purchase of Photoshop at Adobe. John Knoll gave me one of the first demonstrations of Photoshop and from the moment I saw it, I knew the world was about to change. In the next few years, I became one of the first Photoshop instructors and contributed ideas to its development.

Connor: I joined Adobe in May of 1995, though I was originally hired as the product manager for Dimensions and Streamline—two small companion products to Adobe Illustrator. Early in 1996, I was asked if I’d be interested in moving over to the Photoshop team, and I jumped at the chance. I’ve been involved with the digital imaging team ever since.

Hughes: In 1996, I saw Kevin Connor demonstrate Photoshop 4.0 at the Seybold show; I was very fortunate to have one of those moments where I knew exactly what I wanted to do—right then. I didn’t own a computer; I didn’t own Photoshop. I didn’t even live in the Bay Area, but I had a goal. I moved to San Jose, enrolled in a Computer Science program at USF, spent 14–16 hours a day retouching and restoring scanned photos, and managing a series of digital labs. By 1999, I was working for Adobe. My first months were spent testing PhotoDeluxe 4.0, though I quickly moved to the Photoshop team later that year.

Layers:Were there any memorable funny/horrible or Hail Mary moments from the releases you worked on?

Brown: There are four Hail Mary moments I can clearly remember to this day: (1) Seeing John Knoll demo a soft-edge selection mask in the .95 version of Photoshop—is that nerdy or what? (2) Seeing Mark Hamburg demonstrate layers with transparency in Photoshop 3.0; it was total magic!
(3) Seeing Thomas Knoll and Jeff Schewe demonstrate Adobe Camera Raw for the first time; I instantly knew this feature was big. 
(4) Seeing the complex task of blending a multi-image panorama without seams.

My most horrible moment was when I gave a demo to a crowd of 1000 users (it still haunts me to this day). It was bad, bad, bad, bad—everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

Connor: The 5.0 release was one of the hardest and craziest releases I worked on. One night, shortly before we were going to send the golden masters off to manufacturing, I was working late in the office handling some last-minute details. Sometime after midnight, I wandered over to see how some of the engineers were doing. They had just finished fixing the last of the bugs in the new text-editing features and two of the engineers were about to head out to Taco Bell for some munchies. They asked if I wanted anything but I said I was calling it a night and heading home, so I left them there in the office. When I came back the next morning, I found out they had flown to Mexico. Apparently they had taken Taco Bell’s “run to the border” slogan a little too literally.


Hughes: There were hundreds. I recall Content-Aware Scaling being added very late in CS4. I felt like I had prepped an already strong story and demo, and then suddenly had this surprise gift. So I learned the feature, created assets, and demonstrated it publicly for the first time—all in the same day! Each and every cycle is a rollercoaster of emotions, ranging from incredible promise to necessary sacrifice (we pride ourselves on quality); though, they always end the same—incredible pride, surprise features, and an application that does hundreds of things that couldn’t be done before. Each and every version has, at some point, made me realize I’m so dependent upon a new feature(s) in the forthcoming version that I can’t possibly switch back. It’s at that moment that I know we have a hit on our hands. As cameras, computers, GPUs, printers, tablets, etc. do more, Photoshop grows in leaps and bounds when it comes to what’s possible. Of course, the most exciting thing about a new release is seeing the things our users do that we didn’t predict. Perhaps more than any other application, Photoshop users continually push the envelope with the power of the application.

Layers: How has the procedure for feature requests changed over the years?


Connor: Now there are a lot more ways for us to get customer feedback. We’ve always been able to take input from surveys, people we meet at trade shows and customer visits, and those who participate in our usability and beta testing programs. However, the Web has provided even more ways for us to find out what customers want. We’ve recently instituted a new program dubbed “Just Do It” or JDI Days. These are specific days during the cycle wherein the whole team takes a break from the big features to work on small enhancement requests from customers. Individually these may take a day or so to implement, though collectively they can make a big difference to people.

In brainstorming a list of features, we relied on some of the usual sources, though also looked at reader comments in product manager John Nack’s blog (, along with gripes posted on We also talked to Scott Kelby and found out what customers were requesting at his seminars and on his blog ( The result of this input—along with hard work from the engineering team—is a useful set of enhancements ready for the next release, in addition to new technologies.

Without a doubt, Photoshop is magic—pure and simple. It’s a groundbreaking program that continues to make our image editing lives easier than we ever dared imagine. So, happy birthday, Photoshop! You’ve come a long way baby, and we can’t wait to see how far—together—we can go.

The Photoshop Vets

Layers: How has Photoshop changed your life or improved your craft?

Margulis: It got me out of prepress management. Pre-Photoshop people were interested in learning color correction, but the post-Photoshop numbers increased by a factor of 10,000 or so, which made my educational career possible.

Monroy: As a painting tool, it’s the best of all worlds—it even has 3D. It has simplified how I do things while, at the same time, forced me to become far more complex in what I do. Photoshop has changed my life by adding new titles to my résumé: I’m an author, TV personality, and host of a weekly show. I’d say those are big changes!

Schewe: Photoshop has had a big impact on the capabilities I bring to my work by giving me the power to completely control the images I make. This is, of course, a double-edged sword. There’s now no reasonable excuse for not “getting the shot” because so much can be altered (fixed) in post-production. On the other hand, Photoshop isn’t really capable of turning bad stuff good. Good photographic skills are still important.

Varis: Photoshop has become a central component of my professional life. My work as a photographer has revolved around digital imaging for 20 years and, over time, Photoshop has come to dominate just about everything I do in photography. My work as a consultant also centers on Photoshop problem solving. My writing and teaching is heavily involved with illuminating Photoshop and its relationship with contemporary photography.

Layers: What would your career/life be like without Photoshop?

Margulis: You never know, though likely my career/life has gotten better, particularly during the last 5–10 years. The development of a program like Photoshop was a foregone conclusion as soon as computers became powerful enough to handle it, which was in the early ’90s. At that time, Photoshop had several viable competitors, although it wasn’t necessarily a more capable program—the strong backing of Adobe won Photoshop a monopoly around ’95. If Photoshop hadn’t existed, the other programs would have replaced it. If only one program came to the fore, then we would have been better off if its developers were superior to Photoshop’s and worse off otherwise. The more likely scenario, though, would have been a Quark vs. InDesign kind of deal where two or more apps were trying to steal market share from one another by offering more and better features. If that had happened, we’d have stronger tools than Photoshop available today.

Monroy: A lot harder and a lot less fun!

Schewe: I really don’t know. I do know I was doing in-camera masking and multiple exposures long before Photoshop. So, it’s not like you can’t do extensive compositing without Photoshop. The big difference was the amount of time and excruciating effort that was required for accomplishing things that are so darn easy now with Photoshop. Truth is, I really can’t contemplate working without Photoshop these days…

Varis: I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t have a career without it; I’d probably be in some soup line somewhere.

Layers: Do you remember where you were/what you were doing when you first heard about Photoshop?

Margulis: I was in charge of investigating new technology for the country’s largest color separator, so I had read about the capabilities of Photoshop’s Barneyscan predecessor. I told the head of our Scitex department that this (or a program like it) would cost him his job in about five years. The first time I actually saw it at a trade show, he was with me. He laughed and laughed at how bad it was, and told me I was out of my mind.

Monroy: My partner, at the time, was writing for every magazine that dealt with the Macintosh, and that partner and I went on to co-write the very first book on Photoshop. He used to get everything and, of course, then show it to me. The Knoll brothers sent him an early version (v. 04) quite some time before Adobe bought it. At the time I was known as Mr. PixelPaint—I saw the airbrush in Photoshop and fell in love. It was the best digital equivalent of my old traditional airbrush that I had ever seen, and I knew this was my tool of the future. With Photoshop, the entire world has changed!

Schewe: Hum. I really don’t remember. I do remember doing work on some very early digital imaging systems like the Scitex well before Photoshop—difficult and very, very expensive to do anything. I do remember the first time I worked with Photoshop: version 2.0. I rented a Mac IICi for a weekend to do what now would be a ridiculously easy retouch. I literally worked throughout the weekend. My wife found me sound asleep on the keyboard Monday morning. It was the start of a wonderful relationship. Photoshop and me!

Varis: I was very invested in using another application called ColorStudio because it directly supported CMYK; I had heard of Photoshop but it didn’t seem as professional because you couldn’t edit in CMYK. A designer friend of mine had a project that required grayscale imagery and, as it turns out, ColorStudio didn’t support grayscale so I started using Photoshop. Shortly afterward it started supporting CMYK, and it just kept getting better, finally eclipsing ColorStudio (which kind of died and morphed into Painter). It’s funny to think that back then there were a number of competitive products—including high-end systems like the Quantel Paintbox—and nobody could have predicted Photoshop would come to dominate the image-editing field.

20 Years of Photoshop


Thomas Knoll writes programming code for displaying grayscale images on a monochrome screen.



Thomas and John Knoll license the first version of Photoshop to Barneyscan; approximately 200 copies of Photoshop 0.87 ship with scanners.



After Adobe’s Art Director, Russell Brown, and Founder, John Warnock, see a demo of Photoshop the previous November, the Knoll brothers and Adobe work out the license agreement giving Adobe the right to distribute Photoshop.



Version: 1.0
Version 1
Key features: Color correction, image optimization for output, Curves, Levels, and the Clone tool



Version: 2.0 (used same box as version 1.0)
version 2
Code name: Fast Eddy

Key features: Paths, rasterizer for Illustrator Files, CMYK support, duotones, and the Pen tool



version 2.5
Code name: Mac—Merlin; Windows—Brimstone

Key features: Palettes and 16-bit file support



Photoshop 2.5 is released for Windows. All future versions of Photoshop are both Mac and Windows compatible.



Version: 3.0
version 3
Code name:
Tiger Mountain

Key features: Layers and tabbed palettes



Version: 4.0
Version 4
Code name: Big Electric Cat (the source of the burping cat splash screen named BECk)

Key features: Adjustment layers, and actions

Connor: “Adjustment layers provided Photoshop’s first answer to re-editable image correction and effects. Actions finally provided a way to automate your workflow, and they also wound up providing a popular way for people to share their techniques.”



Version: 5.0

version 5
Code name: Strange Cargo

Key features: ICC-based color workflows, multiple undo, History palette, and Magnetic Lasso tool

Connor: “The History palette probably turned out to be the ‘big new thing’ in this release, although re-editable type and ICC color management were pretty important, too. We were really worried that people would just go ‘ho-hum’ because it had taken us so long to provide an answer to multiple undo, but our solution was so original that it still made a big splash.”



version 5.5
Code name: None, though the Save for Web dialog was referred to as “Pocket Monster”

Key features: ImageReady 2 becomes a component, Save for Web, and Extract

Connor: “This was the ‘Web release’ in which we added ImageReady to the box, and included the Save for Web dialog. This finally made it easy for people to prepare their images for the Web.”



Version: 6.0

version 6Code name:
Venus in Furs

Key features: Vector Shapes, updated user interface, Liquify filter, and Layers Style/Blending Options dialog

“Vectors! This was the first version to have vector-based masks as well as some of the same typographic features included in the then-new InDesign application. Both shapes and text could print resolution-independent, which means that they’d look sharp regardless of the resolution of your document.”

“Layer styles and Liquify are the two features that first come to mind; both allowed creative control and manipulation previously unimaginable. It was my first release and the pace of the team amazed me. During that time, working all hours was very common.”



version 7

Code name: Liquid Sky

Key features: Healing Brush tool, new painting engine, and Photoshop File Browser

Connor: “The Healing Brush was one of the most successful new tools we ever introduced, because it made retouching so much easier and effective.”

Hughes: “For me, this marked a very important release. We moved to OS X and that was a big deal; however, bigger (to me at least) was the mass proliferation of digital cameras. Photoshop was becoming very relevant to an entirely new audience and suddenly we had good quality DSLRs for under $1,000. The File Browser and the first version of Adobe Camera Raw (which followed the release as a paid plug-in update) answered those needs in a timely and very relevant fashion. Of course, 7.0 also brought the Healing Brush—and that was just magic.”



Version: 7.0.1

Key features: RAW file support with the Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw plug-in



Code name:
Dark Matter

Key features:
Shadow/Highlight, Match Color, Lens Blur filter, real-time Histogram, highly modified Slice tool, and hierarchical layer groups

Connor: “The Camera Raw plug-in was introduced midway through the 7.0 lifetime as a separate, $99 purchase, but CS is the first version in which it was included. The plug-in has been improved significantly in each version since, and has almost become an application in itself. RAW images were just beginning to become popular; but before Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw, it was hard to find a single tool that could efficiently handle RAW files from such a wide variety of digital cameras. In terms of features that were 100% brand-new in CS, probably the most notable was the Shadow/Highlight adjustment, which made it much easier to reveal details in your images.”

Hughes: “Aside from being part of a Creative Suite, CS had a lot to offer, especially for photographers. Features like Adobe Camera Raw 2.0, Lens Blur and Shadow/Highlight really changed what you could do with your images after the fact. To this day I can’t pick-up a Motor Trend magazine without thinking about Shadow/Highlight, as they’re very fond of that extreme aesthetic (with Shadow/Highlight used near maximum values).”



Version: CS2
Code name: Space Monkey

Key features: Adobe Bridge 1.0, Spot Healing Brush tool, Red-Eye tool, Lens Correction filter, smart objects, Image Warp, Smart Sharpen, Vanishing Point, Smart Guides, and HDR imaging support

Connor: “The most generally useful new feature was Adobe Bridge, which graduated from being a file-browsing palette inside Photoshop into an asset manager for the entire Creative Suite. From a ‘wow’ standpoint, the biggest feature was Vanishing Point, which made it possible to clone, paint on, and move portions of your image while maintaining accurate perspective.”

Hughes: “CS2 offered a lot of things for a lot of people. While smart objects took a little while to take off, we’ve seen strong adoption since. The Spot Healing Brush, Lens Correction filter, and Red-Eye tool solved some very common problems while Smart Sharpen and Noise Reduction significantly updated what we offered in those spaces. I was closely involved with the Vanishing Point filter and that was a lot of fun to use, test, and demonstrate—I still get applause when I show that in demos, even after all these years. However, I’m most proud of the fact that CS2 marked our first foray into explicitly improving the user experience. At our 9th version—with many new users—it was clear that we needed to respect legacy workflows while enabling power quickly.”



Version: CS3
Code name: Red Pill

Key features:
Smart filters, native Intel Mac support, Quick Selection tool, Refine Edge, and auto layer alignment and blending

Connor: “Photomerge wasn’t new in CS3, but this was the version in which it really came into its own. New technology could align almost any images automatically and, as a result, many more people discovered the creative fun of building huge panoramas by capturing multiple views of a scene.”

Hughes: “Behind the scenes, we were very busy migrating to Intel on the Mac, though we also offered a whole new version in CS3 Extended. We had new features, compliments of the Macromedia acquisition, and we shared it all in our first ever Public Beta. CS3 was one of the busiest and most exciting cycles—so many features, so much change, and all of it so well received. Personally, the work we did around image alignment and blending gave me the control I always wanted, and made panoramas and masking truly possible (tripod or not). 3D capability also landed in CS3 Extended and has taken off ever since.”



Version: CS4
Code name: Stonehenge

Key features: Adjustments and Masks panels, smoother panning and zooming, fluid canvas rotation, Content-Aware Scaling, and a common user interface

Connor: “The most magical new thing in CS4 is probably Content-Aware Scale, which can take any image and stretch it or shrink it without distortion.”

“Tapping into the GPU [graphics processor unit] meant many new features and a much more accurate way of presenting information on screen. Panoramas and extended depth of field also took compositing to an entirely new level. I’m very proud of what we did around the Adjustment and Mask panels—not only did we add new capabilities but, more importantly, we put the most powerful tools in a discoverable interface that wasn’t tied to a modal dialogue [a dialog that requires user input in order to proceed]. 3D also truly arrived in CS4 Extended, along with healing, selecting, painting, cloning, and much more.”

2010 and beyond


Code name: (insert clever name here)

Key features:
Only limited by the imagination

“I will list four major things that will influence Photoshop of the future. The first is what imaging researchers have dubbed ‘computational photography.’ It basically means photographs of the future may not be captured in their final form in-camera; instead, you’ll use software algorithms to synthesize photos from data collected in-camera. The Photomerge feature is a good example of this kind of approach, as well as Content-Aware Scaling (in a different sense, but there is much more new technology to come).

The second influence is convergence: We’ve already added support for video and 3D content to Photoshop Extended, but the addition of video capture capabilities to SLR cameras is pushing more people to explore workflows involving both video and stills. Over time, we’ll need to take the foundation of Photoshop Extended and expand the ways people can work with video and 3D content, along with their photographic imagery.

A third influence is the interface: Over Photoshop’s 20-year history and thirteen releases, we’ve consistently added new features but rarely, and reluctantly removed anything. However, we can’t keep doing that forever, else the application will become unwieldy. In recent versions we’ve been a little more aggressive about removing some features, and we’ve put more effort into reworking existing features to make them more modern and infuse them with new technologies.

The last influence is connectedness: No Web-based application will duplicate everything Photoshop can do anytime soon, but Photoshop itself needs to blur the line between the desktop and the Web by integrating Web-based services and linking to the huge online community of Photoshop users.”