AutoF/X Studio Pro 2

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A bargain bundle of plug-ins focused on edging and texturing your images – though it could be more focused still.

AutoF/X, the developer of Studio Pro 2, is one of the longest established and most respected developers of third-party Photoshop plug-ins. Even so I hadn’t previously tried any of their programs largely because I wasn’t sure which of their similar-sounding products – Photo/Graphic Frames, Page/Edges Typo/Graphic Edges, PhotoGraphic Patterns and Ultimate Texture - would suit me best and I didn’t want to make an expensive mistake. Now both concerns have been answered with AutoF/X bundling all these plug-ins and more, for little more than the previous price of one.

By their nature bundled collections tend to be disparate, with each module having little to do with the others, but Studio Pro is centred on just three main areas: edging, textures and the web. The first module, Photo/Graphic Frames, is concerned with edging your image and is the simplest of the lot. In fact it’s not really a plug-in at all, but rather a collection of 250 high-resolution photo-realistic images borders that you cut and paste over your image using the embedded path information. This is crude to say the least, but could still be effective if it weren’t for two problems. The first is that the images, especially the replicas of real picture frames, are pretty ugly. The second is that there’s no way of customising them - if they aren’t exactly what you want, you’re stuck.

Both these problems are at least partially solved with the second module, Page/Edges. This is a true plug-in available, as you’d expect, from the host application’s Filter menu. Using it you can access one of hundreds of black and white, abstract page border images. Crucially, once you’ve chosen your border you can customise it by changing its scale, opacity and softness and can set a colour for the edge and background. In fact this is only the beginning of your creative options as you can also choose from over a thousand textures to apply to the border or background and even choose a lighting scheme and set up a shadow effect. The end result is an attractive finished page ideal, say, to use as the background to a poster.

The Page Edges plug-in produces attractive page backgrounds complete with borders, textures and lighting effects.

Surprisingly however, with no transparency information, the Page/Edges plug-in isn’t intended to border existing images – for this you need Photo/Graphic Edges which isn’t included in the Studio Pro collection. Partly making up for this limitation is the Typo/Graphic Edges plug-in. This is designed to work not with full pages or images, but rather with image components on their own layer - most obviously rendered text. To apply the effect you choose from over 400 styles of edging and then set the scale and warp of the effect both horizontally and vertically. Essentially all the plug-in does is to roughen the object’s edges, but this greatly boosts the final impact of the object, making it more characterful, organic and unusual.

Another way to make your object stand out more while at the same time making it feel more natural is to give it a texture rather than a typical flat-colour fill. Using the Ultimate Texture plug-in you can do just this by selecting from 3000 pre-supplied textures divided into high-resolution single images and tiling patterns and split into three volumes: paper and fabric, stone and metal and art and organics. Once you’ve chosen your texture, you can customise it by scaling and colorizing it and then choose a lighting scheme.

The Ultimate Texture plug-in can work on an entire image, a selection or a layer, but in each case the texture replaces the underlying pixels. If instead of replacing existing values you fuse the two together you can create another type of effect where the existing image or object looks as if it is printed on a surface such as wood, marble or brick. This is exactly what the Photo/Graphic Patterns plug-in offers. By now you’ve probably guessed the general working practice in which you first select a texture and then customise it, in this case controlling how the two images interact, and then apply a lighting effect.

The Photo/Graphic Patterns plug-in applies textures as a surface effect.

After edging and texturing, the third focus of the Studio Pro collection is completely different: the web. The main web module is the WebVise Totality plug-in which in practice turns out to be four separate plug-ins that you can switch between. The first of these is a watermarking plug-in that enables you to add and encode creator information in your files. The next two are dedicated export dialogs for GIF and JPEG output in which you can change settings and see the effect on both image quality and file size. The fourth is a dedicated Optimized Dithering Engine which allows you to fill flat areas of colour with hybrid combinations of web-safe colours. In addition, via Photoshop’s File> Export command, you can access WebVise’s Animator component which lets you create animated GIFs by adding frames as you work within Photoshop. In fact, thanks to Studio Pro’s Universal Rasterizer and Universal Animator technology, you aren’t even limited to Photoshop as you can output any section of your current application’s current page as a frame.

Studio Pro offers some unique web capabilities, such as its combined batch-based optimisation and watermarking, and others, such as the access to web-safe patterns, are better thought through and implemented than Photoshop’s own. Other features though, most notably the animation module which by its nature doesn’t allow retrospective frame editing, are much less powerful. The real problem though is that, since the launch of the Web-dedicated Photoshop 5.5/ImageReady 2 combination, WebVise has largely been made redundant. Users of other plug-in compatible packages might still benefit but up-to-date Photoshop users are already well catered for.

Much of WebVise Totality’s functionality is now available from up-to-date photo editors.

Generally then, Studio Pro must stand or fall by its edging and texturing capabilities. There’s no question that the system can deliver the goods in this area, but there are some serious problems too. To begin with, although each plug-in is built on choosing images from the seven content CDs, generally the only way to do this is to refer to the manual’s tiny black and white previews. It’s not just the content selection that has to be made more visual and interactive so does the customisation process. Many of the plug-ins allow lighting effects to be applied, for example, but this is only possible by loading pre-designed lighting tiles. Nowadays I expect to be able to add and control multiple light sources and see their effects immediately on an image preview.

There’s an even more serious problem: confusion. I thought that when I’d seen each plug-in in action their separate roles would become obvious - but that’s just not the case. It’s not just the names that are similar, the working method and much of the content and functionality is too. Essentially it feels like there’s one very good plug-in here struggling to get out. By integrating Page/Edges, Typo/Graphic Edges, Ultimate Texture and Photo/Graphic Patterns – preferably with the existing standalone Photo/Graphic Edges – and grafting on a more visual and interactive access to content – preferably on a single DVD - you’d have a great way of creatively adding character and value to your images. You still do with Studio Pro 2 - but you have to work much harder at it than you should.

Ease of Use
3
Features
4
Value for Money
5
Overall
4

Tom Arah

April 2000


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