Photoshop History: From Photoshop 1.0 to Photoshop CC

Photoshop History: From Photoshop 1.0 to Photoshop CC

Photoshop history can be traced back to 1987, which was the year when Knoll brothers decided to develop a program for viewing grayscale pictures on a monochrome screen that soon became the industry standard.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of Photoshop that was celebrated on February 19th, 2023, I’m going to tell you about how Photoshop, the most popular software for editing graphics, was created.

Brief Photoshop History

photoshop splash screen

It was the year of 1987 when a Michigan Ph.D. student, Thomas Knoll realized that Mac+ (which was the 3rd Mac computer ever released) only had a basic 1-bit black-and-white screen that wasn’t capable of showing grayscale images. He attempted to develop a program to solve that issue, thus setting the foundation for the history of Photoshop.

Thomas also had a brother named John, who was involved in the making of the first Star Wars movie and specialized in VFX. He endorsed his brother’s initiative and proposed to develop it into a full-fledged program for image editing. This means that the answer to “When was Photoshop invented?” is – 1988, however, its original name was Display (soon changed to Image-Pro).

The created program could print rack cards. It entered the market in 1988 and was already packed with a handful of image display functions. The same year the program was rebranded into Photoshop.

The history of Adobe Photoshop began in September 1988, when Adobe and the Knolls agreed to a business deal. The former gained exclusive rights while the developers continued to improve the program, leading to the eventual release of the premiere Photoshop version in 1990.

1987. Photoshop: Beginning

photoshop knoll brothers

The history of Photoshop begins in 1987, in the city of Ann Arbor (state of Michigan), a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, Thomas Knoll wrote a couple of lines of code for displaying information on screens while he was working on his dissertation.

That code allowed showing grayscale images on black-and-white monitors. While that side project wasn’t directly related to his dissertation, it caught Thomas’ attention the most.

At the same time, his older brother John was already working in California for the Industry Light and Magic Company, which specialized in creating visual effects for the Lucasfilm studio. Working on VFX always caused a lot of technical difficulties, part of which was supposed to be solved by Pixar Image computers that cost $135,000.

John received a demo version of the Pixar graphics editor and was highly impressed by it. Pixar allowed users to resize the image, rotate and blur it, perform color correction, and combine two images. It seemed like a miracle back then. John became even more impressed when he saw something similar on his brother’s Mac Plus PC (that cost $2599). The Photoshop inventor named his creation Display.

1987-1988. In-Depth “Display” Development

photoshop display version interface

Having a knack for entrepreneurship, John realized that such an opportunity cannot be missed. It was thanks to his older brother’s business skills that these lines of code become known to the world. John immediately bought the newly released Macintosh II with a color screen. After a minor rework, Display, which previously only worked with black-and-white images, started supporting color screens, gamma correction, and image saving.

Later, Thomas made Display support different file formats and developed a zone selection algorithm. At the same time, the program gains color correction functionality and drawing tools. John also wasn’t wasting time and worked on the concept of connectable modules (plug-ins), becoming the founder of that idea.

Despite all of that, Thomas didn’t share his brother’s optimism and continued to treat his program as a hobby, not dedicating enough time to it. Meanwhile, John was completely captured by that project. He had to convince his brother to continue improving the editor since he became the first user of the program.

By focusing on the problem of changing colors only on the selected part of an image, Tom develops an algorithm for soft-edge area selection and color correction features that continue to exist to this day (Levels, Color Balance, Hue, and Saturation), as well as Photoshop tools for drawing. Since that point in 1988 Display no longer was a simple program for viewing images, they renamed it to ImagePro.

1988. ImagePro Promotion

photoshop 0.87 old version

John knew perfectly well that this program, along with the functionality embedded in it, will be useful for everyone dealing with image processing, meaning, it could become a source of income. He became even more confident after seeing an advertisement for the PhotoMac image editor, which was doing basically the same things as Display.

At that point, most publishing houses were beginning to use personal computers for work, which significantly simplified the process of creating layouts and image editing. All they needed was a good, convenient graphics editor.

During the demonstration of PhotoMac’s capabilities, John was surprised at how unfinished and limited it was compared to ImagePro. One of their potential investors had an idea of rebranding the program one more time. From that point on, Display and ImagePro ceased to exist as Photoshop was revealed to the world.

During a long search for someone ready to sponsor them, brothers contacted a company that manufactured scanners – Barneyscan. The Barneyscan Company didn’t buy the program but gained rights to share Photoshop with their scanners. They managed to sell 200 such scanners, which was quite good at that time.

1988-1989. The Start of Cooperation with Adobe

adobe photoshop history

After a certain period of wandering from one company to another, brothers ended up at Adobe. After presenting their program, they didn’t receive any partnership offers until Photoshop wasn’t seen by Adobe’s art director – Russel Brown.

He insisted on immediately purchasing Photoshop. After briefly negotiating the financial and copyright aspects of the deal in September 1988, Knoll brothers signed an agreement that gave Adobe the license to distribute Photoshop as long as they remained the owners of the program and Adobe acted solely as the distributor, paying out royalties to the developers, thus beginning the history of Adobe Photoshop.

Tom and John Knoll began to work on the program with even more dedication, preparing it for the first official release as a separate product. Thomas continued to update the program itself, fix bugs, and improve its appearance. Meanwhile, John started developing plug-ins that were aimed at more convenient product customization, improving its performance, and adding special features of Photoshop.

Adobe employees noticed that fact and even suspected that brothers might try to deceive Adobe. At one point the company was even divided into the supporters of the plugin idea and outspoken haters. However, as the history shows, Photoshop plug-ins became one of the defining features of Photoshop.

1990. The Release of Adobe Photoshop 1.0

adobe photoshop first version

February 19, 1990, marked the release of the first official version of Photoshop 1.0. In history Photoshop, this date is considered to be the program’s birthday. Adobe Photoshop 1.0 was released on Macintosh and immediately became popular and successful.

This wasn’t surprising as Photoshop’s closest competitor, Letraset’s Color Studio, only had half of its features, but cost twice as much as the Adobe product, a whopping $1995.

Creating a good program isn’t enough, it also has to be properly marketed and advertised. Adobe’s art director showcased the program’s functionality at numerous exhibitions and managed to present Photoshop as a graphics editor for everyone who has a Mac computer. The competitors that promoted ColorStudio did the opposite and positioned their editor as a product for professionals, which severely limited its audience.

When the MacWorld magazine decided to do a comparative test of both products performing real tasks to finally answer which option was the superior one, Fractal Design higher-ups didn’t come up with anything better than sending a regular programmer, who never held a brush in his hands.

Meanwhile, Adobe sent John Knoll who also happened to have decent artistic skills. The result was obvious. Naturally, the readers that had no way of knowing that the test wasn’t completely fair, formed a better opinion about Photoshop.

1990-1992. Team Recruitment and Windows Release

adobe photoshop 2 version

Soon it became obvious that Tom couldn’t continue to support and improve the program alone. From a variety of candidates, they have chosen Mark Hamburg, who previously worked with Bezier curves.

Since Adobe Illustrator, which was also experiencing a period of rapid development, needed a file rasterizer, Mark was a perfect candidate for the job. And once Steven Guttman joined the team and became the Photoshop’s head development manager, they started the tradition of giving all beta versions of the editor a name.

Photoshop’s development for the actively growing OS by Microsoft seemed like a logical next step. Of course, Windows also received this graphics editor, but only in 1992, with the 2.0 version.

However, despite the developers’ best efforts, the Windows version was inferior to Macintosh both feature and performance-wise, since it had to be created from scratch. To mitigate that injustice, the team invited Seetharaman Narayanan. Due to his huge contribution to the improvement of the program, he is now listed third in the list of developers.

1994. Developing the Recognizable Interface of Adobe Programs

adobe photoshop designer andrei herasimchuk

At that time, the company was developing a rather large number of products and each one had its own interface that had little in common with the rest. Even the names of commands that performed the same action were different.

All of that created inconveniences for users, which is why Adobe’s management decides to rework the design of the programs so that the entire product line has the same, easily-recognizable interface with elements designed in the same style. They wooed over Andrei Herasimchuk from Specular Collage to complete that task.

Andrei performed an entire series of psychological experiments and introduced significant adjustments to the “behavior” of most tools.

He initiated a complete rework of the tool panel and some commands got new hotkey combinations. The initial reaction of the graphic designer community was pure shock. However, despite the large scope of changes, users adapted to them rather quickly since the innovations accounted for the nature of human psychology and adhere to our internal logic.

1995-1997. Buying Out All the Competitors and Purchasing Full Rights for Photoshop

At that point in Photoshop history, Adobe had already bought-out their main competitor – Aldus and added their effects for artistic image editing to Photoshop including Artistic (imitates various artistic techniques), Brush Strokes, and Sketch.

Later, Adobe bought out PhotoStyler, x-Res, Picture Publisher and Live Picture, and became the undisputed leader on the raster graphics editor market. A serious portion of book publishing became occupied by Photoshop-oriented literature. There were more and more courses that taught people how to use the program, and video lessons sold on tapes started to appear left and right.

Adobe’s monopoly allowed their management to purchase the remaining program rights from Knoll brothers and finish building a new 12 story office building (which is still called “This is the house that Photoshop built.”)

2023. Photoshop: Our Days

photoshop cc history

Nowadays, the program is called Photoshop CC and it reached its maximum level of development a couple of years ago. Each new update only adds small conveniences and advanced features of Photoshop aimed at improving the AI. Photoshop itself doesn’t have any equal competitors in the photo retouching, drawing, and web-design markets.

John’s determination and adept business sense and Tom’s programming talent helped the brothers, who invented Photoshop give life to the most popular graphics editor in existence. Obviously, Photoshop wouldn’t be where it is today without the coordinated efforts of all Adobe departments and the management’s talent.

The professionalism of Adobe’s management was crucial for making Photoshop their key product and the main source of income for the company. Its financial turnover exceeds 1.2 billion dollars as Adobe became a true graphics empire that dictates the rules to other players on the market.


If reading Photoshop history inspired you to use it or if you have already been doing image editing in Photoshop for a long time, you’ll find these free actions, overlays, and brushes to be super useful.

Package for Portraits

freebies package for portrait

A useful set of actions for users, who mainly edit portraits. The package includes quick filters for teeth-whitening, eye cleaning, skin and hair retouching, etc.

Package for Bokeh

freebies cloud brushes package

Creating a beautiful bokeh can be quite difficult as it requires a great lens and a specific background. If you didn’t manage to do it during the shoot, then you can add a bokeh effect with the help of overlays from this package.

Package for Cloud

freebies bokeh overlays package

A beautiful sky in a street photo is 50% of a beautiful background. If you were “lucky” enough to capture clear skies without a single cloud, then the brushes from this package will surely come in handy.

Ann Young

Hi there, I'm Ann Young - a professional blogger, read more