Adobe Photoshop Plug-ins

Adobe Photoshop has much pixel-pushing prowess, but some tasks fall far beyond its native capabilities. Extensis's PhotoGraphics and Zaxwerks' 3D Invigorator are plug-ins designed to bring vector and 3-D graphics tools, respectively, to the Adobe Photoshop workbench. Each product succeeds–although not completely–as a quick-and-dirty replacement for stand-alone graphics software.


PhotoGraphics is a straightforward vector-based drawing program. It provides a reasonable selection of basic shape tools, a well-implemented Adobe Illustrator-style path tool, and a powerful text tool. You can choose from multiple levels of antialiasing and create objects with varying degrees of transparency.

The plug-in's professional type-formatting functions should appeal to designers who have struggled with Photoshop's text limitations. You can set up character style sheets, adjust horizontal and vertical scaling, apply superscripting and subscripting, and specify different colors for characters in the same text block. PhotoGraphics also offers an effortless text-on-a-path function, letting you place type along the edge of any shape or curve created with the plug-in. The latter feature might be reason enough for some designers to get the package.

Much like Illustrator and Macromedia Freehand, PhotoGraphics lets you group text and graphics into layers, a useful feature for managing complex illustrations. If you're still using Photoshop 4, you'll appreciate the plug-in's close approximation of a permanently editable type layer.

When you save a PhotoGraphics drawing within Photoshop, the vector objects convert into bitmaps, but the Photoshop file also retains the vector data. At any time, you can reopen the file (as long as PhotoGraphics is installed), edit, and rerasterize the objects–a tremendous boon to any Photoshop artist.

PhotoGraphics doesn't replace a dedicated illustration program, but having vector tools available in Photoshop is a great time-saver. Our biggest gripe is that you must create all objects within PhotoGraphics–you cannot import graphics from other programs, even using the Clipboard. We'd also like to see a larger variety of editing functions, such as basic distortion tools.


Moving into the realm of texture and depth, 3D Invigorator lets you import EPS and PostScript graphics and extrude them into realistic-looking 3-D objects without using an external rendering program. Once you import the 2-D graphic, it immediately shows up in the main editing window, with a surprisingly rich set of camera, lighting, and rendering controls. The plug-in supports compound objects, permitting properly rendered holes, as in the O or D characters.

If you have QuickDraw 3D installed in your system, you can see a very fast shaded preview of the image. You can rotate, scale, and edit the object, with rapid previews of adjustments even on a garden-variety 604e Mac (G3 Macs update the display instantly). The fast preview capability is critical, because the plug-in's controls provide many ways to tweak the object. In addition to the quick shaded view, you can also display a wire-frame representation or full render preview.

The flexibility of shading and extrusion options will please even experienced 3-D artists. The plug-in also offers a huge selection of beveling styles. You can edit any existing bevel shape and specify different bevels for the holes in an object. However, you cannot set different bevels for the front and back faces of an extruded object, a surprising and seemingly arbitrary limitation.

The plug-in's speedy renderer supports soft shadows, spotlights, environment maps (to enhance the realism of shiny metal textures), and more. One feature that should find its way into other 3-D software is the ability to view a scene from the perspective of a light source, a great way to see a spotlight's target. You place the final rendered image on the currently active Photoshop layer.

The sheer number of editing controls may overwhelm the 3-D neophyte, but the interface is well organized and visually effective, delivering substantial functionality in a minimal amount of screen real estate.


Mac artists who already own good 2-D illustration and 3-D rendering software might find these plug-ins redundant. In addition, 3D Invigorator is expensive, considering that you can buy a full-featured 3-D program such as Ray Dream Designer for about the same price. Nevertheless, both plug-ins extend the reach of Photoshop in ways truly useful for creative professionals.


RATING:

4.0 mice
PROS: Rich set of bevel styles; good lighting controls; fast renderer. CONS: Expensive; interface overwhelming at times. COMPANY: Zaxwerks (800/549-0250, http://www.zaxwerks.com ). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $199.


RATING:

4.0 mice
PROS: Powerful text tool; easy to use; retains vector graphics within Photoshop files. CONS: Limited tool selection; no import capabilities. COMPANY: Extensis (800/796-9798, http://www.extensis.com ). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $150.

July 1999 page: 40

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