Ulead PhotoImpact 3

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Extensive image management and an excellent redesign of the traditional paint  interface make PhotoImpact the ideal solution for general photo-editing.

Ulead PhotoImpact 3

PhotoImpact 3.0 is the latest photo-editing package from Ulead. In fact it is the updated version of the ImagePals software that previously gained itself quite a reputation for the management and cataloguing of image files. The product has changed its name to reflect its changed aim. PhotoImpact is no longer a niche product, but is designed as an all round photo-editing suite with an emphasis on the business user.

The centre of the suite is now the PhotoImpact program, but also provided are various other component modules. PhotoImpact Explorer gives a Windows Explorer type view of directories that automatically and quickly shows preview thumbnails of any of its 37 supported bitmap and vector file formats. To actually see the contents of the files you are dealing with rather than just their names makes a huge difference and, if you need to see more detail, the Viewer program will oblige.

For more comprehensive image file management there is the PhotoImpact Album program which allows thumbnails to be stored in searchable catalogues. Relevant details and keywords can also be entered if you are working on a graphical database or are just obsessive. As each album can contain up to 65,000 images, a typical use would be to catalogue your clipart CDs. As all the modules support OLE 2 it is possible to select a thumbnail and drag and drop its image into a supporting application, for example to quickly add a photo to a Word layout. For those users who make use of in-place editing, the Office compatibility and general speed of response makes the system surprisingly effective.

Any editing of images is done in the main PhotoImpact application. Ulead have taken advantage of their comparatively new start in photo-editing to offer a completely rethought interface. All changes are driven by the needs of the user so that the complexity of the interface, for example, can be tailored to the level of experience. Other new innovations include the Global Viewer. By clicking on this small square at the bottom right corner of an image, a thumbnail of the whole bitmap is shown together with a floating frame representing the current view. Moving the frame automatically and quickly repositions the current view without having to resort to the scroll bars.

As well as the interface, Ulead have also clearly thought long and hard about the actual processes involved in working with images. When an image is scanned, for example, it is often necessary to first straighten the image, then crop it, then change the brightness and so on. In PhotoImpact all of these most commonly used features are available from the single AutoProcess dialog. More precise control of the tonal quality of an image is offered through the colour balancing and brightness and contrast dialogs. Each of these contains nine thumbnail previews of the image with slightly different settings. The user might not have known that the image had too much red or blue, but in the dialog they can simply click on the preview which looks most accurate.

For the business user wanting simply to incorporate scans into their work these core functions represent the vast majority of time spent within the editor and PhotoImpact succeeds in ensuring that this is kept to the minimum. Unfortunately all the time saved - and more - is likely to be squandered experimenting with PhotoImpact's advanced studio-style functions. Typically all this high-end power is available from a single well-thought out palette.

The Easy Palette is a large on-screen palette that can be tiled with your current image to prevent it being obscured. It offers seven main categories, such as styles and textures, each of which can have its own tabs so that the effects panel, for example, is sub-divided into camera lens, 3D filters and so on. Each command has its own appropriate preview thumbnail so that the palette acts as a visual gallery of all possible effects. To apply the defaults you simply double click on the thumbnail, to fine tune the effect you right-click to call up a control dialog.

This pick-and-apply approach makes choosing effects child's play, but the effects themselves are by no means cut-down. All the filters you could want are there including the important basics such as unsharp masking and advanced features such as kaleidoscoping and even warping. Styles are another PhotoImpact innovation based on the intelligent use of colour balancing and filters. Using them it is easy, for example, to add a sunset-like effect to an entire image or to remove red eye from a section. Also very impressive are the options for fills. There are plenty of natural textures such as bricks and wood supplied and an infinite number of artificial textures and gradients can be generated to order.

Considering the intended market you might expect the photo-compositing controls to be missing or poor, but this is not the case. Sections of the image can be selected by area with the excellent lasso tool or by colour with the magic wand tool. These selections can then be turned into an object which floats in its own layer. Objects can be easily repositioned, resized, grouped and their stacking order changed. By right clicking on the object its properties can be modified, for example, to change its transparency, or its interaction with the underlying image, or the softness of its edge. It is even possible to create grayscale masks to produce cross-fade effects.

When you add in comprehensive lighting effects, and excellent vector-style handling of paths and even of text you begin to wonder if there is anything that PhotoImpact cannot do. If you want to be mean-spirited, the artistic control over brushes is comparatively limited and, although it is possible to split an image into its CMYK components, there are no advanced colour separation or management features. These are minor limitations however when set against the innovation, ease-of-use and sheer power of the program.

It is a cumulative result of all these qualities that makes working with PhotoImpact so refreshing. In the past photo-editing has always tended to be a slow, serious and intimidating affair, but with PhotoImpact it really does become interactive, simple and fun. PhotoImpact offers better image management than HiJaak, more effects than Kai's Power Tools, more processing power than Corel PhotoPaint and a refreshingly modern interface all of its own. It's not often that you feel this about software under review, but by targeting just the Office market, Ulead are seriously underselling a breakthrough product.



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ratings out of 6

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System Requirements: 486 or higher, 8Mb of RAM, 30Mb of disk space, Windows 95 or NT 3.51, CD-ROM.

Tom Arah

July 1998


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