Photoshop Touch vs. Laminar – which is the better of these iPad apps?
by Bob Weil
Both of these iPad apps are so full-featured that it would take a very long article to cover all of the capabilities of each program. Instead, I’m going to focus on the question on all of our minds – is Photoshop Touch or Laminar the better image processing, “art creation” tool?
Although both these apps can certainly handle many of the standard image editing tasks (cropping, color correction, noise reduction, white balance, etc.), they would not be my first choice for most of these initial edits. I use Photogene2 for all of my image prep – and then turn to high-power layering apps like these to add the layering and texturing mojo I strive for in my images.
If you are content producing realistic images that fairly closely match what your camera captured in a single scene, these applications are probably overkill. But if you love creating collages and richly layered and textured composite pieces, these are your daily workhorses. Near the end of this article, you’ll find a handy feature comparison chart, with the “winning” feature shown in red for each app.
This review tries to capture the major differences and similarities between these two programs. And where there are gaps (and there are a few), the old stalwart Superimpose is introduced to the discussion. It’s important to note that both of the reviewed apps are available on the iPad only, while Superimpose works on both iPhone and iPad.
Bottom line for those of you who can’t wait until the final credits - you will want both of these apps (and Superimpose) in your toolchest! Read on to learn why.
Quick check – Comparison chart
Scroll down to the bottom of this page to get a detailed comparison chart of the full features of Photoshop Touch, Laminar and Superimpose with best features highlighted in red.
Developer – Adobe
Price - $9.99 (USD) / £6.37 (GBP)
Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Because this app comes from Adobe, it will eventually lead the pack. But right now it’s limited by a maximum resolution below even the output level of the iPhone 4, and a limited number of blend modes. There are some things it does better than the rest of the pack (such as selection tools), but it’s overpriced against the field. Still, if you’re into layers, you’re going to want this app. And the ability to save out to projects to return to later is the way of the future for image-editing apps – available today.
Developer - Pranav Kapoor
Price - $4.99 (USD) / £3.18 (GBP)
Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Laminar is simply an amazing application, particularly at this price point and at this stage in the evolution of image editors. It complements rather than replaces Photoshop Touch – while offering a superior set of basic image editing functionality. Full resolution output (even exceeding 4s resolution) along with support for more layers than Photoshop Touch. Boasting more blend options than Photoshop, it also has a number of recoloring and texture presets that can add considerable character to your creations. I hope the developer continues to leapfrog Photoshop in introducing new features, and continues to add to its FX library.
Developer – Pankaj Goswami
Price - $.99 (USD) / 63p (GBP)
Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Before the arrival of Laminar and Photoshop and after I became disillusioned with the limited functionality of DXP, Superimpose was my app of choice for layering images. It still has the most blend modes, auto upsize of the foreground image to match the background, and very solid masking features, but it’s showing its age – only one layer at a time is supported, and it only saves in highly compressed jpeg format. Hence, the lower ranking than it would have received a year ago.
If you’re familiar with Photoshop on the desktop, be prepared for no more than a subset of the functionality you’re used to – perhaps due to limitations in the iOS platform. Still, Photoshop Touch is a master of selection tools and masking, even as the number of blend modes and save resolution comes up short.
As you can see in the screen caps below, Photoshop Touch allows you to select, copy and paste elements, extend selections to non-contiguous areas, fill selected areas and adjust selection characteristics after you’ve made the selection. You can even select an area to protect it, and then use the healing brush or clone stamp to work around it to refine background elements.
Layers are indicated on the right – they can be switched on an off, and the blend mode and opacity of each can be adjusted with supplied controls. The dropdown highlights many of the selection features – providing a greater variety than any other app I’ve found.
Note that you have very sophisticated tools at your disposal that you can leverage with selection areas . You can cut and paste elements from once part of an image to another, fill, modify and scale selection areas.
Below is a before and after image showing the effect textures and additional scene elements (the shadowed man in the lower left) have on the look.
Unlike other iPad imaging apps that I’ve seen, Photoshop Touch offers a number of very informative tutorials to help you understand its features. In the capture immediately below, you can see the tutorial step in the lower section of the screen – I liked one tutorial so much that I co-opted it midway through and used some of the functionality to finish one of the pieces I was already working on.
There’s a useful, although not particularly full-featured or precise lighting engine available that can really help focus attention in your piece. A mask could be used to accomplish the same effect, but it would take more time and effort.
The final result:
I keep coming back to Photoshop Touch’s selection tools – here, I placed a black and white version of an image over the original color version and used a mask to bring forward those elements I wanted to remain in color. I was able to easily add to selection areas, something not possible with the other high end iPad editors I’ve seen. Then I increased the resolution of the overall image to the maximum allowed by the application (2048 pixels) and saved it out as a PNG, allowing me to retain more image information.
Photoshop Touch is unique in this ability to up-res, and also to save out project files it calls “Documents” (no compatibility with desktop Photoshop, unfortunately, except an add-on allows import into CS5 and above)
Laminar was released shortly before Photoshop Touch, and certainly represents the closest direct competition to that application. Still, in many ways, its feature set complements that of Photoshop Touch.
Even though it doesn’t have a desktop sibling, Laminar features an interface that feels better thought-through than Photoshop Touch. And although its selection tools are not quite as sophisticated as
Adobe’s product, Laminar allows you to work and save at higher resolution (one file I worked on was 6100 pixels wide by 1936 tall), supports more layers, and provides a host of on-board texturing tools that Photoshop Touch does not have.
In the screen shot below, I’ve opened the layer palette to rearrange the layer order – there are currently 12 active layers. This is actually the best visual representation of what goes into many of the images I create. Many layers with differently treated copies of the same image blended in different modes and different levels of transparency to accomplish the effect I’m looking for.
In the screen cap below, you can see the Save dialogue, which lets you easily save as a jpeg or png file, or to upload to Dropbox or even an FTP site as well as the typical social networking platforms such as Flickr and Facebook.
Note on the left several photographed textures that have been added as layers to the image to give the image richness and depth.
When importing images into a layer (Laminar assumes they are textures), the app presents you with a preview of what the layer will look like with each blend mode at 100% - very helpful. You also have a slider on hand to adjust the opacity of a layer before you drop it into place (you still have the ability to adjust layer opacity and blend mode after you place the layer). There’s also a handy button to swap background and foreground images.
One of Laminar’s strengths is the capabilities is photo effects, B&W conversion (including various sepia tones), built-in grunge, textures and blur. The program also offers a preview of what each will look like. Another fantastic feature – you can apply a texture directly to a layer, OR you can apply the texture as a new layer. Alternatively, you can gang effects in a single action. (I prefer to keep each effect and texture on discreet layers – it gives me greater control).
Here are some examples of final images that you see in progress above.
So, which app has the best feature set – Photoshop Touch or Luminar? On balance, if I had to choose one, I would have to be Luminar because there are no artificial file size limitations (I’ve worked on images as large as 6200 pixels x 2000 pixels with up to three layers), the blending styles are more varied, and the product ships with a robust set of effects and textures.
But, I don’t have to choose between the two programs – so I won’t. I have both, and play them both to their strengths. And where they are weak (sheer number of blend modes, auto upsize of texture layers to match base layers, ability to work on the iPad and iPhone) – I turn to my old stand-by: Superimpose.
How do you decide which app you want to use at a given moment? I had to figure it out as I went along, but I’ve prepared the feature comparison chart below to help you determine when it makes the most sense to use one app over the other. Product strengths are noted in red.
The answer is that you’re going to want all three of these apps in your toolchest!