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Software Review of:
PhotoPlus 9

 

Software Box

Susan Ives is a past president of Alamo PC.

From the June, 2004 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Serif is a British Company, founded in 1987 to provide an affordable alternative to the expensive, professional desktop publishing programs that were emerging at the time.

That’s about the time I started with desktop publishing and, if I remember correctly, a copy of Ventura Publisher cost close to $1,000. Serif sold their program for £100. A few years later, one reviewer noted that PagePlus had 80 percent of the features of Adobe Pagemaker at 20 percent of the price.

They have carried on this tradition with PhotoPlus.

PhotoPlus 9 is Serif’s photo editing software, similar to Adobe Photoshop Elements, MGI Photo Suite and JASC PaintShop Pro. It is a head-on competitor to those programs, although I’d place it about halfway between Photoshop Elements and Adobe’s full-blown professional program, Photoshop.

My main photo editing is Photoshop 6, so I will inevitably be comparing this program to that one. Keep in mind, however, that while the MSRP for Photoshop is $649, PhotoPlus goes for $99.

The absolutely best thing about PhotoPlus is its documentation. The manual is excellent: informally written, well organized and reassuring for the beginner. Even better, there are 36 tutorials that walk you through all of the program’s features. You can take them in order – a little university – or jump right into the ones you need to brush up on.

I ran through the tutorial on colorizing old photos and found it easy to follow and immensely useful. I scanned through some of the other tutorials and they all seem to be of the same high standard. Some of the more interesting tutorials teach you how to combine two photos, how to animate images and how to add frames.

You can see some of them online if you go to the Serif Web site , and look under community/tutorials.

Because of the high quality of the help system, I would especially recommend this program to people who are new to photo manipulation – if all you’ve been doing is redeye reduction, rotating and cropping, this will be an eye-opener for you.

Figure 1

Figure 1 is a screen capture, with just most of the tools opened. In this screenshot, I am using one of the filter sets (called “instant artist”) to convert a clipart photo of a tiger into a line drawing. All graphics programs are busy – there’s a lot going on – but this is a fairly clean, intuitive interface.

PhotoPlus will do all of the usual things you expect from a photo enhancement program: crop, rotate, adjust colors, eliminate redeye, etc. It has powerful masking and layering tools. Its color management is excellent – it handles CYMK, which I don’t believe Photoshop Elements can do.

Here are some of the special features that caught my eye:

Picture Brushes: Picture brushes allow you to paint tiny pictures with your cursor – sort of like sprinkling confetti over part of an image. You can import PaintShop Pro .TUB files, create your own or use the hundreds that come with this program.

Instant Effects Gallery: The programs 3D technology and layer effects are pre-packaged, with no learning curve. Choose a surface texture, pattern, glow, or bevel then customize as you wish. You can also add these effects manually.

Instant Artist Painting Effects: Customizable, automatic effects that turn your photos into works of art. Choose any style (Expressionist, Impressionist, Pointillist) or medium (Oil, Pencil, Paint and Ink, Watercolor.)

Mesh Warp: It’s easy to enlarge, shrink, rotate or skew any part of an image within the Mesh Warp function itself

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Export Optimizer: Get the best balance between file size and quality for all your images with a WISYWYG interface. This is especially useful for Web images.

Image Browser: The built-in Image Browser rapidly displays image thumbnails- a folder at a time-so you can preview clip art or saved work and inspect file details in a convenient, Explorer-style interface.

Web Animation Tools: You can import and export animated GIFs, apply special effects, even let PhotoPlus create entire animations for you automatically.

Editable Text: Add formatted color text to an image, reposition and scale it, integrate it with your design. Text layers keep the contents separate so you can go back and alter the words or formatting at any time. However, the text is typed on an input screen rather than right on the image; I found this akward.

Special Erase Options: If you need to isolate a shape from a flat color background, the Background Eraser samples pixels under the brush, so only unwanted colors drop out. There is also a great magnetic selector, that finds edges and makes it easy to make a “knockout” of an image.

Special Effects: Add Shadow, Bevel, Emboss layer effects for a sophisticated 3D look on text or other image elements. PhotoPlus supports third-party Photoshop plug-ins.

Editable Adjustment Layers: Not only apply color corrections and special effects, but store each change on a separate layer. To fine-tune any adjustment later, just click its layer and change the settings! Unlimited undo.

Deform and Warp Tools: Rotate, resize, skew, reshape, or add perspective to any selection or layer. Warp tools pull, stretch, and distort image details, or shrink and enlarge.

Image Slicing and Image Maps: Webmasters will appreciate the ability to simply click to divide images into segments—each with its own hyperlink and popup text—or add hotspots to specific regions. PhotoPlus outputs the HTML code and lets you preview the results directly in your Web browser.

Export to PDF: This is a good way of taking graphics to a printer without losing any of the features.

Import/Export: PhotoPlus can work with both PaintShop Pro and PhotoShop native formats, preserving the layers. You can scan or import camera images directly into the program. PhotoPlus can also save files in the new JPEF2000 format.

There is a resource disk (which I haven’t been able to make work yet) and a supplementary program, Hemera Photo Objects, which seems to be a trial subscription to a royalty-free image service.

Serif offers some of its older software versions for free, at Free Serif Software. The version of PhotoPlus is 5.5 and the program has been significantly enhanced since then, but if you like to test before you buy this will give you a taste of the interface.

I haven’t been able to find this locally (CompUSA is still selling version 8, and for download only, not for in-store pickup) but you can order it from their Web site, Serif.Com. If you prefer to order over the phone, Call (800) 557-3743 and quote code  "Web-Store-Serif.” The cost is $99.99.

In all, I found this to be an excellent program at a remarkable price. It is a great combination between automated effects and the potential for total control. I recommend it.


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