A Brief History of Retouching Technology

Over the past 20 years, I have worked with many input devices, and I have to admit, Photoshop is wonderful! Although each version of Photoshop brings new bells and whistles, because I learned retouching in the early days, most of my techniques still rely on the basics.

Retouching in the Paleolithic era

The first system I worked on was a hellish Chromacom system. The Chromacom system was terribly expensive, costing in excess of a million dollars. (It's no wonder that system time for retouching typically cost in the neighborhood of $650.00 per hour!) The Chromacom system's input device was a large digitizing tablet, about 24" by 24", that used a corded "mouse" with four function buttons, and the mouse was built like a small brick. It had an extruded clear plastic shape on the end with crosshairs that allowed for digitizing accurate points on the tablet, similar to a device typical of today's CAD systems. There was no ball or infrared beam on it; instead, it used embedded coils of wire that interacted with the metal tablet. The software was proprietary and cumbersome to use, with a steep learning curve. Commands were in German. A second monitor was needed so that the operator could type in the necessary commands to make available the various brushes and tools. And worst of all, layers and undo commands were nowhere to be seen. Put succinctly, if there was retouching back in the caveman days, this would have been it!

I then migrated to a wireless pen, which I used on a Silicon Graphics Indigo 2 machine. The SGI ran two retouching programs: Barco Creator and Alias Eclipse. Again, each program had limited layering and undo options. The wireless pen was quite a step up from using the brick. It had a very natural feel to it, and it was something that an artist could relate to. Hey, it was even pressure sensitive!

Dawn comes in with the arrival of Photoshop and the mouse

I was introduced to a mouse at the same time as Photoshop for the Macintosh, and I couldn't understand how anyone could retouch with a mouse. The initial Macintosh mouse felt rather flimsy. In addition, it looked like a small shoebox, and it had only one big button on it. On the other hand, Photoshop was great: all I had to do was click on the menu items for the various tools and brushes, and it had an undo feature. (Although I had convinced myself that I'd never make a mistake, I could see that an undo command would be a nice feature for other people to have!)

Note: The Photoshop techniques in this tutorial can be employed with either type of input device: mouse or stylus.

People are often surprised when they see me working with a mouse. Well, believe it or not, I don't use a mouse pad either. Depending on the table, the surface I work on is typically fine for most mice. (I dislike the height of the mouse pad and the fact that I "must" keep my mouse to a confining spot on the desk.) So, which input device should you use? Well, I can't say I recommend the Chromacom anymore. However, I do admit that I now rely on a corded mouse for all of my retouching. I have heard people swear by stylus pens, but for me, the mouse works just fine. I guess the point is, you'll get used to whatever you're presented with.