Review of Alien Skin Blow Up
Blow Up is a Photoshop-compatible automation plug-in for enlaring images. Alien Skin States that it enlarges without the stairstep, halo, and fringe artifacts of bicubic interpolation. It works with Photoshop CS or later and Elements 3 or later. It, also, supports 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit images and RGB, CMYK, Lab, Grayscale, and Duotone image modes.
Blow Up can be recorded and played back as an action in Photoshop; and it will make use of multiprocessors, multi-core, and hyper-threading.
Blow Up is not alone in the market place. There are other programs that are its competitors. The main one is Genuine Fractals 4.1 (GF) and Genuine Fractals 4.1 Print Pro. I did a review on the latter. However, this review of Alien Skin's Blow Up is not a comparrison review. Fortunately, both companies offer demos. GF and Blow Up enlargements are not referred to in a similar manner. In Blow Up 400% width and 400% height gives a 1600% area enlargement which is the target except in many circumstances where it can be used to enlarge up to 6 times as well or nearly as well as the 400%. One can also sharpen the image as it enlarges, but I will discuss that later in the review.
I created images and enlarged them using Photoshop's bicubic and bicubic with sharpening, Genuine Fractals 4.1 Print Pro, and, of course, Blow Up. After creating and printing numerous images, my basic conclusion was that the decision was up to the user. Photoshop offered the least favorable enlargements after 400%. But both Blow Up and Genuine Fractals 4.1 Print Pro offered visually slightly different textures and hues when the images were enlarged. Unfortunately, the differences were not large enough to be visible on the web. To make a choice on what is visually pleasing, download the demos and try them out.
Now, for a discussion of the interface where Blow Up definately differs from its competition. The interface contains controls for not only regulating the type of enlargement - percent, inches, cm, mm, points, and picas but, also, controls for adding grain to the image as well as a control for sharpening the image.
I first wondered why I would ever not sharpen when creating an enlargement, but, then, I found that some enlargements actually looked better when the Sharpen Amount was at 0. Grain is an interesting addition. It adds texture where the image may appear to be a little flat or the image tone not varied enough even though the image looked good at a smaller size.
It was very hard, as I stated earlier, to create images at screen resolution that showed variations. While the settings for sharpening and grain were noticeable in print, at screen resolution they were barely visible, and I did not feel that they gave fair examples of the different programs. For that reason, alone, a demo is great to have. I will, however, show some examples that I feel show some variations. Portraits are excellent for this purpose. [I used pictures of myself so that I would not have to get any photo releases.]
At 300 dpi, the original picture was ⅞" x 1 ⅜". At an enlargement of 400% x 400% or 1600% area, the dimensions were: 3⅜ " x 5¼". When the image was enlarged by 600%, the dimensions became: 5" x 7⅞". The dpi of 300 was kept constant.
If you look at the product interface above, you will see that there are other choices such as duplicating the images before it is enlarged. Also, one can see how large the file was and will be before actually enlarging it. One can set a preference for receiving messages from Alien Skin as to updates, etc.
The program worked perfectly as stated in Alien Skin's printed material. It was easy to use and it could be set up in more that one program of Photoshop and /or Elements. So, if one had both Photoshop CS and CS2 on a machine, it could go into both.
The requirements are:
For information on other excellent Alien Skin products, see the reviews of the third Eye Candy 5 Photoshop (or equivalent program) filter, Impact; the second Eye Candy 5 Photoshop filter, Nature; and the first of this series, Textures.