Software Review: Photoshop CS4 Extended For Engineering Imaging
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Software Review: Photoshop CS4 Extended For Engineering Imaging

OK, I’ll admit it up front; I’m a big fan of Photoshop and have been for quite some time. Is it perfect? No. Can its features get complicated to understand and use? Yes. Is it well-suite for “creative types?” Also, yes. Does it also have a place in the technical arena and the engineer’s toolbox? Increasingly, yes. In fact, I find it to be one of the more useful technical/engineering applications, especially coupled with a CAD product, but more about that later.

Instead of trying to cover the myriad features and capabilities of Photoshop CS4, the newest version, we’ll stick to applications of interest to engineers, namely, analysis, measurement, and using a photographic image as the basis for a design using a CAD product. In other words, this evaluation will only entail engineering imaging with Photoshop CS4.

This software review was conducted on a Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds loaner. This is a very interesting machine that actually is well-suited for a graphics product such as Photoshop because it has two beautiful and bright screens (a 17” main screen and a supplemental 10” screen that slides out of the main screen); a digital graphics pad; and hueyPRO monitor color correction. It had an Intel Core 2 Extreme CPU Q9300 running at 2.53 GHz, 4GB RAM, and 64-bit Windows Vista Business. All in all, a hardware platform optimized for this application.

As I said earlier, I’ve used Photoshop for several years, but have experience using it for engineering imaging applications only a little over a year, beginning with Photoshop CS3 Extended. However, I have really grown to appreciate what can be done with it on a more “technical” side, as well as its usefulness on the more “creative” side.

I think some of the most compelling capabilities for engineers are the 2D and 3D measurement tools in Photoshop CS4 Extended. This tool set lets you extract real quantitative information from digital photographic images or drawings.

In Photoshop Extended, you can also measure the dimensions of a photograph or a digital model (2D or 3D) using the measurement feature. You begin by assigning a known measurement to any part of an image or model, then you can take other accurate measurements. For example, you can import a photo of an object, enter a known dimension from the photo, such as the width of a slot, and then generate measurements of any other feature of the object, such as its height, width, depth, distance apart, etc.

Using the measurement feature in Photoshop Extended you can measure any area defined with the Ruler tool or with a selection tool, including irregular areas selected with the lasso, quick select, or magic wand tools. You can also compute the height, width, area, and perimeter, or track measurements of one image or multiple images. It’s best to choose a measurement tool that matches the kind of data you want to record in the Measurement Log that keeps track of data including width, height, area, units, scale, and file name. You can customize the Measurement Log columns, as well as sort data within columns, and export data from the log to a text file or spreadsheet.

Setting a measurement scale sets a specified number of pixels in the image equal to a number of scale units, such as inches or millimeters. Once you’ve created a scale, you can measure areas and receive calculations and log results in the selected scale units. You can create multiple measurement scale presets for frequently used measurement scales, although only one scale can be used in a document at a time.

To ensure that I was accurate from the beginning for my first experience with the measurement feature, I set my measurement scale using a digital macro photo of a 100-mm machinist’s scale. This absolutely ensured that I had known dimensions. I discovered that the higher the resolution of the photograph, the higher the accuracy of the measurement, as I experimented with photos of different resolutions.

Once the measurement scale is established, you can draw lines with the Ruler tool to measure linear distance and angle. Each measurement measures one or more data points. The data points you select determine the information recorded in the Measurement log. Data points correspond to the type of tool you’re measuring with. Area, perimeter, height, and width are available data points for measuring selections. You can create and save sets of data points for particular types of measurements to speed the process. The steps for performing the process are pretty simple:

  1. Open a photograph or model document.
  2. Select Analysis>Set Measurement Scale and choose a measurement scale preset for the document or choose Custom and set a custom measurement scale. Measurements are computed and recorded in the Measurement Log using the scale units in effect when a measurement is recorded. If no measurement scale is defined, the default scale is 1 pixel = 1 pixel.
  3. In the Select Data Points dialog box, data points are grouped according to the measurement tool that can measure them, and add useful information to the Measurement Log, such as the name of the file being measured, the measurement scale, and the date/time of the measurement. By default all data points are selected. You can select a subset of data points for a particular kind of measurement and save the combination to make it available as a data point preset.
  4. Choose an image feature and measurement tool to match the selected data points, and either create one or more selections on the image, or choose Analysis > Ruler Tool, or click the Ruler tool in the toolbox, then use the tool to measure the length of an image area.
  5. Open the Measurement Log palette to examine and export your measurement data to Excel or database package for documentation or analysis.

Setting a measurement scale sets a specified number of pixels in the image equal to a number of scale units, such as inches, millimeters, or microns. Once you’ve created a scale, you can measure areas and receive calculations and log results in the selected scale units. You can create multiple measurement scale presets, although only one scale can be used in a document at a time.

You can place scale markers on an image to display the measurement scale. Scale markers can appear with or without a caption displaying measurement scale units.

Use the Ruler tool to set the measurement scale for a document. You can create measurement scale presets for frequently used measurement scales. Presets are added to the Analysis>Set Measurement Scale submenu. The current measurement scale for a document is checked in the submenu, and appears in the Info panel. Measurement scale markers display the measurement scale used in your document. Set the measurement scale for a document before creating a scale marker.

You can measure using the Photoshop selection tools, Ruler tool, or Count tool. You should choose a measurement tool that matches the type of data you want to record in the Measurement Log.

Each measurement measures one or more data points. The data points you select determine the information recorded in the Measurement log. Data points correspond to the type of tool you’re measuring with. Area, perimeter, height, and width are available data points for measuring selections. Length and angle are available data points for Ruler tool measurements. You can create and save sets of data points for particular types of measurements to speed your workflow. If your currently selected data points do not correspond to the current measurement tool, you are asked to select data points for that tool.

The Measurement log has columns for each data point you selected in the Measurement Data Points dialog box. Each measurement you make enters a new row of data in the Measurement Log.

If you measure multiple selected areas on an image, one row of data is created in the log containing summary or cumulative data for all selected areas, followed by a row of data for each selection area. Each selection area is listed as a separate Feature in the Label column of the log and assigned a unique number.

Photoshop CS4 Extended Evaluation Quick Guide*
Overall Product: A-
This version: A-
Ease of use: B+
Features: A-
Documentation: B
Innovation: A-
Value: A-
Price: Pricing for Photoshop CS4 Extended is $999.00 to purchase and $349.00 to upgrade from Photoshop CS3 Extended
For More Information:

Editor’s Note: The Evaluation Quick Guide is based only on the engineering imaging features and capabilities of Photoshop CS4 Extended.

For more advanced analytic engineering work, and although I haven’t tried this yet, I understand that it is possible for Photoshop CS4 Extended to export to and import data from MATLAB (a technical computing environment and programming language for visualizing data) and visualize the results of MATLAB algorithms. With Photoshop Extended, MATLAB can be used to view the results of algorithms created in MATLAB from within Photoshop, as well as export images created and/or edited in Photoshop back out to MATLAB for detailed analysis.

I could envision the measurement tools in Photoshop CS4 Extended being used for fairly sophisticated purposes ranging from inspection to reverse engineering. As engineering-oriented features and capabilities such as the measurement tools continue to evolve in Photoshop, expect to see it on more engineers’ workstations because of its possibilities.

If you have any specific questions pertaining to Photoshop CS4 Extended that were not addressed in this short review, feel free to contact me at Email Contact

The Week’s Top 5

At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the five news items that were the most viewed during last week.

Procter & Gamble Selects Dassault Systèmes as Enterprise Simulation Partner
Dassault Systèmes announced that Procter & Gamble Company (P&G), the world’s largest consumer goods company, has selected SIMULIA SLM as its simulation lifecycle management solution to support P&G’s modeling & simulation strategy. The announcement evolves the long-standing business relationship in the simulation domain from one of solution provider into a strategic, collaborative partnership. By working closely with SIMULIA, P&G will define critical SLM requirements and identify out-of-the-box capabilities that will be incorporated into the general SIMULIA SLM solution and adopted globally within P&G. Based on Dassault Systèmes’ V6 platform, the online collaborative environment for PLM 2.0, SIMULIA SLM enables P&G to capture, share and automate the execution of approved simulation methods, improve traceability of simulation data, and accelerate decision-making while securing valuable intellectual property. By integrating its existing systems with ENOVIA’s Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) Accelerator for Global Specification Management, P&G will be able to better manage products spanning multiple brands and markets.

PlanetSolar Taps Autodesk Digital Prototyping Software for First Solar-Powered Round-the-World Voyage
Autodesk is sponsoring a unique project from PlanetSolar to produce the world's largest solar-powered sailboat capable of circumnavigating the globe. Based in Germany, PlanetSolar is leading the project to construct the solar catamaran, and Autodesk is supplying the digital prototyping technology and training that will help PlanetSolar design and build it. Autodesk supplied PlanetSolar engineers with digital prototyping software from the Autodesk Inventor and Autodesk Alias product families along with AutoCAD Electrical and Autodesk Productstream to help PlanetSolar digitally design, visualize and simulate the solar catamaran before it is built. The project is the brainchild of Raphael Domjan, president of PlanetSolar, who will also pilot the boat. The Knierim Yachtbau in Kiel, Germany, will assemble the boat. The first solar-powered circumnavigation of the globe is planned for 2010 along the equatorial route. The voyage - which will cover nearly 25,000 miles (more than 40,000 kilometers) at an average speed of 10 knots -- is expected to take about 120 days and set several new world records. Stops are planned in major harbors where the capabilities of renewable energies and solar power will be on display to a wider audience. For more information, visit

Anark Releases Anark Core 2.2
Anark Corp. announced the release of the Anark Core Platform 2.2. This new release supports direct export of the Autodesk DWG format. The Anark Core platform is a software platform that transforms native 3D CAD data for use throughout manufacturing, design, engineering, and support organizations. Unlike conventional CAD tools and translators, Anark Core enables users to automate the modification of 3D product structure and geometry, and export revised product data into high-precision B-rep and lightweight mesh formats. The addition of 3D DWG support enables users to quickly and easily convert and simplify their 3D CAD geometry for use in visualization products such as Autodesk Revit, Bentley MicroStation, Google SketchUp, 20-20 Technologies Cap Studio, and others. Anark Core's powerful automation capabilities, coupled with support for 3D mechanical and AEC CAD formats, enable manufacturers to exponentially reduce costs by automating the production of optimized lightweight DWG models for use in layout, space planning, configuration, and catalog applications. Additionally, Anark Core 2.2 includes numerous new features and performance enhancements, including a new feature called “Region Select” that reduces the time to create shell geometry for visualization and simulation applications as well as supply chain data exchange and collaboration. The company also added direct export support for MultiGen-Paradigm's OpenFlight format, the visual database format for simulation and visualization applications.

VISTAGY Introduces SyncroFIT
VISTAGY Inc.announced that its product line of software for developing airframe assemblies —comprised of Airframe Design Environment and Airframe Manufacturing Environment—has been changed to SyncroFIT to enhance its brand recognition in the rapidly expanding airframe assembly market. SyncroFIT, previously known as Airframe Development Environments, is a group of software products integrated into commercial 3D CAD systems for designing and manufacturing airframe assemblies and large aerostructures. SyncroFIT enables the user to easily author and capture complete digital representations of airframe assemblies and share critical design and manufacturing detail more efficiently across the enterprise and the global supply chain. The software provides a thorough representation of the airframe assembly, including individual mating parts and their relationships to joints, fasteners and holes. It also manages the interactions of composite details within assemblies and allows engineers to validate that fastener design rules have been met.

PROSTEP Partners with Siemens PLM Software
Darmstadt-headquartered PROSTEP AG, Germany’s leading specialist for product data and process integration, has signed a Partner agreement with Siemens PLM Software. As a Software and Technology partner, PROSTEP will provide integrations with PDM and CAD software tools from Siemens PLM Software. PROSTEP extends the existing capability of its OpenDXM and OpenPDM products to allow additional automation, workflow, and standards based interoperability between a variety of third-party and in house applications. This includes internal integrations within a company as well as the integration of external partners, suppliers and customers. PROSTEP AG is recognized as the leading PLM integration specialist in the area of product data integration. The company offers customers from the aerospace, automotive, shipbuilding and mechanical engineering industries – including EADS/AIRBUS, BMW, Volkswagen, Daimler – integration solutions for CAD, PDM and supplier communication, thus making e-engineering a reality.

Jeffrey Rowe is the editor of MCADCafé and MCAD Weekly Review. He can be reached at Email Contact or 408.850.9230.

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Software Review: Photoshop CS4 Extended For Engineering Imaging

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