MetaCreations KPT 5

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An assortment of advanced filters sure to impress but less likely to prove  practically useful


Kai's Power Tools (KPT) made its name as the first widely popular set of Photoshop plug-ins. It added creative flair to the core program and at one time no self-respecting designer could afford not to have the bundle. By version 3, however, Photoshop's own improved range of filters and the increasingly bizarre directions in which the Kai tools were moving meant that KPT was losing its purpose and becoming almost a parody of itself.

The main problem was usability with each filter employing a different interface - each more self-consciously wacky and innovative than the last. The nadir was the Spheroid Designer which proudly claimed to look like "a bunch of balls in mud" and was about as usable. In KPT5 - KPT4 presumably never made it off the drawing board - this trend has been reversed and each of the ten filters shares the same basic format.

The interfaces are much more consistent and therefore more intelligible, but they are still very different to the usual Windows house-style. Each filter is built around floating palettes that are used to first select and then refine effects with the results shown in another preview palette. Wherever other functionality is shared between filters, such as the ability to define gradients or lighting, exactly the same palette is used so that as you learn one filter you are learning them all.

Even so there are irritating idiosycracies. In particular the way that palettes keep dropping down to reveal parameters as you move your mouse over them, is presumably designed to produce an uncluttered interface providing functionality when you need it. In practice it means that the current parameters are almost always hidden so that you never really feel in control. There's a strong feeling that you are meant not just to use KPT5 but to admire its cleverness and so, just in case you'd missed the point, the program keeps popping up to remind you.

And just how clever is KPT5? Ultimately this depends not on the interface but on functionality, so what exactly can you do with KPT5? Rather than concentrating on a single clear function like Extensis Intellihance or Chroma MagicMask, KPT5 offers a wide range of very different filters. This scattergun approach means there is more possibility of finding something you can use but, without any unifying theme, KPT5 is inevitably something of a mixed bag.

Three of the filters act like recognisable variations on existing themes. The filter that is most similar to those already found in Photoshop is KPT Blurr which can be used for applying a range of motion, spiral and photographic blur effects. KPT Radwarp can also be used to mimic camera-based optical effects, in this case the barrel distortion created by the use of fish-eye lenses. KPT Smoothie, meanwhile, is used for blurring and clipping a photograph to convert it into a smooth-edged black and white image.

More radical power is offered by the KPT Noize, and FraxFlame filters which are used for generating patterns. Both filters work in a similar way as you choose a main pattern family and then create "genetic" variations on the theme each of which can then become "parent" to further "offspring". The Noize patterns are built on mathematically-generated turbulence to create cloud-style effects while the FraxFlame patterns produce beautiful nebulae-style results. In both cases the resulting textures can be applied as RGB colour or as masks.

The FraxPlorer filter also allows the creation of patterns but, as these are based on the well-known Mandelbrot, Mandelcube and Newtonbrot families, the effects are more interesting than practically useful. The same can be said of the Orbit filter which replaces KPT3's Spheroid Designer and is used for adding 3D balls to your image and the FiberOptics filter which is used for generating 3D fibres. If you've always wanted to cover your image with balls or hair these filters are exactly what you've been waiting for. If you haven't, they aren't.

Perhaps the most typical filter in the KPT5 set is Frax4D. This allows you to create pseudo-3D shapes complete with realistic lighting and environment map-controlled reflections. Incredibly each object is based on a 2D cross-section of a 4D shape. Again the underlying maths is amazing but with complex parameters such as R, I, J and K co-efficients it's impossible to feel in control of the creation process. In any case, with the end results looking like a futuristic snail-shell, it's difficult to think of practical applications.

Thankfully for the final KPT filter, ShapeShifter, there is a clear function. Based on any shape of mask, the filter is used for creating a realistic 3D effect ideal for titles and web buttons. With advanced control over lighting, shadows, glows, environment and bump maps to create realistic reflections and textures and the ability to interactively draw the object's bevel shape, ShapeShifter offers the sort of power normally only found in dedicated 3D programs.

Unlike many of the other KPT5 filters, ShapeShifter certainly has its practical uses and again the power is impressive. However, there are serious limitations. In particular simple controls for producing multiple buttons or for adding text directly would be much more regularly useful than some of the more radical features, such as the ability to apply glass-style refractions. Although KPT5 is moving in the right direction, the suite still favours flashy tricks at the expense of basic practicalities and is still too clever for its own good.


Ease of Use




Value for Money




ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

March 1999

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