Today makes 25 years with Adobe Photoshop…. quite a feat if you think about all the ways the tool has affected the media landscape. From photographers and designers to architects and doctors, Photoshop has become synonymous with digital imaging.

Photoshop Icons Through the Years

I’ve been a Photoshop user since 1991… it’s amazing how much has changed in that time. Let’s take a look back at its history and some cool moments dug up from the archives.

In the Beginning

Photoshop began its life in 1987. Thomas Knoll developed a pixel imaging program called Display. This application was a simple application and could show grayscale images on a black-and-white monitor. If you’re too young to remember, color monitors didn’t really exist in widespread use at that time.

For a great interview with Thomas click here some excerpts below.

“When I was in graduate school I was focusing on something called computer vision, which is the process of teaching computers how to understand images. A computer can be programmed to look at an image and conclude, Oh, thats a lamp up there, but the first step in many computer vision algorithms is tracing edges through image processing,” said Thomas Knoll. “As part of my PhD research, I had a good time writing a number of utilities programs that could do image processing on my Macintosh, which could only display black and white images by producing little dither patterns to simulate gray levels on the screen.”

Photo by Doug Menuez/Stanford University Libraries
Photo by Doug Menuez/Stanford University Libraries

Thomas began collaborating with his brother, John Knoll, the two began adding features that made it possible to process digital image files.

“My brother, John, had a job at Industrial Light and Magic doing analog image composition, but ILM had also begun doing some preliminary experiments in digital processing,” said Thomas Knoll. “They had a scanner that could scan in frames from a movie, digitally process them, and then write the images out to film again.”

John Knoll, Co-Creator of PhotoshopThomas Knoll, Adobe Fellow and Creator of Photoshop

“My brother saw that and had a revelation. He said, If we convert the movie footage into numbers, and we can convert the numbers back into movie footage, then once its in the numerical form we could do anything to it. Wed have complete power. With digital, you can change every pixel into anything you want, and you can perform any operation with the film footage that you can imagine. Then he said, This is the future of special effects in movies, and decided to teach himself computer graphics in his spare time.”

With its origins in special effects and Hollywood, Photoshop began its life as a tool for designers and print professionals. Digital photography was a later innovation as digital cameras, printers, and storage began to catch up.

Photo by Doug Menuez/Stanford University Libraries
Photo by Doug Menuez/Stanford University Libraries

“The only real way to get a photographic-quality output from Photoshop back then was to create four-color separations on film and take them to a printing press, where the first copy of your photograph might cost you $2,000, and it would cost the same to print a second photograph, since printing presses will just keep on generating the same photograph until you change the plates. If you want to print a roll of 35 millimeter film, youre talking $35,000, $40,000 dollars,” said Knoll.

The program eventually caught the attention of industry influencers, and in 1989, Adobe made the decision to license the software, naming it Photoshop and shipping the first version in 1990.

Photo by Doug Menuez/Stanford University Libraries
Photo by Doug Menuez/Stanford University Libraries

Adobe thought wed sell about 500 copies of Photoshop a month, said Thomas Knoll, Adobe Fellow and Photoshop co-creator. Not in my wildest dreams did we think creatives would embrace the product in the numbers and ways they have. Its inspiring to see the beautiful images our customers create, the careers Photoshop has launched and the new uses people all over the world find for Photoshop every day.

Jennifer in Paradise - Jennifer Walters (now Jennifer Knoll) in Bora Bora, August 1988 - PLEASE CREDIT JOHN KNOLL

The First Tutorial

Let’s hear from the co-creator John Knoll as he give the first recorded demonstration of Photoshop.

Photoshop Toolbars Through the Years_Version B

A Key Piece of Adobe’s Success

Photoshop has become a key piece of Adobe’s success. It’s the one tool that photographers, video professionals, and designers have in common. It’s also become so popular and influential, that its known by everyday folk and not just photographers and creative professionals.

Celebrate The Now

The company is also launching an advertising campaign, Dream On, for The Academy Awards as a tribute to 25 years of amazing art created in Photoshop. The TV commercial includes incredible work from Photoshop artists and iconic images from major motion pictures that used Photoshop in the making, including Avatar, Gone Girl, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Shrek. The spot can be seen here.

The Future

Adobe posted this look at things to come. There is no sound to the video and no dialog to describe what you’re seeing. In some ways it all looks like special effects… but after all Photoshop began as an application for visual FX. Enjoy this look into the future.

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