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Professional Imaging Tools

Software for image editing, manipulation, and illustration.




Creating, editing, and manipulating images can be a time consuming and, in some cases, daunting task that precedes a print shop’s real glory moment: the output. But before you can show off that perfect print, you must be able to help your client ready the perfect image.

For whole-scale image editing and other image enhancement and augmentation, professional graphics software can provide you with many of the necessary tools to take images from ordinary to extraordinary. Adding special textures and effects, retouching imperfections, sharpening, upsizing – these are just a few of the capabilities that you can add. Plus, this software typically can also help you better your up-front workflow efficiencies, drastically reducing, for instance, the amount of time your shop might have to spend working on multiple client images.

Another factor to consider: With the current economy, print providers are under pressure to serve as a “one-stop shop” for more than just output – image editing and augmentation are no longer capabilities that can be neglected, as fewer and fewer companies enter your door seeking print services alone. To cater to the broad front-end needs of your clients, mastering the art of image preparation is a must.

The list that follows comprises a sampling of image design and editing tools encompassing professional-grade software and plug-ins that can help you during the front-end of your journey to create the perfect print.


ACD Systems
ACDSee Pro 4 features advanced editing and processing capabilities as well as tools for managing/organizing, viewing, and online publishing. In Process mode, ACDSee Pro 4 allows users to: attain correct white balance, color, exposure, and fine-tune tonal distribution; adjust details (sharpen and reduce noise, etc.) and correct geometry, while previewing those adjustments in real time; and render and process raw files.


In addition, once global non-destructive image adjustments have been completed, ACDSee Pro 4 allows users to add finishing touches at the pixel level and edit specific areas of images with its Selection tools. Multiple edits can be applied to multiple photos at once for express editing. Processing presets can be created and continually refined, and copied and pasted from one image to another.

Price: $239.99; includes a free 2-GB account on the ACDSee website.

Adobe offers a wide range of well-known photo-editing and illustration software, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and Freehand MX.

Photoshop CS5’s tool set includes: Content-Aware Fill, which removes any image detail or object, examines the surroundings, and seamlessly fills in the space left behind; Refine Edge, which precisely detects and masks tricky edges such as hair and foliage, while eliminating background color contamination; as well as high dynamic range capabilities for ghost-artifact removal and tone-mapping and adjustment control. New tools include the Mixer Brush, which blends colors onto a single paintbrush tip; Bristle Tips, which adds brushstrokes; and Puppet Warp, which allows you to warp any image element to generate a new perspective; automatic image straightening; and the ability to save 16-bit images as JPEGs.

Other features include: Smart Objects, which allows users to scale and transform images and vector illustrations without losing image quality; Multiple Layer Control permits users to select and move, group, transform, and warp objects by clicking and dragging directly on the canvas. Batch processing of RAW files can now be done in the background. The Spot Healing Brush handles common photographic problems such as blemishes, red eye, noise, blurring, and lens distortion. Vanishing Point, allows users to clone, paint, and transform image objects while retaining visual perspective. And Image Warping makes it easy to fold, stretch, pull, twist, and warp an image “into shape” by dragging custom control points or selecting an on-demand preset. Compatible with PCs and Macs. Price: $699.

Illustrator CS5 can now adjust stroke width interactively using new width handles; use perspective grids to draw shapes and scenes in accurate 1-, 2-, or 3-point linear perspective; and interact with gradients directly on objects and control the transparency of individual colors in gradients and gradient meshes. Illustrator CS5 can also work on up to 100 art boards of varying sizes in one file; paint with vectors that resemble real-world brush strokes; combine, edit, and fill shapes directly on the art board without accessing multiple tools and panels; apply raster effects, such as drop shadows, blurs, and textures that maintain a consistent appearance across media; and more.


Other features include an enhanced user interface as well as expanded support for a variety of file formats including PDF/X, Macromedia Flash, and SVG. In addition, it includes: Live Trace, which converts scans of hand-drawn sketches and digital photos into fully editable and scaleable Illustrator artwork; Live Paint, which enables users to color artwork quickly and intuitively based on how it appears on screen, rather than how it was constructed; and the new Control Palette allows users to access selection-based tools from a single location, eliminating the need for multiple palettes. Price: $599. Upgrade: $199.

Freehand MX is a vector-based drawing application for creative design, storyboarding, document production, and editing. Freehand’s design and illustration features allow users to create editable vector graphics that can be scaled and printed at any resolution. Freehand features include Multiple Attributes to apply unlimited stroke, fill, and effect attributes to a single vector object; Object Panel, which can inspect and change image properties—such as stroke, fill, font, or effect in one centralized location; and Life Effects, which applies complex distortions and effects without altering the original object. Freehand does not work with Mac OS X 10.6 or higher. Price: $399.

In addition, Adobe’s Lightroom 3 is designed for professional photographers, where users can import, select, develop, and showcase large volumes of digital images. Images handled by Lightroom are editable in Photoshop CS5. New features include: lens correction, which automatically reduces lens defects like geometric distortion, chromatic aberration, and vignetting with single-click profiles; support for video files from most digital SLR cameras; image watermarking; perspective correction; and more.  Price: $299.

Adobe’s Creative Suite 5 includes the latest CS5 versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, and more. Price: $2,599 (Premium edition), $1,899 (Standard edition).

Alien Skin Software
Eye Candy 6 is a graphic-design special-effect plug-in for Adobe Photoshop. Version 6 features include: the ability to work with the 64-bit version of Photoshop; improved pre-sets that automatically adapt to image size; 30 filters; and more than 1000 presets (organized into categories). Eye Candy also offers multiple techniques for non-destructive editing in Photoshop, including Smart Filter support and rendering effects on a duplicate of the original layer; the ability to customize each effect and save those settings; “tooltips” that now appear above every control and a detailed popup manual; and connection to the Alien Skin website (which has a library of tutorial videos, example images, a knowledge base, and a discussion forum).
 Price: $249. Owners of previous Eye Candy versions can upgrade for $99.

Alien Skin’s Exposure 3 is a photography-effect plug-in for Adobe Photoshop. Designed to provide accurate film simulation and a wide range of creative effects in a simple interface, Exposure boasts a range of new features, including: a 64-bit support for Photoshop CS5 on both Macintosh and Windows; Lightroom integration that does not require Photoshop – it now works in Lightroom 2; aging effects and vintage films such as Technicolor and old Kodachrome; simulation of Lo-Fi toy camera photography; and more. 
Price: $249; $99 for upgrade.


Blow Up 2 is a Photoshop plug-in for enlarging images for print. New features designed to take the complications out of the process, include more than 100 presets for common output sizes, a built-in batch-processing tool, auto cropping, auto rotate (to match photo orientation), sharpening-to-media presets, and more. Simulated texture and film grain are designed to keep photos looking natural even in extreme enlargements; Blow Up can also clean up JPEG compression artifacts when a client insists on using a low-quality source image from the Web, reports Alien Skin.

The Image Doctor 2 plug-in restores old photos, removes unwanted objects from photos, and repairs low-quality JPEG images.

Xenofex 2, for special-effects enthusiasts, allows users to: simulate natural phenomena such as lightning and clouds; create sophisticated distortions such as Flag, Television, and the new Rip Open; transform photos into jigsaw puzzles, constellations, and mosaics with one click; and more.

Snap Art 2 turns photographs into works of art, creating detailed simulations of a variety of painterly styles, including oil paint, watercolor, pencil sketch, comic filter, and more. It applies detailed simulation of individual brushstrokes and canvas textures; users can also customize details, from brush size to paint thickness.

Bokeh 2 adds creative focus effects and lens simulations, allowing users to draw attention to their subject by manipulating focus, vignette, and depth of field.

Ambient Design
ArtRage3 Studio Pro is painting and drawing software designed to simulate real-world painting and drawing tools. It includes an intuitive, scalable, and customizable interface; a “canvas puck” that allows for easy navigation on the canvas; customizable keyboard shortcuts; an autosmoothing inking pen; a text tool that for live text editing on layers; and more. The software provides Photoshop-compatible transparent layers that can be used for advanced compositions and allows photos and images to be easily recreated as paintings. The Pro version adds real color blending, sophisticated color-adjustment options, Photoshop filter support, and an inking pen with opacity, blending, and anti-alias control.

Price: $80. ArtRage supports pen tablets from Wacom and Adesso, and also works with camera-based touch screens.
Apple’s Aperture 3 photo-editing and -management software includes more than 200 new features including: Faces, face detection and recognition to find and organize photos by the people in them; and Places, which allows the user to explore photos based on where they were taken, and automatically reverse geocodes GPS data into user-friendly locations. Users can assign locations by dragging-and-dropping photos onto a map or by using location information from GPS-enabled cameras, tracking devices or iPhone photos. By using the Brushes tool, users can “paint” effects onto images. Aperture 3 includes 15 Quick Brushes that perform popular tasks like dodge, burn, polarize, and blur, without the layers or masks. Brushes can automatically detect edges in images to allow users to apply or remove effects exactly where desired. Dozens of Adjustment Presets are included that apply a specific style or look to the entire image with one click. Users can create their own custom presets or explore the techniques of other photographers by importing theirs. Users can also weave together photos, audio, text, and HD video. Price: $79.99.

Auto FX
The new DreamSuite Pro Bundle from Auto FX features DreamSuite Series One, DreamSuite Series Two, and DreamSuite Gel Series. The Pro version of DreamSuite uses SmartLayer technologies to build effects on layers that work together to form a composite effect. The Pro version also includes the ability to create layer masks, correction layers, photo layers, and effect layers. Plus, it allows users to save and reload presets that rebuild layers, masks, and settings that can be applied to other images. The Pro Bundle can be used as a stand-alone or as a Photoshop plug-in. Price of DreamSuite Pro Bundle: $399. Compatible with Windows 7/Vista/XP and Mac OS 10.4 and higher, including Panther.

DreamSuite Series One is a collection of 18 visual effects including 35mm frame, Chisel, hot stamp, deckle, crease, and liquid metal. DreamSuite Series Two comprises 14 visual effects for enhancing photographs, including plastic wrap, puzzle pieces, mosaic, and film grain. And DreamSuite Gel includes Gel, Liquid Crystal, Gel Painter, and Crystal Painter.

AutoEye 2.0
is an automated image-enhancement solution that rebuilds lost detail and color and enhances digital photos to bring out clarity and color fidelity. AutoEye runs as a stand-alone application and as a Photoshop plugin.

Corel has recently introduced CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X5 geared toward designers as well as other professionals. The graphics program comprises not only CorelDraw X5, the core graphic-design and page-layout product; but also: Photo-Paint X5, image-editing application specifically designed for use in a graphics workflow; PowerTrace X5, bitmap-to-vector file conversion tool; Capture X5, one-click screen capture utility; and Corel Connect, search tool that helps you find digital content on your computer, and search millions of images on Flickr, Fotolia, and iStockPhoto websites.

Some of the key new features in X5 include: Corel Connect, a full-screen browser that allows the user to peruse the software’s digital content as well as search the computer, local network, and external storage devices for images (browse by category, keyword, etc.); PowerTrace, for converting bitmaps into editable vector graphics; Pixels view, which allows the user to create drawings in actual pixel units; Photo Effects, including Vibrance, Grayscale, and Photo Filter; Document/Image palettes, providing automatic customer color palettes on the fly for each design project; Collect for Output option, which gathers fonts, color profiles, and other file information; and an enhanced EPS filter, to support files created with Postscript 3. Price: $449.

Painter 11 is Corel’s latest painting and illustration software, designed for digital artists seeking to create new works of art or enhance existing photographic or fine-art images. Features include: Hard Media Controls, which allow for the creation of hard media variants, or the ability to choose from new media variants in the Brush Library; RealBristle Dry Media tools-marker, which creates the looks of pen, pencil, and chalk; individual color profiles, new color-management interface, and improved color recognition for files imported from Photoshop; enhanced Photoshop and Wacom product line support; and enhanced drawing tools that perform up to 30% faster than previous Painter versions. Price: $429.

Paint Shop Pro X 3 photo-editing software offers an integrated Learning Center, which intelligently organizes tools by task; RAW Lab, which manually adjust groups of RAW photos during the loading process; Express Lab that quickly fixes common photo flaws; and Advanced Tools edits with features such as Smart Carver, Vibrancy, and more. Integrated projects creates photo books, HD slideshows, cards and more. And Photo Sharing e-mails, prints, and sends directly to Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr. Price: $59.99.

Evident Technologies
Asiva Photo from Shapiro allows the user to make corrections, enhancements, and apply effects without masks—including sharpen or blur specific parts of an image, change the color of an object, remove background colors, and create a special effect. The software allows users to control how the effects are applied to an image using adjustable maps (curves) on the hue, saturation, and luminance components. You can turn the operations on and off for an instant comparison; organize and arrange the sequence of your operations, save the sequence independently and use on other images. Compatible with Mac OS 8.6 through OS X 10.3 and Windows 2000/XP. Price: $199.

Portraiture 2 is portrait retouching software with a skin-masking tool that smoothens and removes imperfections while preserving skin texture and other important portrait details such as hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, etc. The skin-retouching plug-in features an unlimited number of detailed history states, with resizable thumbnails; an unlimited number of presets and space for descriptive notes; refinement to parameter sliders; and feathering and fuzziness sliders for the skin-tone mask. Also the real-time mask preview follows the selection cursor, allowing users to spot-check effects. The enhanced skin-masking control allows users to isolate changes to the skin mask, in addition to global adjustments. Price: $199.95.

Noiseware 4 noise-correction technology eliminates digital noise and unwanted artifacts that have been introduced by high-ISO photography and less-than-optimal shooting conditions.
Version 4.0 features an increase in speed as a result of dual-processor support plus an array of new noise-correction controls and noise-suppression levels for better fine tuning and quality, including Noiseware 4's DetailGuard, which safeguards picture details from excessive alteration. Price: $49.95, Standard Plug-in; $69.95, Professional Plug-in.

Nik Software
Silver Efex Pro 2 software, the Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom 2, and Apple Aperture plug-in allows users to create quality black-and-white images from scanned or digital color photographs.
Specific features include: U Point-technology control points for on-image editing – allows users to precisely control the tonality of objects or areas selectively without the need for selections or layer masks; and a film grain engine that features algorithms written specifically to allow the user to produce realistic grain, mimicking the natural silver-halide process instead of overlaying a random noise pattern. With Film Types users can emulate the grain, color sensitivity, and tone curve of 18 popular black-and-white films. The tinting and toning capabilities offer preset toners to provide the ability to recreate sepia, selenium, gold, silver, and split-toning options. Other features include: a history browser, which facilitates intuitive comparison of previous edits and different looks; a dynamic brightness tool to enable adaptive brightening adjustments for different areas in the image; and a soft contrast tool, which applies contrast intelligently, based on image details. An image borders tool uses organic image elements to create unique and random borders. Selective colorization is for easily adding color elements back into images. Price: $199.95; an upgrade from the first version costs $99.95.

Dfine 2.0 provides control over exactly how much and where to apply noise reduction, and is designed to eliminate contrast/luminance and color/chominance noise in images while maintaining detail and sharpness.

Viveza 2 offers precise, selective photo editing to control color and light. New features include global image adjustments, shadow adjustments, and an interactive help system.

Color Efex Pro 3.0 comprises a set of more than 50 photographic filters. New in Pro 3.0 are: Bleach Bypass, Cross Balance, Film Effects and Film Grain, Glamour Glow, High Key and Low Key, Polaroid Transfer, and Tonal Contrast. Available in Standard, Select, and Complete editions.

Sharpener Pro 3.0 provides control over the entire sharpening workflow. New creative sharpening tools enable the enhancement of subtle details and textures hidden within an image; an updated raw presharpener retains and enhances sharp details within images without amplifying noise and artifacts; the Output Sharpener is designed to sharpen based on proven loss of detail caused by different output methods and devices – it provides the optimum controls for creating perfectly sharpened images for such devices as display, inkjet, continuous tone, halftone, and hybrid print devices.

Onone Software’s new Perfect Resize 7 is based on Genuine Fractals’ algorithms for enlarging images to any size or resolution necessary while maintaining fine image details, the company reports. Ideal for creating poster or wall-sized prints, as well as enlarging cropped photos, Perfect Resize allows for the resizing of images up to 800% and beyond. It can be launched directly from the desktop as a standalone application or from within Photoshop (as well as Lightroom or Aperture in the Professional Edition).
Other features include: the ability to crop and resize images in a single step and resize entire folders of images; new Smoothness and Sharpness controls; a Loupe Tool for an instant preview of the resized image quality; a Gallery Wrap feature (Professional Edition only) for quick preview of gallery-wrap results; improved tiling; and more. Price: $159.95, Standard Edition; $299.95 Professional Edition (resizes CMYK images, integrates with Lightroom and Aperture).

PhotoTools 2.6 is a Photoshop plug-in that features a new Effects Library, improved effects categorization, a keyword mode that allows users to search effects by desired tone (such as “warm and grainy”), an effects preview mode, and masking support. Other features include blemish removal, HDR photo enhancement, new text overlays, and 12 new effects. The Professional edition includes 120 additional new effects plus support for Lightroom 2 and Aperture 2.1. Prices: $259.95.

PhotoTune 3, designed to allow users to color correct and enhance images, now offers the following new features: professional color controls/automatic correction; skin-color correction; and black-and-white conversions.

Xara Designer Pro 6 is image-editing and illustration software. Features include a vector 3D extrude tool; a freehand tool that offers live smoothing after you've drawn your line, along with the ability to edit any outlines. A transparency tool with click-drag simplicity allows you to create graduated blends to any object, photo, text, and vector shape. The blend tool blends from one shape to another; and the soft vector tool offers feathered vectoring. Other tools: shadow, bevel, and contour tool; and more. Other capabilities include: animated Flash support; an enhanced text tool; full support for importing and exporting Photoshop PSD files; PDF export improvements (as well as support for PDF imports); TIFF import support; the capability to integrate with external photo editors such as Adobe Photoshop and Corel PaintShop Pro; color and fill handling; and a collection of new editable templates. Price: $299.




Printvinyl Scored Print Media

New Printvinyl Scored wide-format print media features an easy-to-remove scored liner for creating decals, product stickers, packaging labels, and more. The precision-scored liner, with a 1.25” spacing on a 60” roll, guarantees a seamless and hassle-free removal process.

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