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Everything you can do in Photoshop for iPad, and what is still missing

Cramming software the size of Photoshop into an iPad app is no easy task. We’ve seen the Photoshop name on mobile apps before, like Photoshop Express and the new Photoshop Camera, but these apps are really nothing like the desktop version of Photoshop. That’s finally changing with Photoshop for iPad, a full — or nearly full — version of the program designed to run on a tablet.

Photoshop for iPad is not identical to the desktop software, but because it is based on the same code, the app looks and feels more like Photoshop than any other mobile app. Adobe says that the goal is to eventually achieve feature parity between the versions, but the app is starting slow by launching with only the most-used features.

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Now on the App Store, the mobile version of Photoshop is only available for iPads running iOS 13.1 and later. The Apple Pencil makes selecting an object or drawing on a photograph easier than a mouse. There’s also the obvious size advantage of a tablet compared to a computer.

Photoshop for iPad is available at no additional charge for Creative Cloud subscribers with access to the desktop version. If you don’t already own an iPad, though, is it worth investing in one to run Photoshop? Here’s what you need to know before running Photoshop on an iPad.

What is the Photoshop for iPad release date?

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After teasing the app last year, Adobe released the Photoshop for iPad on November 4, 2019. The early versions of the app still have a way to go before all the features from the desktop version are included. While Adobe plans to bring those features over in time, it has not given exact dates for its update schedule. If you’re looking for a specific feature, you may need to wait. 

Photoshop for iPad vs. Photoshop for desktop

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This initial version of the app focuses on some of the most common retouching and masking tools, but several big features are still missing — the dodge and burn tools are nowhere to be found, for example. Adobe is considering user feedback when determining what to build in next, so if your favorite tools aren’t here yet, a bit of complaining may make those features available faster.

Listing what is included is much easier than going through what’s been left out. Here’s what you’ll find in Photoshop for iPad:

  • Layers: Photoshop without layers wouldn’t be Photoshop at all. Thankfully, layers are alive and well in Photoshop on the iPad. You can add new layers, add layer masks, adjust the opacity of a layer, and change the blending mode. You can also delete layers, load a layer as a selection, and add, subtract, or intersect masks. Layer effects and smart filters aren’t yet supported for layers. The tablet version also adds a condensed layers view as well as the more detailed layers panel, so navigating layers may feel a little different.
  • Adjustment layers: Along with regular layers, you can also work with adjustment layers to create a mask for adjustments such as brightness and contrast, levels, hue/saturation, color balance, and others. You can add an adjustment layer by tapping on the Add Clipped Adjustment option in the Layer Properties panel or by holding the Plus icon and choosing the option from the menu.
  • Selections: The touchscreen interface can often be easier to use than creating a complex selection with a mouse. In Photoshop for iPad, you can make selections using the lasso, quick selection, the rectangular or circular selection tool, or Select Subject. Once you’ve made a selection, you can still turn it into a mask or invert the selection. Selections can be further refined using the Refine Brush (found in the More menu in the Selection Toolbox at the bottom of the screen), but not the full slate of options that are inside of the desktop version’s Select and Mask. Select Object and the magnetic lasso are missing.
  • Retouching: The clone and healing tools are built-in, but photo editors will have to wait for more advanced options, like frequency separation, as well as the dodge and burn tools. (You can, alternately, create dodge and burn adjustment layers instead).
  • Basic tools: The paintbrush, text tool, fill tool, and gradient tool are part of the first version. The crop and transform tools are also included. Rotating the canvas is done inside the crop tool, which means a few extra steps.

There’s still a good list of features missing, like curves, Content-Aware Fill, warp tools, liquify, sharpening, and basics like resizing an image. Excluding the Gaussian Blur, filters are missing as well. For now, Photoshop for iPad is best considered as a companion, rather than a replacement, to the desktop version.

Getting started with Photoshop for iPad

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Opening Photoshop on the iPad will feel very familiar to anyone who has used Photoshop on the desktop, but it’s also simple for beginners. You’ll still find the toolbar on the left and layers and properties panels on the right, but the interface has been redesigned and minimized to dedicate more of the screen to the workspace. The controls also function a bit differently to those meant for a mouse and keyboard. That’s a good thing for the app’s usability but may require some extra searching at first for certain tools.

Tap and hold icons with a Triangle in the corner to access similar tools. In many cases, a Tool Options bar will pop up next to the toolbar when a tool is selected, including a Triple Dot menu that tends to hide more options. Some tools will also open a small menu at the bottom with more options, such as the selection tool. Hold and drag these mini menus to move them around. On the iPad, there is no File menu at the top, but there’s a header that allows you to go back to the home screen, undo or redo, access cloud options, and save files.

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Core to the mobile editing workflow is Adobe’s new Cloud Documents functionality. This allows you to save files to the cloud to access them later in the desktop version, and vice versa. Cloud Documents count toward your Creative Cloud storage plan, but they make working between multiple devices easier. Keep in mind that PSD files can be very large and may take a while to sync.

Gesture controls

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Notice the weird circle hovering over your image? That’s the touch shortcut — think of it as a replacement for keyboard shortcuts. When using the paintbrush, for example, tapping and holding on that circle will switch to the eraser tool. The primary touch shortcut is accessed by tapping and holding the center, but a secondary shortcut is activated by tapping and sliding your finger to the outer edge of the circle. You can also tap, hold, and drag to move the touch shortcut to another part of the screen. A description of what the touch shortcut does in the tool that you have selected appears in a blue box in the upper right corner when the touch shortcut is activated.

The touch shortcut houses several important options that are missing without a keyboard — use the touch shortcut to scale the crop proportionally, select from the center of the elliptical marquee, or add to a selection. If there’s a task that you usually use the shift key for, it’s probably in the touch shortcuts. You can view the full list of touch shortcuts here or by tapping on the Question Mark icon and selecting View Touch Shortcuts inside the app.

The touchscreen interface also means that there are several gesture controls that you can’t see on the screen. Like learning the keyboard shortcuts on desktop, once you have the hang of them, gesture controls should help you to work faster. Some of the most used gesture controls include:

  • Undo: Tap with two fingers.
  • Redo: Tap with three fingers.
  • Pan around the canvas: Drag with two fingers.
  • Zoom: Pinch with two fingers.
  • View at 100%: Double-tap with one finger.
  • Rotate: Place two fingers on the screen, separately, and rotate in the direction that you’d like. (Note that, like using the laptop touchpad to rotate the canvas, this isn’t a permanent rotation — the canvas will return to the usual spot when reopening the file. For a permanent rotate, use the crop and rotate tool.)

Should you get Photoshop for iPad?

If you’re a Creative Cloud subscriber and already own an iPad, there’s no reason not to try out Photoshop on it, as it won’t cost you anything. If you’re considering investing in an iPad specifically so you can make your Photoshop workflow more mobile, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. For high-end professional use, there are many features still missing from the iPad app that may be deal-breakers, so you might want to wait. If you don’t mind the more limited feature set, however, picking up an iPad to run Photoshop on the go could be a valuable addition to your creative toolkit.

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