Hands On With Adobe’s Photoshop Touch Apps

Adobe’s (s adbe) three Photoshop Touch apps, which the company previewed last month, went live in the App Store (s aapl) early Tuesday morning. Eazel, Adobe Nav and Color Lava all offer experiences that connect in to desktop installations of Photoshop in order to enhance the use of that software in some way. Here’s a look at how they work, and how they might figure into your Photoshop workflow.

Color Lava ($2.99)

Finding the right color or color scheme for design work or image editing in Photoshop can be tricky, and may be especially so for artists used to mixing paint using traditional media. Color Lava attempts to mimic this experience using the iPad’s touch interface, allowing you to create and store color palettes and instantly set the foreground color in your desktop Photoshop installation.

The app provides a color wheel featuring the three primary and three tertiary colors, as well as shades of black and grey. You also have access to a virtual water tray for cleaning your digital “brush,” and to help you blend the colors you already have on your working palette. You can mix colors and tap different areas to create a five-color scheme which you can save to the app for later use. You can also use photos from your camera roll or other on-device albums to draw colors for use in schemes.

Color Lava works well, is simple and self-explanatory, and even provides some interesting visual enhancements like animated ripples in your water tray and 180 degree rotation support (though only landscape modes are supported). Once you set up your Photoshop connection (you must be on the same Wi-Fi network), setting your foreground color is incredibly easy.

Adobe Nav ($1.99)

This is the app that has the most integration with the desktop version of Photoshop. Adobe Nav essentially provides an iPad-based toolbar for your desktop Photoshop install. It has all the tools you’ll normally find in your left-hand PS toolbar column, and includes the ability to edit the configuration to include any commands available to that toolbar. The app also provides a foreground/background color switcher, a one-button Screen Mode toggle, and a one-button zoom to return the image to Actual Pixels magnification.

The ability to completely customize which commands are available on your 4 x 4 grid makes it very easy to line up your most commonly used Photoshop tools for quick and easy access. You can have Gradient Fill and Fill Bucket side-by-side, for instance, instead of having them as an either/or nested toggle the way they are in a default Photoshop installation. The one-touch commands Adobe provides are also great choices, although I’d appreciate the ability to bring up a basic color picker in the app itself, or to customize which zoom magnifications appear by default.

Adobe Nav also provides a thumbnail viewer that allows you to switch between your currently open Photoshop documents with a single tap. This is a terrific addition for Photoshop users who often have many files open at once. Trying to cycle through open images to find one only by name is a chore, and this eliminates that completely.

Adobe Eazel ($4.99)

Of the three apps, Eazel represents the most innovative from a control perspective. The app provides nothing but a blank canvas by default, and you bring up controls by tapping the screen with five fingers simultaneously and then lifting all fingers except the one associated with the tool you want to alter. These include color, brush size, opacity and settings.

The interace is very different, but it is also surprisingly easy to get a handle on. I’m by no means an artist, yet I was able to come with the reasonable facsimile of some kind of fruit you see in the screens. The feel is decidedly watercolor, and there’s no way to change that, but it’s a good tool for sketching out ideas or for doing some amazing digital painting for more capable artists.

Eazel’s connectivity with the desktop version of Photoshop is limited to the ability to push images from the iPad app to Photoshop wirelessly, preserving layers (though only a foreground and background layer are currently possible in the app). Even though you can’t manipulate the image on the iPad after its sent to Photoshop, it’s a handy function for users who want to create on mobile and edit on desktop. Also, it’s early days and really just serves to hint at what Adobe’s Photoshop Touch API is capable of.

Good Now, Better Later

Adobe’s apps are impressive. They integrate easily with the desktop version of Adobe Photoshop (so long as you have Version 12.0.4 or higher), and they make working with the software either easier or more interesting. Color Lava and Adobe Nav in particular should find their way into the every day workflows of many iPad-toting Photoshop professionals and amateur enthusiasts. Eazel’s appeal is more limited, but it will probably do well among those who have a need for it.

The apps are simple, easy to connect (and they automatically reconnect upon reopening after a few uses), and they show how powerful Adobe’s Photoshop Touch API is. In addition to being useful tools on their own, they also whet the appetite for what’s to come. Tight desktop/second screen integration will be one of the ways in which major traditional software companies ride the post-PC wave, and the first crop of Photoshop Touch apps are a great example of that integration.