What’s New in Digital Imaging Software?

What’s New in Digital Imaging Software?

Stanley Ashbrook

One of the truths in computers in general and digital photography in particular is that there will be change and new products that will extend our ability and creativity and this article addresses some of these new products and important upgrades.

* Photoshop 6

The latest upgrade of this premier imaging application is considered by many to be the most powerful and easiest version of Adobe[R] Photoshop[R] ever. They have not only added a boatload of new features, but they also added an enhanced interface that brings more of Photoshop’s real power to the surface.

The context sensitive Option bar replaces the tool Options palette and the old Brushes palette. The “Palette Well” lets you dock palettes that you often use.

There is an improved Type Tool that makes it possible to type directly onto the image and as the text is crisp vector-based and mathematically created, it’s smooth and can be warped, twisted and otherwise transformed, yet still fully editable. You can enter the type at a fixed point or draw a type box that will give paragraph controls similar to word processing or layout applications, allowing full typographical control over font face and type effects. With the “Warp Tool” you can warp your text into 15 different editable shapes, which you can fully edit, adjust and distort.

Photoshop 6 now has vector shapes, which allow you to create and output crisp vector shapes right in Photoshop.

The Layer Effects are now called Layer Styles and Photoshop 6.0 comes with some built-in Styles in a new Layer Style palette. This palette makes applying layer effects quick and easy. They have added an Adjustment Layer Icon and a Layer Style Icon at the bottom of the layer palette so you can apply an Adjustment Layer or a Layer Style by clicking on these icons instead of using a menu command; new effects have been added.

These are just a few of the many new features of this powerful image-editing program. For more information visit the Adobe website at http://www.adobe.com. List price is $599 and the upgrade from a previous version is $199, but if you scour the Web you can probably find cheaper prices.

* Photoshop Elements

For those of you who don’t wish to jump into digital photography by spending the price for Photoshop, Adobe has introduced Photoshop Elements, based in large part on Photoshop 6.0, to replace Photoshop LE, (for “Limited. Edition”) that is bundled with select desktop scanners and digital cameras as a stand-alone product. It is meant to address the mid-range market. Elements provides almost-Photoshop image editing at a price of $99, although if you look around the web you can find it cheaper.

Many of Photoshop’s features have found their way into Elements. It includes the full complement of Photoshop filters, ranging from artistic effects to image enhancement filters to a filter that lets you move pixels around like wet paint. In addition to standard image-editing functions such as selection tools and multiple layers, Elements boasts advanced features including adjustable layers and editable layer effects.

The History palette, (which allows users to roll back to a previous state of the current editing session) introduced in Photoshop 5, is included and all Photoshop plug-ins pertaining to RGB files work just fine with Elements.

In Elements the underlying image-editing engine is pure Photoshop, and Elements shares many interface elements with Photoshop. For example, Elements sports the same tabbed and dockable palettes together with the context-sensitive option bar. As in 6.0 you can even regain workspace by collapsing unused palettes in the palette well at the top of the screen.

The Elements’ interface makes its program’s functions more accessible to the casual user. For example, instead of requiring the beginner to understand how the Levels command can correct under- and overexposures, Elements provides two functions, called Fill Flash and Backlighting (which a PSA’er understands), that accomplish the same thing with much less hassle. Those users who understand the concepts of shadow, mid-tone, and highlight tonal values can still drill down in the menu structure to find the standard full-featured Levels dialog box.

Many of the new interface features come in the form of helpful hints. (See Figure 1). Likewise, there are visual browsers that let users choose image files and filter effects based on thumbnail representations.

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For the beginner there are recipes (see Figure 2) that provide step-by-step instructions for common tasks, such as adjusting hue and saturation or removing dust and scratches. Adobe has repackaged some Actions from the full version and calls them Effects. Effects provide an easy way to perform complex tasks, such as creating photoframes or generating realistic textures.

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Elements is not merely a subset of Photoshop. In several instances, Adobe has added features to make common image-editing tasks easier for the average user. For example, there is now a specific brush to remove red eye, as well as a one-click command to crop and straighten skewed scans.

I found the PhotoMerge feature especially intriguing. This function opens all of the image files in a designated folder and stitches them together to form a panorama, by intelligently matching overlapping image areas.

What’s missing? For one, the ability to work in CMYK for outputting to the 4-color print process, the Pen tool for advanced vector selections, and the ability to save a selection in an alpha channel. Quick Mask mode and Layer Masks are also not included.

In all honesty, you can probably buy an image-editing program with power at or near the same price, such as Paint Shop Pro or Picture Publisher, but the real advantage for the newcomer that starts with Photoshop Elements is the ability to learn image editing by learning the Photoshop interface and to upgrade to the full version when you feel the need for more power. Then it won’t be necessary to learn a new program or lose the investment in your beginning program. By starting with Elements, you can take advantage of the popularity of Photoshop’s vast array of 3rd party books, tutorials, seminars, videotapes, etc. that help you learn the program.

* Picture Publisher[R] 9

Micrografx has introduced a new upgrade for their Picture Publisher — a full-featured, image-editing application. Version 9 adds automated wizards, tutorials, and tool presets.

There are several new features in Version 9. One is Channel Mixer that allows you to modify a color channel using a mix of the current color channels. Besides creating interesting effects, this command lets you create high quality gray scale images, and enhance the quality of color images.

MultiProbe displays color information for up to eight locations in an image so you can make color and tonal corrections. As in Photoshop, there is now a Measure Tool to calculate the distance/angle between any two or three points in an image. An Info Window displays information that helps you perform precise operations, such as aligning pixels and measuring sizes of areas within an image.

You can enhance the colors in your original image, compensate for colorcasts, make color corrections such as brightness, contrast, color balance, hue, saturation and tonal details by using the new Modify Color Maps.

You can undo the last step or multiple steps, only limited by memory and disk space. Take a snapshot of the image, and use the SnapShot for painting later. This is useful for painting special effects.

There is now a Path Tool so you can create a mask using a besier tool.

Learn more about Picture Publisher 9 by visiting their Website at http://www.micrografx.com.

* Plug Ins

In addition to programs for image editing there are a number of programs that either work in conjunction with or within the editing program to either create special effects or provide a function not performed well in the editing program. One of these is — Genuine Fractals[TM]

There is axiom in digital image editing that you don’t resample an image to make it larger. The reason for this is when you ask the program to enlarge an image, it must add pixels. Quality is lost because the programs only do a fair job of picking the right pixels to add. Along came Genuine Fractals, a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop and compatible image-editing programs that enables photographers to produce high-quality digital photo enlargements and repurpose artwork at various sizes and resolutions from the same low- to medium-resolution originals. Resolution on demand lets you output any file size from a single encoded file. Genuine Fractals comes in three versions:

Genuine Fractals PrintPro is for photographers, graphic artists, and printing pros working in CMYK and other color spaces. If you want to output your work for four-color printing, this is for you.

Most of us who output our work to film recorders for slides and inkjet printers, working in RGB, would want Genuine Fractals 2.0. The output from my slide scanner, about 31 MB, will produce a good 11″ X 14″; but by saving in Genuine Fractals, the file can be opened and enlarged to over 50 MB which makes a sharp 16″ X 20″.

If your input and output requirements are more modest, there is Genuine Fractals 2.0 LE for $49. It has 10MB input file maximum with a maximum output size of 64MB.

At the time of writing this article the Genuine Fractals product line was being sold by their creator Altamira, to LisardTech. If you want more information, go to this website: http:// 204.29.20.136/product.asp.

* Eye Candy 4000

Eye Candy by Alien Skin Software has long been a popular set of special-effect filters for Photoshop and other applications that accept plug-in compatible filters. Eye Candy 4000, the latest upgrade, offers 23 special effects filters.

There are five brand-new filters: Marble, Wood, Drip, Melt, and Corona. Eye Candy 4000 combines practical filters you’ll use everyday like Bevel Boss, Shadowlab and Gradient Glow with stunning effects Like Chrome, Smoke and Fire. Powerful new features and sliders, including bevel and gradient editors and seamless tiling, make Eye Candy 4000 easier to use than ever. You can even trade your favorite settings with others.

More information on EyeCandy can be found at the Alien Skin Software website at http://www.alienskin.com.

* KPT[R] 6

One of my all-time favorite set of filters has been Kai Power Tools. It is now owned by Corel and KPT[R] 6 is the latest version. It is a collection of image filters that includes 10 plug-ins that extend and enhance the creative possibilities of Adobe Photoshop and compatible products.

Included are Goo, Equalizer, Projector, Gel, LensFlare, Turbulence, Materializer, Reaction, SceneBuilder and SkyEffects.

I have used them all, but the effects that I find most useful are Equalizer for sharpening, Sky Effects to pep up bland skies, and Projector to straighten the vertical lines in a photograph due to wide-angle lenses.

Equalizer includes three types of filters: Equalizer lets users control the amount of contrast for nine different pixel frequencies, Bounded Sharpen lets users transform blurry images, and Contrast Sharpen lets users modify the contrast of an image.

With the Sky Effects plug-in you add realistic (or unrealistic) skyscapes to images. You can control the sun, moon, cloud cover, haze, fog, and rainbows that appear in a skyscape. Sky Effects has several cloud layers that you can manipulate to give the illusion of depth to the sky. You can also control the color, density, and “lumpiness” of clouds; the color, position, and haze of the sun; the color, position, and glow of the moon; the intensity and position of a rainbow; and more.

The Projector plug-in lets you apply two-dimensional or three-dimensional perspective transformations to an image. For example, you can take a flat, two-dimensional image and make it look like it is tilted away from the viewer in three-dimensional space. You can also tile images with perspective, giving the illusion that the image tiles to infinity.

I find it very good for straightening the vertical lines in a photograph due to wide-angle lenses.

More information on KPT can be found at the Corel website at http:// www.corel.com.

* Studio Artist 1.5

Since I started inputting my images into the computer I have been interested in making them resemble natural media art, such as watercolor or oil. One of the newer products that enable one to accomplish this is Studio Artist, called the world’s first graphics synthesizer. It offers “intelligence-assisted” painting, drawing, video, and image processing. Studio Artist is resolution independent! Studio Artist can take a low resolution image and re-render it at a higher resolution with its unique hybrid model of raster paint with editable vector paths. Studio Artist ships with over 1000 fully editable graphic tools. Unfortunately for us that use the PC, it is only available for the Mac although they say the PC version is in engineering.

* Deep Paint

For those of us using the PC there is Deep Paint, a complete set of painting, drawing and image-manipulation tools that gives you creative power. The company that developed Deep Paint says if you know Photoshop, you already know Deep Paint and as far as I know it is the only realistic paint system of its kind that functions as a plug-in to Adobe Photoshop.

Deep Paint simulates the true three-dimensional texture of oil paints, watercolors, chalks, acrylics and other artistic media. Deep Paint gives you complete control over the reflectivity (“shininess”) and thickness of the paint, and you can light your canvas at any intensity and from any angle. There is a splendid array of brushes and paints, oils, watercolors, pastels, charcoals, pencils, felt pens, acrylics, crayons. The list goes on and on. The airbrush tool behaves exactly the way a real airbrush does, with a true variable elliptical spray pattern based on the stylus’ pressure, angle and direction.

For more information visit their website at http://www.deeppaint.com.

* KnockOut

Finally for those more experienced computer imagers that want a more powerful masking tool, there is Corel’s KnockOut 1.5 (produced by Ultimatte). With it you can perform complex masking in a fraction of the time. Built for both Windows[R] and Mac[R], this extraordinary application lets you preserve fine image details, such as blurred or out-of-focus edges, hair, smoke and shadows.

If you’ve ever composited two images in an application such as Adobe Photoshop, you know how time-consuming and tedious selecting an area from one image for compositing with another can be. With KnockOut you define a mask by painting two paths — one inside the object to be masked, the other outside. KnockOut analyzes the area between these paths to build a mask that eliminates your selection’s background. The Loupe Zoom tool makes drawing a precise path easier by magnifying the image as you make your selection.

Like any good tool, KnockOut takes time to learn, but no application does a better job of creating masks that involve complex objects such as smoke, hair, and transparent surfaces. If you do a lot of compositing work, KnockOut is a must.

More information on KnockOut can be found at the Corel website at http://www.corel.com.

Stanley Ashbrook, FPSA, Largo, FL

COPYRIGHT 2001 Photographic Society of America, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group