Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 for Macintosh


Adobe Systems    
$90, $20 upgrade rebate through March 31, 2007; $80 download. Academic pricing available.

The latest Mac version of Adobe’s top-selling consumer photo editing application, Photoshop Elements 4.0 for Macintosh, makes it easier than ever to correct a less-than-perfect photo and to browse and organize your photo collection.

Elements 4.0 for Mac adds several valuable features to an already robust product. Note that the Windows version of Elements 4.0 has a somewhat different feature set, partially to provide functions that Mac users already have as part of the operating system, or can find in iPhoto.

The application includes an enhanced version of Adobe Bridge, the photo management software also used by the professional Creative Suite applications (Photoshop, Illustrator, GoLive and InDesign). And all of this comes for less than $100.

Among the enhancements in Elements 4.0 for Mac are new brushes and tools that aren’t available in Photoshop CS 2. This wouldn’t be the first time that specific capabilities of an Adobe consumer product get the jump on a professional product, at least until that pro product is next updated. Pros and serious amateurs who work in Photoshop might want to keep Elements 4.0 on hand to take advantage of several of these technologies, particularly the Magic Extractor tool and Skin Tone Adjustment palette.

scribble tool

New to Elements 4.0 for Mac are smart brushes for selecting parts of a photo for adjustment, and for extracting elements to combine in a composite photo or to use in scrapbooking. With the Magic Selection Brush you draw squiggles or dots to select the parts of a photo that you want to work with. This can make the traditionally arduous task of making selections a breeze, especially when adjacent areas have significant contrast. Once parts of a photo has been selected, you can adjust color, lighting, contrast, sharpness and more, using either the Standard Edit tools workspace or the more automated Quick Fix workspace (click a button on the right of the top Shortcuts Bar to switch between the two modes).

A relative of the Magic Selection Brush is the Magic Extractor, which relies on a series of smart brushes and erasers to extract a person or object from its background. The extracted object can then be pasted into another photo. The process is not instant – it requires several steps and a bit of skill. The “magic” of Magic Extractor is the way that it radically simplifies a task that once daunted professionals.

To use the Magic Extractor, first make a rough selection of the person or object in Standard Edit mode using the marquee, lasso or Magic Selection brush tool. Then go the Image menu and choose Magic Extractor... which opens the selection in a window with step by step instructions and a specialized palette of tools. With the Foreground Brush tool, use the now familiar squiggle and dot technique to indicate areas you want to keep, then switch to the Background Brush tool to mark the areas to be deleted. Add to Selection, Remove from Selection and Point Eraser tools let you capture all of the object’s nooks and crannies while eliminating the background, and a Smoothing Brush smooths the edges of your selection. Adjustable feather and defringe functions let you soften the selected edges and remove color fringing. There are also controls for filling holes in the selected object, preview appearance and tool options. Once you’ve extracted the object from its background to your satisfaction, it’s ready to be copied and pasted wherever you choose.


Another notable addition to Elements 4.0 for Mac is skin tone adjustment. The Adjust Color for Skin Tones window gives controls for improving the color of skin tones, either in an entire photo or a selected area. The controls are found under the Enhance menu. To get there, go to Enhance > Adjust Color > Adjust Color for Skin Tones, which opens a new window. Click on a person’s skin with the eyedropper tool, then adjust sliders for Tan, Blush and Ambient Light Temperature. Make sure you have the Preview box checked so you can monitor your changes. If you don’t like your initial results, click on a different skin tone and adjust until you’re satisfied.

Other improvements include WYSIWIG (What You See Is What You Get) font menus that not only display a sample of each type face in the pull down menu, but also indicate whether the font is PostScript, TrueType or Open Type. The Tools palette adds a Straighten tool and the Quick Fix workspace adds an automatic Red Eye Fix button. You can order Kodak prints, photo books, cards and calendars from your photos in Adobe Bridge by choosing Tools > Photoshop Services. Adobe Bridge also lets you save searches, browse multiple file types, and search your photos by metadata.

Information on all of the new and enhanced features in Elements 4.0 for Mac, with links to instructions for using each new feature, is buried somewhat unhelpfully in the Help menu under Help > Photoshop Elements Help > Getting Started > New Features > What’s New and >What’s Changed. A direct link to these two pages from the startup screen would be welcome, especially for users who don’t have “always on” internet accesss.

All in all, Elements 4 for Mac is a very appealing purchase for first-time photo editors and for users of previous versions of Photoshop Elements. If you’re using Photoshop Elements 2 or earlier and your Mac meets the application’s modest system requirements (Mac OS 10.3 and above), upgrading to the current version is highly recommended.

If you’re using Elements 3 for Mac and are on the fence about upgrading, take a look at Adobe’s 4.0 vs 3.0 feature comparison chart at to help you decide. For me, the Magic Selection brush, skin tone adjustment and Magic Extractor tools make the upgrade a no-brainer. The $20 upgrade main-in rebate for the boxed product, good through March 31, 2007, makes an added inducement.

Unfortunately Adobe does not offer a downloadable 30 day trial version of Elements 4 for Mac; only a Windows version is available. One hopes that this is just an oversight on Adobe’s part and not an indication that the Mac version of Elements is assuming second-class citizen status.

– Elsa Travisano

Photoshop Elements 4.0 for Macintosh
System requirements: PowerPC G3, G4 or G5 processor, Mac OS 10.3 or 10.4, 256 MB RAM, 750 MB of available hard drive space, 1024x768 16 bit display, CD-ROM drive.

Copyright ©2006 by Elsa Travisano. This review appeared in the June 2006 issue ofNewsbreak, the newsletter of MUG ONE - Macintosh User Group of Oneonta, NY.