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Most Adobe Photoshop users have encountered MetaCreations' Kai's Power Tools, the popular collection of special-effects plug-ins known by its initials, KPT. Over the years, MetaCreations has offered infrequent upgradesspruced-up versions of the old plug-ins, along with a handful of new ones. But with KPT 6, MetaCreations has changed its approach: rather than updating the same software, the company has released a set of new filters to be sold alongside KPT 5, the previousand now concurrentversion. (At press time, MetaCreations had recently announced its intention to divest itself of much of its graphics software, so it's likely that the KPT plug-ins will eventually be offered by a different company.)
Like its predecessors, KPT 6 is a mix of some useful tools and some silly effects. Though the program's interface is not as obtuse as those of previous versions, some users may find that it has annoying characteristics.
KPT 6 consists of eight new plug-ins that work with Photoshop, MetaCreations Painter, and other image-editing programs that support the Photoshop plug-in architecture. As in previous KPT versions, each filter consumes the entire Mac screen with its own un-Mac-like interface. While it looks cool, this "modal" interface can be irritating. For example, if you want to edit a document while viewing a reference image in the background, you're out of luck.
We found the most useful new filter to be Equalizer, which lets you selectively sharpen different parts of an image using controls resembling those of an audio graphic equalizer. One Equalizer mode, Bounded Sharpen, prevents halos from appearing around high-contrast edges. The manual recommends using Equalizer with downsampled images, but we found it to be a good tool for many sharpening chores.
LensFlare, a good replacement for Photoshop's simple Lens Flare filter, offers an impressive degree of control and high-quality results. However, lens flares are so overused that we can't get too excited about this plug-in.
Font Filters Font Reserve lets you sort and filter fonts using a variety of criteria.
KPT 6 also includes a number of filters for creating textures and odd surface effects. Materializer, for example, treats an image as a height map, where darker areas are higher (or lower, depending on your settings) than lighter areas. Materializer does all the work of adding highlights and shadows to make your 2-D image stand out in relief, giving you full control over light position, highlighting, and reflections. This plug-in is much more convenient than a 3-D package for creating bump-map and embossing effects, but its usefulness depends on the kinds of images you like to create.
Ideal for creating still or animated water texturesas well as cool abstract patternsTurbulence lets you distort an image into patterns that resemble pond ripples. This plug-in is beautiful to watch, and it's a good tool for videographers and 3-D animators.
KPT's Reaction filter lets you create complex "organic" textures from underlying images. Similar to Photoshop's Stamp filter, it performs a series of actions that would otherwise require multiple steps and several layers.
And the Projector filter provides a simple interface for applying perspective to an image. It maps an image to a plane that you can tilt by dragging corners.
The Goo filter incorporates some of the features in Kai's SuperGoo. The best smearing and smudging tool around, Goo lets you create realistic distortions or wild abstractions simply by dragging a tool across an image. As with its stand-alone predecessor, you can also use Goo to create animations that you can export as QuickTime movies.
Gel lets you paint on an image using a thick, viscous goop that looks like tree sap or hot glue. In addition to a good assortment of tools for cutting, pushing, and pulling, Gel includes useful lighting, tinting, and reflection controls.
Finally, KPT 6 includes two extra plug-ins previously sold by Rayflect, both of which use more-conventional interfaces. SceneBuilder (formerly known as Rayflect Photo Tracer) provides a tidy 3-D scene-building environment for use in Photoshop. You can import models, position and light them, and then render a finished scene. Though no substitute for a full-blown 3-D package, SceneBuilder is a great shortcut for creating simple logos and renderings.
SkyEffects (formerly known as Rayflect Four Seasons) lets you create horizons and skies, complete with clouds, moons, rainbows, and sunsets. While a far cry from the beautifully ray-traced skies in MetaCreations Bryce, SkyEffects is a great way to quickly create an environment map for a 3-D program, or a simple sky for a backdrop.
KPT's Equalizer, Turbulence, Goo, and Projector filters alone are worth KPT 6's $150 price tag. You probably won't find yourself using these filters every day, but given their popularity, you can expect to see artwork that obviously incorporates their effects. We're a little nervous recommending a product that's likely to be sold off by its current developer, but with KPT's successful track record, the program is likely to find a happy home with a different software publisher.
RATING: PROS: All-new Adobe Photoshop filters, some more useful than those in previous versions. CONS: Nonstandard interface. COMPANY: MetaCreations (800/846-0111, http://www.metacreations.com ). COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $150.
April 2000 page: 50