KPT (Kai's Power Tools) 3

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Despite the designer hype, there is some real creative power here,  particularly in the control over textures

KPT 3

Kai Krause, the creator of Kai's Power Tools (KPT) is a design guru with a mission. More or less single-handedly he has managed to make his Photoshop plug-in synonymous with high-end photo manipulation. Nowadays you can hardly call yourself a professional designer unless you also claim to be a KPT junkie. Those outside the circle must wonder does it justify the hype and what exactly is it anyway?

KPT is a set of interactive filters that allows creative effects in any bitmap program that is 100% compatible with the Adobe 32-bit plug-in standard. A scanned photo is essentially a collection of pixels of different red, green and blue levels. All any editing program or add-on can do is play around with these pixels and their values. This is exactly what KPT does in three main areas: one-off special effects, pixel-based lens effects, and complex texture effects.

KPT offers a number of what it calls Compact User Interfaces for adding occasional effects to an image or selection. These range from the banal such as adding a curl to the corner of a photo through to the bizarre with the ability to create an infinitely tiled plane. Most useful - or at least fun - are the options to create a kaleidoscope view of an image or to make any section of an image into a seamless repeating pattern.

Each of the dialogs for controlling these effects are similar with a large preview window on the right hand side and three panels on the left hand side. The top "mode" panel sets the particular flavour of the effect, the "glue" panel changes how the effect interacts with the underlying image, and the final "opacity" panel changes the transparency of the effect.

With each dialog so similar it begs the question why the different effects couldn't be joined together into one combined panel. That is exactly what MetaTools have done with KPT's previously separate pixel-based effects, combining them all into a new special instrument, "the lens f/x." This is effectively a floating lens that can be positioned over a section of the image and which modifies the underlying pixels.

Multiple effects such as intensity, smudge, noise, find edge and Gaussian blur are all available from the same tool though unfortunately cumulative processes cannot be built up. The big advantage of the lens f/x is that the changes occur in real time allowing easy fine tuning. Unfortunately the preview window is quite small and the lens interface is over-designed and over-fussy. The OK and Cancel buttons for example are tiny red and green buttons set so near to each other that it is easy to click the wrong one.

The final group of effects that KPT offers are all different, but ultimately based on creating a texture that can then be combined with the original image. Where KPT is very different from existing programs is that its textures are not based on existing bitmaps - which are inevitably limited and disk-consuming - but are created on-the-fly based on mathematical algorithms. The Texture Explorer, for example, creates new and unique patterns by controlling the level of mutation of existing presets.

The new Interform panel takes things further merging a "mother" and "father" texture to create an "offspring". It is possible to choose different parental textures, how they interact and whether the offspring takes more after its mother or father. The textures created are all attractive - no plasticene mud as I was half expecting - and combining them with an existing image also proved surprisingly tasteful. My main worry is that with so much choice it is difficult to feel in control of the process.

Where KPT 3 left me entirely behind was with its new Spheroid Designer. Kai Krause talks grandly of how "spheres have been staple design elements since the first sunrise" and calls this his "flagship plug-in." Undoubtedly the control it offers is extraordinary managing such variables as light polarity, intensity, curvature, ambient gloss and bump height and allowing up to a thousand spheres to be added to an image simultaneously.

With so many options, getting to grips with the Spheroid Designer would be difficult enough at any time, but for some reason all the power is accessed through an interface that, as the manual says, looks like "a bunch of balls dropped into a pile of mud." No doubt I could spend months exploring all the capabilities, the problem is I don't really want to. All I want are a few balls on my image. Come to think of it, I didn't even want that before Kai Krause made me feel so inadequate.

Looking at the program as a whole then, and trying to ignore the hype, how does KPT 3 add up? The one-off effects are fairly straightforward but probably only occasionally useful. The lens f/x will be more regularly employed, but the unnecessarily designer interface is irritating. If this was all that was offered you would probably be better off with the filters and effects that come with your photo-editing program. Ultimately what sets KPT 3 apart is its excellent control of an infinite range of textures and this feature alone makes the program worthy of its place in the professional designer's tool set.

Features

5

Ease Of Use

4

Value For Money

4

Overall

4

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

March 1998


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