PhotoTools 3.0

"Extensis Has Another Winner"

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Type of Product    
Extensis' PhotoTools 3.0 is an upgraded plug-in for Adobe Photoshop 4.0 and 5.0. This program is a versatile collection of texture making, button building, custom beveling, shadow casting, GIF animation and everyday effects generation tools. It includes enhancements such as multiple light sources in PhotoCastShadow and textured surfaces in PhotoButton, as well as 3 new components: PhotoTexture, PhotoAnimator and PhotoGroove. Price: $149.95, Upgrade $49.95. Also see our review of another excellent Extensis product, PhotoFrame 1.0. The section headings were made from a frame in PhotoFrame and then text was added in Photoshop. Extensis has an excellent Web site
User Level    

This is a great tool for anyone using Photoshop, from novice to expert, designer to professional. It is easy enough for beginning users who have a basic understanding of Photoshop and powerful enough for intermediate and advanced users. The following types of users would especially benefit from the program:

  • Creative professionals who want to create effects faster without losing creative control.
  • Internet and multimedia content creators (Web, CD-ROM, games/training, etc.).
  • Novice users who do not yet fully understand how to create everyday effects like perspective cast shadows, seamless tile textures, complex buttons or haven't memorized all of the keyboard short cuts and locations of Photoshop menu commands.
  • Users who want to go beyond the base functionality of Photoshop Layer Effects and save their creations for instant access at a later time.
  • All users, novice to expert, who regularly need to create professional quality real-world effects faster and with more creative control.
  1. New PhotoTexture--You can create an infinite variety of textures while automaticallyPhotoTexture ensuring that they have seamless edges. I created the blue textured image to the right using Tutorial 6 from the User's Guide.

  2. New PhotoAnimator--The program automatically generates the frames and transitions for animated GIFs with unlimited animation special effects. Automatic optimization ensures the smallest possible file size.

  3. New PhotoGroove--With its custom Bevel Shape Editor, you can interactively create unique bevel effects and change the image surface to represent different materials such as rubber, plastic, metal and chrome.

  4. Improved PhotoCastShadow--This shadow plug-in now creates multiple shadows from multiple light sources with noise (added pixels) to prevent banding.

  5. Improved PhotoButton--This button maker is now better with user-defined bevels anPhotoButtond button shapes, textured surfaces and bump maps. I used Tutorial 7 from the User's Guide to create the two buttons to the right, using PhotoButton and the blue texture created in PhotoTexture.

  6. PhotoBars--Fast access to Photoshop commands in customizable button bars.

  7. Interface Designed for Speed--Real-time previews, interactive controls, background processing, all layers and multiple undo/redo.

Interface: As PhotoTools is a plug-in, you do not have a separate program for it, except for PhotoAnimator which can be used as a plug-in or a stand-alone package. PhotoTools works right in Photoshop. You can access the various PhotoTools components in three ways: from the Toolbar InterfaceCommand Center, part of the PhotoBars; from the filter menu; or from the Extensis menu which is added to the menus at the top of the screen.The interface is consistent among the components with a few exceptions, and matches the Photoshop interface as much as possible. The image to the right shows the PhotoBars and the Extensis menu added to the Photoshop menu. Some interface highlights are:

  • Interactive, Real-Time Previews--See the image update instantly as you adjust the sliders and controls.
  • See All Of Your Layers--See all your visible Photoshop layers within a plug-in preview so you can see how your effects will blend in with the rest of your composite image.
  • Background Processing--Your effects get processed in the background as you work in the preview to maximize performance and speed up apply times.
  • Multiple Undos And Redos--You can go back and forth as many steps as you need to before applying your effect to the image. One click on the Reset button takes you back to the beginning and resets all controls to the defaults. You can also undo a reset.
  • Put That Effect On Its Own Layer--PhotoTools allows you to create your shadow and glow effects on their own layers for maximum flexibility and control.
  • Built-in Web-Safe Color Palette--All of the effects components in PhotoTools have the "Web Safe" color palette built-in as an instantly available pop-up menu.
  • Save All of Your Effects Settings--Save any effect you create as a preset for instant and consistent application on any other image.
  • Navigator Pop-Up--The pop-up navigator is hidden until needed. Allows you to instantly position your image in the Preview window without competing with the image for space.
  • Standard Photoshop-Style Interface--You don't have to relearn tools and commands. All PhotoEffects plug-ins use many Photoshop type commands.
  • Eyedropper Tool--You can quickly choose exactly the color you want for your effects by selecting them with an eye dropper from the background image.

Components: PhotoTools consists of ten components: a texture editor; an animation editor; five plug-ins for effects; a button maker; a floating toolbar plug-in; and a text effect.

  1. PhotoTexture (New)--This plug-in is a full-featured texture editor that lets you create natural aNew Tilesnd synthetic textures with seamless edges. You can create textures in three ways: (a) create a texture from scratch using the painting and coloring tools and special Effects and Filters in PhotoTexture; (b) specify a Photoshop image or selection area to be used as the base for the texture; and (c) import an existing JPEG image directly into PhotoTexture to be used as the base for a texture.

    You create textures by designing a "base tile" that can be replicated numerous times to create an overall texture effect. As you create Base Tileyour base tile, PhotoTexture helps you visualize your texture by displaying a 3x3 tile matrix and replicating your base tile design over the nine tiles. The center tile in the Drawing Area represents your base tile; it is delineated by Size Marks in each of the four corners so you can continue to see the base tile pattern as the texture develops. You can then use PhotoTexture's customizable Effects and Filters to create interesting and unique patterns. It is almost too easy. You just click away on the different options and watch the results in the Drawing Area. You can reapply an Effect or Filter as many times as you like and even combine your design with previously saved textures. You can also add additional touches to your textures with common painting tools like Paintbrush, Paint Bucket, Pencil, and Rubber Stamp. Tile designs are saved in two ways: (a) apply the texture to an image or selection area in Photoshop (or to a blank Photoshop document, if your are creating a texture from scratch); andDrop Effect (b) save the texture directly from PhotoTexture SamplesTexture as a JPEG format file. This is an amazing plug-in. The texture possibilities are endless because of the painting tools, effects and filters, and options available within each effect and filter. For instance, the image to the right shows you the options you have when you select the drops effect.

    PhotoTools also comes with sample tiles on the CD for you to use. The image to the left is an example of some of them.

  2. PhotoButton (Improved)--This plug-in is perfect for creating buttons and interfacPhotoButtone elements for Web and multimedia projects. Any custom shape can be saved and added to the pre-built shape list for future use. There is a drawing grid, that can be turned on or off, to help you construct buttons. The grid size unit can be changed in five pixel increments. There is a Snap to Grid feature as well, that can be toggled on and off. And, the background can be made transparent. Across the top of the dialog box, you will see four tabs: shape, bevel, color, and texture for you to use to customize buttons.

    Shape Tab: Under the shape tab, you can select the shape you want and how many buttons. There are 15 predefined but completely customizable shapes to start with. They are: circle, ellipse, round bar, triangle, rectangle, square, pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon, star, snow flake, star 7, star 8, and arrow. You can create just one button or multiple buttons. When you create multiple buttons, you can apply the same effects to all of them or apply different textures and colors to each one.

    Bevel Tab: UndBevelser the bevel tab, you can select the type of bevel: flat, round, slope, double, half pipe, triangle, and ramp. See the image to the left for examples. Also you can select the bevel height, width, softness, and inner height. Up to 6Colors5 points can be added to a shape to create one-of-a-kind buttons.

    Color Tab: Under the color tab, you can color the inner and bevel parts of each button separately or all together. There are five preset materials to use: chrome, heavy metal, plastic, rubber, and matte.

    Texture Tab: Under the texture tab, you can use any JPEG file as a texture. You can import a texture Texturesthrough the Import button or just drag any texture file from the desktop directly onto the button. If you are creating multiple buttons simultaneously, each button can have its own texture applied to it. You can also use the sample tile textures that ship with PhotoTools. Also any texture file can be applied to a button as a bump map to add depth to the surface of the button. The height and softness of the bump map can be controlled.

  3. PhotoGroove (New)--This plug-in is similar to PhotoButton and they do share in several corePhotoGroove Interface features and can create similar effects, but they were designed for different purposes. PhotoGroove works on selections, while PhotoButton creates beveled buttons and shapes automatically from within the plug-in. The Bevel shape Editor is easy to use, and you have infinite control over the number, shape, and spacing of grooved edges using an interactive shaping grid. You can create complex compound grooves simply by adding or deleting points on the curve, then change the width and spacing by dragging the curve to any point on the graph, and you can save PhotoGrooveyour shapes for later use. All groove options, including shaping, bevel width, edge feathering, softness, highlights, and light direction respond in real-time, and you can optionally view composite layers to see just how your effects will look with other picture elements. In addition to the ability to create your own custom bevel shapes, there are presets: flat, round, slope, double, ramp, half pipe, and triangle. You also have the choice of surface material such as rubber, plastic, metal, and chrome. You can use this plug-in to add special effects to type or any random selection.

  4. PhotoBevel--With this component, you are not creating special bevel shapes, like in PhotoGroove, but you haBevelsve PhotoBevel Interfacecontrol over four preset bevel types that can be applied to an image or floating selection such as text. They are: flat, round, slope, and double. You can apply a different bevel to the inside and/or outside edge of the selection area, control bevel edge tolerance, and apply different colors to the highlights and the shadow. As in PhotoGroove, all bevel options, including edge feathering, softness, highlights, shadow intensity, and light direction respond in real-time.

  5. PhotoCastShadow (Improved)--This shadow generator is very fast and fun. YoPhotoCastShadow Interfaceu can create professional multiple cast shadows and drop shadows. Just grab a corner, edge, or center of the shadow's wireframe to interactivelShadowsy rotate, stretch, and skew the shadow to any perspective, and place it anywhere on the image. Also you can adjust the shadow's perspective blur to show realistic dimension. Use Invert Shadow to create useful cutouts and other effects, and select Shadow Only to isolate the whole shadoShadowsw on it's own layers. You can undo and redo effects multiple times, and save effects settings for future use. There is also a Noise slider. Noise prevents banding by adding random pixels to break up the smooth shadow gradation. You can change the blend mode of overlapping shadows when creating multiple shadows to further emulate the real-life look. The six blend modes are: normal, multiply, screen, darken, lighten, and difference.

  6. PhotoBarsPhotoBars--This feature helps you save time by letting you access all Photoshop menu commands from pre-configured, customizable toolbars. All the toolbars can be hidden or displayed at any time. You can add, remove, and rearrange buttons according to your preference and working style. Toolbars can float on your screen freely or you can embed them along any edge of the window--and instantly change them from floating to embedded and back again.

  7. PhotoEmboss--The controls and embossing styles in this component give you the PhotoEmbossability to creatPhotoEmboss Interfacee cutouts, embosses, reliefs, recesses, and many other special effects. PhotoEmboss includes options for selecting the emboss type, along with the amount of embossing. The four types are: edge, raise, cutout, and blur. You can control the contrast, softness, highlight and shadow of the embossing. Plus you can position a directional light source and customize the color ofPhotoEmboss the emboss highlight and shadow. This is a fun component. You can emboss text and selections. For the top image to the right, I just embossed the text. For the second image to the right, I embossed the whole layer, then went in and embossed the text.

  8. PhoPhotoGlow InterfacetoGlow--This component is perfect for creating an image of a neon sign or a candle. You apply a high radiance for a soft, subtle glow or a lowGlow radiance for an intense, hard, bright glow. A solid glow can be applied to a selected image or just to its edges. There are controls to determine how far the glow should extend. You Types of Glowcan also control its radiance. In addition, you can add a solid stroke arouPhotoGlownd any selection and change glow opacity (how much the glow will show through) to highlight an image containing light text on a light background.

  9. PhotoAnimator (New)--Building animated GIFs is easy. PhotoAnimator automatically generates the frames and transitions needed for animation, while optimizing file sizes. The PhotoAnimator window is the primary window, containing three separate panes: the Layers pane, the Preview pane, and the Filmstrip pane. You start with raw animation elements saved either in native Photoshop formaPhotoAnimator Interfacet, then use PhotoAnimator's intuitive tools to add special effects to create the animation, or import existing animations and use PhotoAnimator to enhance them. You can create special effects using masks, filters, and traAirplanensitions such as Fade, Wipe, Barn Door, and Gradient Mask. Since PhotoAnimator is a stand-alone application, you don't need to have Photoshop open to use it. The image to the right was created using Tutorial 1 from the User's Guide.

    Layers Pane: Displays all the layers available for the animation. Each layer can contain from one to 300 animation frames. This pane functions similar to the Photoshop Layers palette, allowing you to create, name, hide, delete, and reposition layers.

    Preview Pane: Displays a preview of the animation. This preview is always available and can be viewed from any dialog box as you work with animation effects.

    Filmstrip Pane: Displays the cells and frames that make up the animation. Layers in this pane correspond to the layers in the Layers pane. This pane also provides access to tools and options for working with the cells, frames, and images.

  10. PhotoText (Freeware)--With this component, you can apply bold, italic, outline and shadowPhotoText Interface styles without requiring the corresponding printer fonts. Define character-level styles and reapply them to new text with one mouse click. PhotoTools 3.0 does not include this component, but it came with PhotoTools 2.0 or you can download it free from Extensis. Even though Photoshop has improved on its text features, this plug-in has unique features that extend the Photoshop 5.0 Type tool.

Users Guide: Extensis always does a good job with its manuals. The User's Guide, about 183 pages, is very thorough, and includes 7 tutorials:

(1) Getting Started--Basic Animations; (2) Working with Masks; (3) Working with Transitions and Gradient Masks; (4) Working with Nested Sub-Animations; (5) Exporting; (6) Creating a Texture for Buttons; and (7) Creating Buttons and Adding Textures.

Personal Comments    
PhotoTools 3.0 is a must for anyone who has struggled with Photoshop. It is an amazing collection of tools. It is practical as it saves you time, and it is fun! I used PhotoTools for many of the buttons for this Web site. The PC logo button, the main menu blue button bars, and the red back buttons were all made with PhotoTools, so I find it an invaluable tool. All of Extensis products are easy to use, have intuitive interfaces, excellent features, and thorough User's Guides.
System Requirements    
Processor: Pentium
Operating System: Windows 95/98 or NT 4.0
Hard Drive Space: 3MB
Software: Adobe Photoshop 4.0 - 5.0

Graphics: Extensis PhotoFrame & Adobe Photoshop
Web Page Editor: Symantec Visual Page
Scanner: Hewlett Packard ScanJet 6250C Professional Series