Every once in a while, a new product threatens to change the status quo. Binuscan’s PhotoRetouch Pro 1.0 is one example. Intended for digital photographers and prepress professionals, this OS Xnative application’s intuitive interface and greater productivity are leading some to label it a “Photoshop killer.”
Keeping It Simple
No matter what market position PhotoRetouch ends up occupying, one thing’s for certain: it’s a supremely powerful and intelligently crafted photo-editing and prepress productivity application. Its user interface is one of the least cluttered we’ve seen, but the program’s simplicity doesn’t come at the expense of functionality. There are only three floating palettes: one each for tool selection, tool options, and information. PhotoRetouch doesn’t employ layers, and its paths and masks are applied directly to images. Maximizing screen real estate is the aim here; another nice touch in that area is the editability of the tools palette. Rarely used tools can be dragged into a toolbox, where they are accessible but out of sight.
The engine room of the application is its Process menu, which contains the retouching and reprocessing tools. Every engine room needs a stoker, and Binuscan’s is RECO, which draws its name from “rebuilding colors.” This color engine has its roots not in color research done by someone sitting in a lab, but in real ink, a real press (Planeta offset), and a maniacally dedicated pressman–Binuscan’s founder, Jean-Marie Binucci. In the early 1990s, he spent a year doing little more than printing millions of color swatches, in a bid to create a satisfactory desktop colorseparation solution for his own use. This work informs RECO, a technology that provides one-click optimization of an image’s levels, reorganizing the histogram for smoother transitions. As a quick, accurate way to enhance image data–not just color–it’s unbeatable, and it’s far better than Photoshop’s Auto Levels feature.
Processes can be applied globally or to a selection, and it’s here that PhotoRetouch promises serious productivity gains, courtesy of its Paint Process tool. Applying image changes to a selection in Photoshop is a multistage process, involving selection tools and the creation of masked-off adjustment layers. In PhotoRetouch, activating the Paint Process mode brings up a contextual menu of processes. Real-time changes made in the chosen process’s window are not applied to an image itself; they are painted on with the Paint Process tool, which can be adjusted to paint strokes of any width from 4 to 500 pixels. This maskless painting on of sharpening, smoothing, saturation, and color changes is liberating.
Other features in the Process menu are equally useful, and they all benefit from PhotoRetouch’s well-designed interface: each Process window has a before-and-after window that shows your changes in real time, so you don’t have to apply and reapply processes.
The JPEG Removal feature will especially please graphics and prepress professionals. JPEGs look fine on monitors, but defects caused by lossy JPEG compression–such as jagged edges–are obvious in print. JPEG Removal replaces this information.
On the strength of single features alone, PhotoRetouch will also appeal to niche markets. Photo labs will love its Quantifier process, which offers accurate one-click color correction for time-faded color photos, while medical professionals and forensic scientists will prize its DA Radio process, which adds 3-D detail to 2-D X rays.
Of processes with equivalents in Photoshop, PhotoRetouch’s Sharpen, Grayscale Conversion, and Saturation produced far superior results in our tests. PhotoRetouch’s cropping and path-creation tools were also superior in terms of ease of use and productivity.
Binuscan’s print background is never more evident than in PhotoRetouch’s color-separation tables, which are built on ICC architecture. CMYK channels can be edited even when an image is RGB, so you can use maximum color information when working on separations–instead of converting to CMYK and losing information in the process.
Another great print-specific feature is Descreening. Most newspapers must at some point reprint an image. Descreening prevents the horrible moiré effect that normally occurs.
Then there’s the Vacuum Cleaner, a real-time touch-up tool that eliminates dust and scratches far better and quicker than Photoshop’s cloning tool.
CDC 4x, meanwhile, is an interpolation feature that’s actually worth having; it can increase image size by as much as 200 percent with impressive results (useful for increasing the size of images from low-end digital cameras). Unlike bicubic interpolation (which generates jaggies, blur, and color changes), CDC 4x preserves edges, sharpness, and colors.
Bundled with PhotoRetouch Pro 1.0 are reflective and transparent (and always pricey) color targets for creating ICC profiles for workflow peripherals–not every PhotoRetouch customer will need these, so why not offer a less expensive version without them? We encountered a stability issue, too: the Warp tool crashed the application in both OS 9 and OS X. PhotoRetouch can also run like syrup in OS 9.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Prepress professionals who use Photoshop solely for color correction and separations are missing out: PhotoRetouch Pro 1.0 offers smarter, more-accurate color-management and improvement tools. If, however, you rely on Photoshop’s image-manipulation tools, you should view PhotoRetouch as a powerful companion product.