A seriously useful collection of bitmap
effects - but still harder work than it should be.
The early releases of Kai's Power Tools helped establish and define the whole field of Photoshop-compatible plug-ins. Built on some formidable processing power they were certainly impressive but their usefulness was more questionable - how often do you want to cover your image in photo-realistic metal balls? Thankfully KPT 6 took a more practical approach and this latest set of nine filters, released for the first time under Corel's new procreate brand, offers the most usable power yet.
The first filter on offer is KPT Channel Surfing which lets you apply blur, sharpen, contrast and value effects to the different channels of your image. Some of this would just about be possible using Photoshop's Channels palette to manipulate the normal Red, Green and Blue colour channels, but KPT takes things further with its ability to work with the Hue, Saturation and Lightness channels as well. After some exploration you'll see just what can be achieved by, for example, increasing luminance sharpness or blurring a channel and then applying a difference blend. Some of the special effects are spectacular but more importantly you can also make existing images look better.
The next filter builds on the experience the KPT developers gained creating KPT Goo which lets you distort an image as if it was a liquid. Photoshop now offers its own version of Goo with its Liquify command, but KPT Fluid offers a new take on the same theme with the ability to simulate dragging a brush across a wet surface. The effect happens in real time within the dialog and you can stop it at any time to save the current image or you can save a sequence as an AVI movie.
Another effect built on an understanding of fluid dynamics is KPT Ink Dropper which lets you create the effect of dropping coloured ink on water and watching it swirl and interact. The resulting marbled textures can be quite beautiful and you can retrospectively change the intensity, transparency and colour of the effect. Sadly though this means that you can only use one colour at a time - and the end results are disappointingly pixilated.
Another area of expertise for the KPT developers is fractals. In the past KPT's fractal-based filters tended to highlight the mathematical nature of the resulting patterns which meant that they were interesting but not very useful. With KPT FraxFlame II, however, the aesthetics definitely come first leading to some stunningly beautiful and very subtle textures that look like pictures of distant galaxies or sub-atomic collisions. The rendering process is lengthy but, with no pixilation, the results are worth it.
KPT's underlying maths-based engine can produce eye-catching fractal effects.
Of course there's one fractal flame effect which is much less ethereal and much more striking - lightning. Using the dedicated KPT Lightning filter you can add a totally realistic lightning bolt by setting its overall path and colour along with its spread, "wanderness", "forkiness", "zagginess" and so on and then use one of several different blend modes to merge it seamlessly with the original.
Many of the KPT filters are used for generating textures, but still the most common option for adding an advanced fill to a selection is to apply a gradient. Most photo editors now offer their own gradient editors for setting up multi-colour linear and radial effects so I wasn't sure what KPT Gradient Lab could offer. In fact it takes gradient fills to a completely new level with no fewer than 12 different gradient styles that can be combined as multiple layers using a mix of 17 different blend modes!
As well as its textures KPT7 offers advanced gradient fill control.
Another filter that gave rise to early suspicion but which eventually won me over is KPT Hyper Tiling, which lets you use a source image as a tile that is then repeated in 3D space. I was worried that this would be a recipe for bad trip-style psychedelic effects and little else but, simply by interactively rotating the starting tile, you can produce some surprisingly attractive end results.
KPT can certainly create beautiful and artistic images but one area of image processing that it has previously tended to avoid is directly producing art-based effects. Now with KPT Pyramid Paint you can automatically convert any photo into a painted work of art. The system works by converting the image to Lab mode and then breaking it down into colour areas that can be colour and contrast adjusted. There's no interactive control and little variation on the main brush effect but the results do look painted - and very attractive.
The final filter, KPT Scatter, lets you disperse "particles" over a source image. It might not sound like much but in fact it's the most powerful filter in the collection. It works by letting you load up to 25 particle images that are applied to the source image either randomly, regularly or based on factors such as underlying luminance and which can then be controlled in terms of size, density, colour, variation and so on. Play with the filter for a while and you begin to realize just what can be achieved from adding falling snow and rain through to creating mosaic and paint stroke effects. The only pity is that these effects, and the necessary particles to help you create them, aren't provided as presets.
The Scatter filter can produce a number of creative effects.
This is typical of KPT effects as a whole. For each filter the power of the underlying engine is extraordinary and the end results can be striking, but the lack of easy accessibility means that few users will reach its full potential. As it is, KPT effects offers serious creative power but only to the seriously dedicated user.
ratings out of 6
System Requirements: Pentium II or higher, 64MB RAM, 25MB disk space, Windows 98, ME, 2000 or NT 4 (SP6), SVGA, CD-ROM, Adobe Photoshop 4 or higher (or compatible host)
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