Within the world of Adobe Photoshop special effects, Kai’s Power Tools (KPT) has long been a leader in the realm of “golly-gee-wow” filters, evoking both admiration and ire from legions of users. The latest incarnation from MetaCreations, KPT 5.0, offers a few new standout filters, such as the ShapeShifter, but overall adds less to the mix than did previous upgrades. Fans of earlier versions will likely find at least a few gadgets that bring smiles to their faces, but designers who had little use for KPT in the past will be even less likely to convert.
A Pixel Piñata
KPT 5.0 does not update the filters of the previous version, KPT 3.0. Instead, you get a Macintosh/Windows CD-ROM with ten new plug-ins plus the full set of KPT 3.0 filters.
Some of the new plug-ins build on core Photoshop functionalityand provide significant speed enhancementsbut with unusual omissions. For example, KPT Blurrrr contains a fast blurring algorithm (calculated with greater precision than in Photoshop’s built-in equivalents) and offers a wide range of blur distortions, such as a Spiral Blur, which makes an image look as if it’s being sucked into a vortex, and Gaussian Wave blur, which adds a cool sparkle effect. However, the Zoom Blur filter, while much speedier than Photoshop’s Zoom Blur, doesn’t let you reposition the blur’s center point, a frustrating and seemingly arbitrary limitation. On the other hand, you can change the center point in the new RadWarp filter, which produces fish-eye lens effects.
The ShapeShifter plug-in, sure to become a favorite with Web designers, makes it easy to produce beveled, textured buttons and logos. Rendered environment maps and lighting controls turn any selection into a dimensional object, with basic shading and shadows.
Another useful addition, KPT Smoothie, is designed to smooth edges and remove noise in poorly scanned images, especially line art. However, you cannot preview the processed image against any background layers, a limitation that partially defeats the purpose of edge smoothing.
You can get the same effect by using Photoshop’s blur filters and Levels command; this is more tedious but allows you to evaluate the results while viewing all layers in the image.
Fans of previous KPT versions are sure to love the FraxExplorer, a fractal generator that includes new fractal styles, as well as tools for manipulating color maps in real time. The filter’s “wow” factor is substantial, but fractals have already been overused by designers and thus have become visual clichés. On the other hand, the Noize plug-in is a great starting point for creating neat textures, nicely complementing Photoshop’s simplistic noise filters.
Our personal favorite, Frax4D, lets you create bizarreand gorgeous3-D fractal shapes, which you have to see to comprehend. Small changes to the controls yield wild, often unpredictable shapes in the preview area, which updates quickly and can be rotated almost in real time.
The resulting imagery may not be especially usefulit would be great if the 3-D shapes could be saved as DXF filesbut the filter is fun enough to be almost addictive.
The other new filters in the package are KPT FiberOptix, which creates glowing strand effects; KPT Orb-It, which generates a series of spheres; and KPT FraxFlame, which produces a variety of sweeping lighting effects.
As in previous versions, the KPT 5 filters take over your entire display, replacing the familiar Photoshop workspace. Professional Photoshop artists may object to KPT’s interface dictatorship, and the time needed to load the screen elements can grate on your nerves. However, more playful hobbyists and visual artists might enjoy the experience.
We liked the lighting interface found in some of the filters, and the real-time bevel previews in KPT ShapeShifter are great for designing type effects.
KPT’s printed documentation consists of a single quick-reference card, with the user guide implemented as a series of Adobe Acrobat PDF files on the CD-ROM. You can launch Acrobat Reader from within KPT, but the appropriate PDF file for the current filter does not automatically load; instead, you must open the file after running Acrobat Reader.
The documentation, while not bad, could use a greater number of examples. However, this is partially offset by the wealth of presets for the filters, which give you a decent starting point for your own experimentation.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
You already know if you want Kai’s Power Tools 5. Photoshop artists who didn’t care before won’t care now. Fans of previous versions will instantly love the new toys, and it’s a no-brainer if you don’t already have version 3.0. KPT 5 could be more filling, but it tastes great if you like colorful candy.