Creating fancy logos, title graphics and stylized type generally requires a lot of work. And depending on whether you use Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, you’re probably going to end up with layer upon layer of gradients, strokes and bevels.
Thankfully, Path Styler Pro 1.5 solves all those problems no matter which program you use, producing high-quality graphics with a noticeable ease of use. And by “ease of use,” I don’t mean “limited capabilities”—Path Styler Pro offers so much customization, it’s difficult for me to narrow down just what I would cover in a brief overview.
Path Styler Pro is available as a $99 plugin for Illustrator or Photoshop; a combo version costing $129 includes a bonus plugin called Fill Styler (more on that below). Both the Illustrator and Photoshop versions are virtually identical—everything I say below applies to both versions of the plugin unless otherwise noted.
Whether you are designing for print or the web, Path Styler Pro is resolution-independent, at least for users of the Illustrator version. This means Path Styler will automatically re-render the effects when scaling objects or the resolution of the artwork changes, offering maximum flexibility in your workflow. Print designers not only get crisp, clear raster images, but Path Styler Pro also preserves spot colors and creates beautiful images shaded with a single spot color and black in Illustrator CS3.
Path Styler’s interface is clean, and simple to figure out. I was customizing graphics in just a few minutes, with little fussing around. The major controls are all located in the left-hand side of the window that fills your screen, with each control offering pop-up tool tips to let you know what they do if the labels aren’t self explanatory. The tools displayed change depending on the effects you’ve selected and the layer of the effect you’re working with. In the screenshot above, the metallic border and the green fill can be fully customized independently. A large preview window sits on the right side, with a few preview navigation buttons and the presets menu sitting below.
A large collection of preset effects sits at the heart of Path Styler Pro. Once you select an effect, you begin adjusting the bevel’s size, depth, contour and shape. One isn’t enough, so go ahead and add multiple bevels if you wish—each can have its own style and customization. You also have the ability to adjust the corner joints to mitered, rounded or beveled. Change the color and smoothness while you’re at it. Most of the tools use simple sliders.
Once you get the bevels to your liking, you can then move on to customizing the fill type, known as Material. Several presets are available such as plastic, metal, glass, and solid, among others. You can adjust the color, opacity, and edge-falloff style and contour of the material fill; you can also add bump and procedural maps to add a little texture and reflectivity to your artwork. Don’t forget to adjust the directional lighting of the fill gradients.
You can also create reflective materials with the reflection tool and use procedural maps for a wide range of colorful environments. Finally, you can choose from directional, omni, and tube lights, adjusting their color, direction, and intensity. You can get some incredibly realistic-looking artwork with a little dabbling around here—and you should take the time to do so. Path Styler Pro is infinitely customizable, making it one of those plugins you just have to play around with to get a feel for all that you can do.
Once you get all your adjustments made, you can save them as presets for future use.
The two versions of Path Styler Pro differ in what you can apply the effects to and whether you can retain the editability of the objects to which you apply those effects. As the name implies, Path Styler Pro works on paths. For Illustrator, the plugin is a Live Effect, so you can simply apply effects to any object you can draw or type without converting to outlines first. With the Photoshop version however, you’re required to manually create a working path from the object or type before applying the effects. To do so, make sure the Paths button is selected in Photoshop’s Control Bar; then create a path using either the Shape or Path tool. While this extra step means that you can resize the artwork without worry of image degradation, it also means a little extra work.
As I stated earlier, the combo version comes with Fill Styler, a Photoshop-only plugin, which allows you to simply apply certain preset fills to an object. Because this is a fill-only plugin, you do not need to create a path first. You simply apply the filter to any selection. Most of the customizing ability from Path Styler are available in Fill Styler, with the notable exceptions of beveling and lighting.
Both plugins work with the CS3, CS2, and CS editions of Photoshop and Illustrator. On my 2.66GHZ Dual-Core Mac Pro with 3GB RAM running OS X 10.5.2, both versions ran smooth as silk with the CS3 apps, offering near instant previews of my effects. You will experience a slight slowdown once you click OK and the filter applies the effects, but it’s directly related to the size of your document, so for most print and Web designers, that’s only a matter of a few seconds.
[James Dempsey runs The Graphic Mac, which offers tips, tricks and opinion on a variety of design and Mac OS X topics, including more software reviews.]