Feb 27 AT 3:54 PM Angie Wimberly 13 Comments

Scribble Selection in Photoshop Touch is impressive, sort of


Image editing on-the-go has still not quite made the permanent leap to phones and tablets in a way that provides the user with as much control as desktop solutions. However, the desire for mobile editing hasn’t waned. With Adobe at the top of the game as far as desktop editing goes, it’s hard to ignore their new offering. A couple years ago, Photoshop Express piqued my interest, but after giving it a shot, I was disappointed with the lack of control given to make a proper, accurate selection. Since that is one of the most important aspects of photo editing, I didn’t really give the app any more attention. Now, after hearing about Photoshop Touch and Scribble Selection, I had to see how far technology has come in making controlled and accurate selections.

Scribble Selection

There are a few ways to make a selection within the app, but the Scribble Selection tool presents the newest possibilities in improving selection-making on a phone or tablet. Howard Pinsky has a great demonstration of it on an iPad. We tried it on a Samsung Galaxy Note II.

This tool is found in the lower left corner, within the second row of icons from the bottom that pops up. Once selected, you’ll see two buttons, Keep and Remove. To make a selection, you draw an outline right inside the edges of the area you want to isolate while you have Keep active. Your outline shows up in green. Then select Remove and draw an outline just outside of the area. This shows up as red. After defining these zones, the app does its best to select the shape you desire, then presents you with the option to keep scribbling in order to refine your selection. (You can continue toggling Keep and Remove to get the desired results).

The more we played with this, the more it seemed like a quality selection could be achieved. Since you are able to zoom in and refine the Scribble Selection over and over, you can get a selection that is really accurate. The only hurdles are that once zoomed in, you can still scribble, but you can’t move around your image at the same zoom. The app can’t differentiate between you wanting to create a scribble and wanting to move around the image. In order to visit different areas of the outline you are defining, you have to zoom out, then back in on a different area. It isn’t horrible; it’s just functionality that doesn’t quite mimic the capabilities you have on the desktop client. Thanks to Jorge Rodriguez I realized that it IS possible to move around your image while zoomed in. Just use two fingers instead of one.

Also, as far as we could tell, the brush strokes made with the Scribble Selection are a default size and hardness. It’s obvious that the goal is for the app to do the work for you and decide on its own what that selection should look like, but an ideal solution seems like one that would let you have a little more control over the brush it uses in order to better refine your selection exactly as you intend.

Refine Edge: This seems to be where the Refine Edge feature would jump in and give you more control, but even it takes most of the control out of the user’s hands and lets the app assume, again, where the edge should be and the relative smoothness. Choosing Refine Edge from the edit selection button, (the one at the top next to Done), shows you a screen where you can see the edges of your selection with the other areas filled in with red. You then choose either Add or Clear to include more in your selection or remove areas from it. As stated, the app does make improvements to your selection based on its own intelligence, but in this instance, it would be nice to have the brush we choose make our own marks that look exactly as we choose. Photoshop is typically for a more advanced user who craves control over an image. Hopefully in the future, users can get that on a phone or tablet as they do on the desktop.

Alternate Methods

Creating a Shape on a New Layer: To test a method that allowed us to define the brush, and therefore regain some control over the edges of our selections, we tried a slightly more unconventional way. We first made a new layer by selecting the button on the bottom right, then the plus sign that pops up. We just chose Empty Layer, then hit Done. Then we selected the Paint tool, (from the lower left corner, third icon from the bottom), to brush color on top of the area we wanted to select. The Paint tool allows you to control the Size, Hardness, Flow, Opacity and Color, much like you would be able to within the desktop client. While zoomed in, this can provide you a lot of control.

One intriguing aspect of the Paint tool is that you can turn on Edge Aware, which seems to predict where you would and wouldn’t want to paint, which does seem somewhat useful for those using merely their fingers. More impressive, however, was the ability to specify whether you were using a stylus and if it should control the Size and/or Opacity based on pressure.

However, we did still notice some disconnect between the relative size of the brush and where your brush actually makes a mark. (An outlined circle seems to help you predict where your mark will be made). It is nice to be able to control the settings of the brush, but it would be nice to have a more accurate representation of where the “paint” is going. This is another hurdle in wrangling control from the app.

Once we made our shape with the Paint tool on the new layer, it was time to make our selection. Within the active layer pixels only exist where we applied color. The Select Pixels option (found in the the edit selection button – the one at the top next to Done) works to select just the area we specified. Once selected, we turned off visibility of the layer that had our colored shape so that we could see the image below.

No changes seen, though the scale is greatly altered. Requires destructive editing.

Non-destructive editing, (keeping the original image intact by keeping changes in other layers with the ability to be turned off and on), is always ideal. So first, with our selection still active, we made a new empty layer in hopes it could house the adjustments, (as is possible in the desktop client of Photoshop, i.e. an adjustment layer). However, we found that adjustments can only affect the active layer.

We were able to select Levels and move the markers on the scale, as can normally be done to adjust the contrast. But there was no change to the layer below containing the image, since the active layer was our empty one. This makes it seem that only destructive editing is possible. Reluctantly, we made the original image layer active and applied the Levels adjustments to it directly.

We achieved our goal of creating a selection based on our specific brush settings and applying adjustments to a specific area with pretty good results. But again, it would be ideal for adjustments to be on their own layer with their own mask as they can be on the desktop. This allows you to continuously edit the selection where you’re applying the adjustment until it’s right, rather than having to get your shape right the first time.

Creating a Gradient on a New Layer: Another option to create a more natural selection for a simple adjustment is a gradient (found after selecting the & button). With its notorious soft edges, using it as a basis for a selection in a desired area will lead to adjustments that blend smoothly and naturally into your photo. Again, you’d draw the gradient on an empty layer, then, using the circular anchor points to change its size and shape, specify where you want it to be. Once drawn, choose Select Pixels. Then turn visibility off for the gradient layer, make the photo layer active and make adjustments to it. While this does allow you to target a specific area, it is a much more general change and not a solution for very specific changes that need very specific selections. For example, a blue hat that needs to be red.

Overall Impressions

While the inability to practice non-destructive editing was disappointing, it still seemed that the app provided enough tools for basic editing that would satisfy “somewhat-above-average” needs. The goal was to brighten the icing on the cupcake, and we were able to achieve that. Given more time and patience, as is normally needed for any good selection, we could have come up with a pretty convincing altered photo. While the selection of the icing in our example is visibly a little clunky and not as soft or realistic as it could be, this was based on a cursory attempt to test the app. If given more time, we could really take advantage of the relatively proficient Scribble Selection. Or, we could utilize the app’s zoom feature and adjust the hardness, softness and opacity of the brush in the Paint tool to create an accurate selection – a feat that proved to be much more difficult in previous mobile offerings from Adobe.

There’s plenty more about the app to be explored, but we thought it best to tackle different aspects of it in steps to detail uses of it more clearly. Has anyone else had the same experiences using Photoshop Touch? Do you have a better way to make improved selections?

2013-02-27-09-06-54 2013-02-27-09-07-49 2013-02-27-09-05-55 2013-02-27-12-51-23 2013-02-27-10-56-45 2013-02-27-11-11-09 No changes seen, though the scale is greatly altered. Requires destructive editing. 2013-02-27-10-34-59 2013-02-27-08-59-25 2013-02-27-09-06-31 2013-02-27-09-09-40 2013-02-27-09-16-41 2013-02-27-09-17-46 2013-02-27-09-18-39 2013-02-27-09-46-29 2013-02-27-10-44-40 adobe-photoshop-touch-for-phone-selections

Angie is a designer and illustrator living in Austin, Texas. She's a graduate of the Communication Design program at Texas State and joined us full-time after a two-year run at a design firm here in Austin.

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  • http://clarklab.net Clark Wimberly

    The scribble select looks similar the how AfterFocus let you select areas of an image: just dragging/tapping/coloring in the areas you wanted in the foreground, middle, and background of the photo. It was pretty handy there, so I could see this being useful too, but I’d need more time to really know if I liked it or not.

  • Thomas Biard

    I have already expressed my interest in the Galaxy Note/Tab line. Apps like this really shine with the use of the S-pen. I really hope to get the Note 8.0

    Between Autodesk Sketchbook and Adobe Photoshop, they’re really making mobile design/presentation a lot more feasible for everyone. This whole technology stuff rocks!

  • Angie Wimberly


  • donger

    Always wanted to try this on my phone.

  • WatcherJohn

    I have Photoshop Express on my GSII and have been wondering about Touch. I might pony up $10 and try Touch for my tablet. How, if at all, does the phone version compare to the tablet version?

    • Angie Wimberly

      Sorry, I have not tried it on a tablet yet. I thought that the Note was nice since it had the stylus. I’d probably give the tablet version a shot if I had a stylus or mouse for it.

  • Cebastian

    I’ve found that I enjoy using Photoshop Touch. And I find it easier to work on. I haven’t spent much time with Photoshop on desktops, but for a bit of tweaking and and greater tools than your average photo-editor on mobile, it’s pretty great :) I do hope they keep improving and adding functionality!

  • Jorge Rodriguez

    I use it on the galaxy note 10.1 and while zoomed in you can move sround in scribble mode by using two fingers.

    • Angie Wimberly

      You are totally right – thank you for pointing that out!

  • fox

    Before: UGLY
    After: DAAMN UGLY!

  • jonstle

    I prefer Photoshop touch for basic tweak before Facebook posts on mobile. Quick and easy to use.

  • Perry

    I was expecting mention of apps that compete with PS Touch like Leonado and Laminar. I also expect reviews to he done after extensive use of the app in question, not a quick half hour check. It turns out that PS Touch is amazing and maybe the one to get. The ones I mentioned above are also amazing. I have all of them and use the one best for what I want to accomplish. I even use more than one on the same image sometimes. There are apps that are better for specific tasks like TouchRetouch that one thing better than anyone. If anyone wants to edit photos they are advised to get more than one app and choose the best one for the task at the time. It’s fun to have several tools and be able to know which one to use for what. Take the time. It’s worth it. What else do you have to do?