Superior masking engine but the new features are underwhelming.
KnockOut is the third and final application in the new procreate line-up from Corel. Like Painter and KPT Effects before it, it is aimed squarely at the high-end designer and in particular the serious Photoshop user. However, where Painter's art-based capabilities and KPT's special effects both clearly extend Photoshop's functionality, KnockOut's benefits are less obvious.
To begin with just what is it? Essentially KnockOut is professional masking software used to pick out objects from existing images for use in photo-montages. This is an advanced task as the bitmap editor can't see objects, it can only see pixels, so the user has to become involved. Where the foreground and background are clearly defined by a major shift in colour, this isn't too much of a problem as you can use the Magic Wand tool or Magnetic Lasso to create the selection. Where the edge is less clearly defined however, you need all the help you can get.
Accurate masking is such an important part of creating realistic photomontages that Photoshop provides its own dedicated Extract dialog where you mark-up an object's transition border and the program then intelligently works out a pixel-by-pixel mask complete with alpha channel-based transparency. Save the masked object back to a layer and now, when you change the background, your masked object seamlessly becomes a realistic part of its new surroundings. The Extract command is already powerful so what more does KnockOut have to offer?
Like Photoshop's Extract dialog, the KnockOut filter offers a dedicated masking environment complete with its own toolset. However where Photoshop uses a brush to mark the transition area, KnockOut offers separate tools for defining the inner and outer borders complete with PushPin and Tweezer options for picking out individual sample pixels - ideal for making sure that fly-away hair is picked up or for handling semi-transparent objects such as glass.
The new Property Bar makes it easier to mark up inside and outside borders.
Otherwise KnockOut is deliberately modeled on Photoshop with similar menus and shortcuts to make the filter seem an integral part of users' normal working habits. The biggest new feature is therefore the context-sensitive Photoshop 6-style Property Bar which prompts you with appropriate tool options such as adding or subtracting from the current selection and choosing from a range of predefined zoom levels.
The Property Bar also offers new functionality. This includes a new polygonal mode that lets you define straight edges with a couple of clicks and options to automatically create an outside border based on the inside border and to automatically expand or contract the current selection. Also new are the Revert option that lets you discard unwanted changes and up to 99 levels of undo and redo.
Once you've marked up your transition border and indicated the complexity level you hit the Process command and the background to the object will disappear. Almost inevitably there will be some areas where the edge isn't perfect. In these cases you can refine your inner and outer borders and also use the Edge Feather tool to avoid over-sharp edges and the Inside Syringe tool to pick up colours from the foreground and inject them into areas where detail is being lost. You can also use the Inside Shadow and Outside Shadow tool to preserve the transparency and realism of shadows and highlights.
This certainly improves the results but automatic masking can never be an exact science and with complex objects there will almost certainly still be areas that need tidying up. KnockOut 2 now recognizes this and offers the Brush and Eraser Touchup tools which let you remove or restore edge areas. A nice feature is that, as soon as you select one of the tools, the screen splits to let you work on either the original or the new masked version. Against this though, the fact that the tools don't offer any transparency control or an undo is disappointing.
KnockOut 2's new Touchup tools let you tidy up your automatically created mask.
Overall there's no doubt that KnockOut 2 has made the initial markup process easier and also offers more fine-tuning power. Even so I'm under-whelmed by the new release. To begin with I much prefer Photoshop's system of painting to define the transition border as it's more natural than drawing and creates the inside and outside border at the same time. In addition KnockOut's new Touchup tools don't offer anything more than their Extract command equivalents and, in any case, for more subtle and more editable control you're actually better off creating and editing a layer mask.
So is there any reason why Photoshop users should pay out for KnockOut? The simple answer is yes. Comparing how Photoshop and KnockOut coped with a number of real world test images showed that while the Extract command is easier to set up and manage, the end results weren't comparable - especially for more complex tasks such as masking hair and smoke. In other words the KnockOut system might be more complex but its underlying algorithms and masking engine are definitely superior. And ultimately of course it's the end results that count.
While there's little compelling reason for existing users to upgrade - unless version 2's direct CMYK support is vital - KnockOut does serve an important role. If you want your photo-compositions to look completely natural rather than clearly artificial, KnockOut is your best bet.
ratings out of 6
System Requirements: Pentium 200 or higher, 128MB RAM, 30MB disk space, Windows 98, Me, 2000, XP or NT 4, 24-bit SVGA, CD-ROM, Adobe Photoshop 5 or higher (or compatible host)
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