Of course, if you're already familiar with Photoshop 7.0 or Elements 1.0, you'll feel at home in version 2.0. The standard Adobe interface lets you dock all of your palettes at the top of the screen for easy access and displays relevant tool settings below the menu bar. Elements contains all of the essential image-editing tools, including free-form selection tools and special-effects filters, as well as a few advanced features, such as adjustment layers and gradient maps. We're pleased to see that Elements now includes some basic color management, letting you choose to ignore any color settings in the file or automatically optimize them for Web or print. This is a handy feature for high-quality output and one that version 1.0 didn't have.
Not much new
Elements' full lineup of new features isn't terribly compelling, however. Its batch-processing options (standard among similar editors) allow you to convert, rename, and resize an entire directory's files--for example, all of the cryptically named files imported from your digital camera. The new Selection Brush lets you select soft-edged areas of your image that you want to delete, cut, or crop, but it requires extremely precise mouse work for real accuracy.
Experienced designers will love Elements' overhauled paint engine, straight from Photoshop 7.0, but we don't think potential Elements customers will need such a sophisticated engine. Additional modest enhancements include the ability to display EXIF metadata, such as camera model and shot settings, in the File Browser, and updated layouts for Web pages and printing Picture Packages. There's also a Quick Fix dialog that aggregates a variety of existing enhancement tools. Unfortunately, Elements still doesn't include Photoshop's most useful tool for photographers, the Healing Brush, which magically fixes lines and wrinkles.
Help needs help
Of all of Photoshop Elements' offerings, the help system has undergone the most extensive changes--all in an effort to make help information easier to find. For instance, Adobe puts a search box right on the Help window menu bar so that you can call up a list of search-result links.
But the face-lift looks a bit botched. When you click a Help link from the Hints palette or open Help > Photoshop Elements Help, for instance, the program launches a full-sized Internet Explorer window, which covers your work and disrupts your work flow. Worse, when you make a common mistake while working--say, you accidentally attempt to paint a mask layer--Elements doesn't warn you that you've made an error, let alone tell you what type of mistake you made. Adobe does, thankfully, address some of these issues in its improved Recipes window, which, in addition to guiding you through the steps of common operations, now offers to perform some of the steps for you.
Under the hood, Photoshop Elements remains a low-rent version of Photoshop. It delivers the essential set of image retouching, selection, and output tools that most nonprofessionals need. If you love Photoshop and already know how to use it but want a program that's cheaper and a little less complex, Elements is the way to go. Otherwise, Paint Shop Pro and PhotoImpact offer a broader selection of features for the same price.