Product Review: Adobe Photoshop Mix

September 15, 2014

By Theano Nikitas

The interface is simple and intuitive, displaying a series of non-destructive editing options at the bottom of the screen.

Mobile image editing is undoubtedly hindered by a number of hardware shortcomings, including the lack of horsepower required for intensive processing tasks. Adobe Photoshop Mix, a new iPad-only app, addresses that problem by turning to cloud-based servers to handle a trio of power-hungry Photoshop features that a tablet simply can’t handle. While Upright, Shake Reduction and Content-Aware Fill are the stars of this app (they’ve never before been available on a mobile device), Mix also offers less process-demanding tools and features, including a Cut Out tool for compositing, enhancements, preset “looks” and cropping. 
Introduced along with the Creative Cloud 2014, Mix can be downloaded for free from the iTunes store. You’ll need a free Adobe ID and, at minimum, a free Creative Cloud membership to use the app. If you want to round-trip your images between Mix and Photoshop, you’ll need a subscription to the latest version of Photoshop CC ($9.99/month for Photoshop and Lightroom). 
The app was designed for iPad 4 and newer models running at least iOS 7.0, but I managed to work with the app on an iPad 2 and experienced few problems with relatively light editing tasks. The old iPad couldn’t handle Content-Aware Fill and kept crashing, however. Operation was faster and problem-free with an iPad Air.  
The app is quite intuitive, thanks in part to a simple interface and helpful tool tips. Images are imported from a variety of sources including the iPad Creative Cloud (from which you can import JPEGs, PSDs or an individual layer), Lightroom Mobile library and Facebook. An option to open the iPad’s camera is also available.
Once an image is selected, Mix opens the main screen with a series of non-destructive editing options along the bottom. The first, Enhance, offers several basic image adjustments including auto as well as sliders for exposure, contrast, clarity and saturation. As with any touchscreen, hitting the exact position on the slider takes a little finessing. Overall, however, these tools are easy to use and work well.
Next up is Looks—a series of preset filters that can be applied to an entire image or a layer, or selectively painted on. Effects can be inverted, feathered and added (or subtracted) from the photo. 
The Cut Out tool does a surprisingly good job of selecting and masking an image. Designed for compositing with two layered images, you can select part of one image and move and transform it onto the other. A Look preset can be applied to the selection simply by moving over to the Looks tool. When finished, the image can be exported as a PSD, with layers intact, to Photoshop CC, where you can apply final tweaks.
The Crop tool is self-explanatory but comes with several presets including square and 16:9 aspect ratios. Gesture-based custom crops are also available.
Perhaps the most interesting trio of features, listed under the More Edits icon, are those that use the Creative Cloud and Adobe’s special servers for processing. 
When activated, Upright’s perspective correction returns a few options from which to choose. Simply select the image that works best, click okay, then go into Crop to finish. As with Photoshop’s implementation of Upright, the results are hit or miss depending on the image. 
Shake Reduction, which helps reduce the blur caused by camera shake, works the same way. Send it to the Cloud, await your three versions, just select the one you want and tap Okay. It’s not a miracle cure for soft images but, with certain content, Shake Reduction can make a difference in clarity.
Content-Aware Fill is the magic Photoshop process that replaces an object or subject with surrounding pixels, effectively eliminating the selected object from the scene. Content-Aware Fill is simple to use; just paint over the area you want to eliminate with the selection brush, send it to the Cloud for processing and it comes back without the selected object. The object needs to be surrounded by a relatively simple background to work well, but it’s quite effective.
Regardless of the tool(s) used, images are easily exported and shared. In addition to your Creative Cloud and Behance accounts, finished photos can be saved to your device’s Camera Roll, emailed and shared to Facebook from within the app. 
Adobe Photoshop Mix brings a little bit of Photoshop to the iPad with Upright, Shake Reduction and Content-Aware Fill. These tools may be enough for current Creative Cloud subscribers to use this free app. The technology seems solid and the app plays well with other Adobe products like Lightroom Mobile’s library and Photoshop CC. The app’s other features should prove useful for quick enhancements. While the Cut Out tool does a surprisingly good job of isolating objects, we’re not sure what role—if any—the ability to create two-layer collages will play in a pro’s mobile workflow. Still, for photographers who may need to work up a quick composite to show a client, the Cut Out tool should suffice.
This isn’t a “must have” app by any means, but it’s an interesting use of Cloud technology for image editing and that alone is well worth checking it out.
PROS: Well-designed interface, easy to use, access to other CC tools, effective enhancement options and accurate Cut Out tool. 
CONS: Limited number of features, requires new(er) iPad, eventually will charge a premium for cloud processing (Upright, Shake Reduction, Content-Aware Fill).