Plug-in for graphics apps adds power to special effects

Kai's Power Tools 3.0 from MetaTools tops the list of these plug-in filter collections,
both in ease of use and in number of filters. But its installation is difficult.


Instead of accepting the setup defaults and clicking OK, you first must decide which
image-editing application you want the filters to work with, then switch to its plug-in
directory to install.


You may have to install Kai's Power Tools more than once on the same hard drive if you
want it to work with multiple paint programs. Plan on taking up 7M or more on the drive
for each installation.


MetaTools' documentation is one-size-fits-all for platforms as varied as Macintosh,
Power Mac, Microsoft Windows 3.x and Windows 95.


The interface remains the same regardless of platform. The only problem is that
references to Channel Operations are Mac-only and don't apply to Windows. The user guide
should spell out this limitation better.


MetaTools gives the usual technical support on online services and the World Wide Web
as well as toll-call phone support during business hours. I made one call to tech support
about the Channel Operations question. It was picked up promptly, and I had an answer
within four minutes.


You use Power Tools filters through each host application's Filter or Effects menu. The
filters are compliant with Adobe's plug-in standard and guaranteed to run with any
graphics application that correctly implements Adobe's plug-in standard.


I tested the Windows 95 version, which requires at least 16M RAM to run with Photoshop.
I recommend working on a Pentium rather than a 486 with math co-processor.


Power Tools 3.0 has 19 filters including the Spheroid and Gradient designers, Texture
Explorer, Page Curl and Twirl.


The user interfaces have a new, larger preview window, and the one-step filters of
previous versions have a new Lens f/x user interface. Effects that modify pixel values,
such as blurring or smudging, have become Lens f/x plug-ins.


The Lens f/x interface lets you preview an effect before applying it. Even better, you
can move the lens around the screen to see how different areas of the image will be
affected.


If I had to choose a favorite from all the filters in Power Tools, I'd pick the
Spheroid Designer. It does 3-D lens distortions in a two-dimensional environment, and it's
quite easy to use. Object controls include curvature, transparency, bump-mapping,
ambience, gloss, opacity and lighting.


Like other Power Tools filters, the Spheroid Designer also has controls for mutation
effects and application modes. There are four light sources to illuminate your sphere, and
you can control their diffusion, diffusion hues, ambient intensity and ambient hues.


A bump map is a grayscale pattern whose light and dark portions add texture to a
sphere. The grayscale pattern doesn't change the colors or gradients on the sphere.


Instead, the bump map affects the height and depth of each point on the sphere, giving
a 3-D appearance.


Most paint programs today have easy-to-use fill tools. Power Tools' Gradient Designer
makes complex fills easy. The preview window is four times larger than in previous
versions for a better view of the final product.


The most important control on Gradient Designer's interface is the Gradient Bar, which
lets you select colors, grays and opacities for fills. Directly above the Gradient Bar is
the Gradient Bracket, which stretches from one end of the bar to the other but can be
resized to occupy any portion of the bar.


The bracket defines what portion of the gradient you're working on. It can blend up to
512 colors and has 256 levels of opacity and repetitions.


One of the best new things about Adobe's 4.0 release of Photoshop was the Actions
palette, which records and saves common operations for reuse.


MetaTools' KPT Actions, a related product from Power Tools, lets you record activities
performed with Power Tools filters and save them to Photoshop's Actions palette. You
install Actions in Photoshop's PlugIn directory, the same as Kai's Power Tools. It takes
up about 10M on the hard drive. Actions has 100 prebuilt actions ready for use in images.


These actions create complex backgrounds, frames, text effects and buttons--just load
them in Photoshop's Actions palette and click on them. If Photoshop is your usual
image-editing program, don't be without Kai's Power Tools and KPT Actions. The creativity
boost is well worth the moderate cost.


William M. Frazier, a PC hobbyist, is the postmaster of Ocean Shores, Wash.


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