A good image editor makes up less than half of a Webmaster's toolbox. Even high-end packages like Adobe Photoshop can benefit from add-ons that enhance images, help you optimise them for the Web, or make managing a growing collection of GIF and JPEG files easier.
The demands of the growing legion of Webmasters have created a huge market for add-ons that enhance, convert and organise graphics. We've grouped the best of these into four essential categories of tools you'll want to add to your arsenal.
Although some image editors may come with close to 100 built-in filters, after you've applied page-curl or fish-eye effects to a few dozen Web graphics, you'll yearn for something new. Plug-ins that insert themselves into the filters menu of compatible image editors for Windows and Macs can twist and transform old images in exciting ways.
CANDIDATES: Alien Skin Software's Eye Candy 3.0 (Mac/PC #80) is a great tool for creating bevelled buttons, fiery images or backgrounds with fur, smoke, or water drops. Xaos Tools' Paint Alchemy 2 and Terrazzo 2 (Mac #61 each) add painterly textures and kaleidoscopic patterns to your images. You'll find that Extensis' PhotoTools 1.0 (Mac #61) is invaluable for creating enhanced, graphical typefaces with a 3-D flavour.
Our Pick: MetaTools' (www.metatools.com) Kai's Power Tools (KPT) 3.0 (Mac/PC #80) remains the champion when it comes to the breadth and richness of the effects you can create. The most recent upgrade transforms this package into an integrated set of filter applications with superior controls and expanded real-time preview windows. Spheroid Designer, an incredible tool for creating 3-D rounded buttons, along with KPT's revamped Lens f/x - which provides combinations of blur, noise, edge-finding and smudging, and is also great for making buttons - and the texture-melding Interform plug-in add new effects to the redesigned toolkit.
While previous versions of MetaTools' flagship product scattered single-step filters without dialogues and several applications like Texture Explorer throughout your Photoshop filter submenus, KPT 3.0 collects everything under a single listing, which includes a help entry. You may also want to snap up KPT Actions (Mac/PC #30), a set of macros for Adobe Photo-shop that uses Kai's Power Tools to build incredible effects using multiple filters.
Even the juiciest treasure trove of PCX, TIFF or PICT format images must be converted to GIF or JPEG for use on your Web pages. Web developers building online catalogues, for example, may find themselves with tons of TIFFs captured by digital cameras and may be motivated to find an automated way to transform them from one format to another.
Candidates: If you already own Photoshop and are looking for a low-cost solution, Photoshop 4.0's new Actions macro capability can operate on entire folders of images, loading each in turn and saving in a new format - but the process is slow. Faster utilities like Equilibrium's DeBabelizer Pro for Windows 95/NT (#249) or DeBabelizer Toolbox for Mac (#174) are better as they can operate on thousands of images in a single batch, not only converting the files, but tweaking colours for better Web presentation at the same time.
Our Pick: Quarterdeck's (www.quarterdeck.com) HiJaak Pro 4.0 (PC #80) is the best choice for Windows 95/NT users who need a broad range of features at a reasonable price. This package converts to and from more than 85 different raster (bitmap) and vector (outline) formats and can build virtual reality (VRML) images for 3-D Web page walk-throughs from popular 3-D image formats like 3-D Studio and AutoCAD. HiJaak Pro reduces colours so you can create 256-hue (or fewer) GIFs from 24-bit images and bundles a catalogue module to help you track your image collections. The number of tools in this package make it excellent value for money. Mac users may want to spring for DeBabelizer Toolbox. On that platform, it has no peers.
If you have ever tried sorting through images with names like SPAIN0001.JPG, SPAIN0002.JPG and SPAIN0003.JPG, you'll appreciate the visual browsing capabilities of image-cataloguing software. Instead of tediously loading multiple images to find the one you want, you can search keywords that describe the files, or click through photo albums of thumbnails.
Candidates: Software bundles like Ulead's Photo-Impact 3.0 (PC #124) or HiJaak Pro include their own catalogue software, and Ulead also makes its PhotoImpact Album available as a standalone product for about #31. Album products also seem to be a favourite of Shareware authors, so you'll find a host of choices on the market.
Our Pick: Digital Arts & Sciences' (www.dascorp.com) ImageAXS (Mac/PC #49) and ImageAXS Pro (PC #189) are the pick of the image cataloguing litter. The basic version, available for both Macs and PCs, lets you add images to albums using a simple drag-and-drop interface, creates thumbnails automatically, and includes seven different searchable database fields. The up-scale Pro version adds a user-configurable database with more than 100 fields, database import/ export options, and can format table-oriented HTML pages to show off your best images. Either version makes finding and viewing images painless. You can include AVI or MOV videos and WAV files if you plan to embed multimedia on your Web pages and you don't need to move image files. ImageAXS can keep track of their locations, even if you're using removable storage devices such as JAZ drives or CD-ROMs.
There are dozens of miscellaneous (single-purpose) Web graphics tools designed to do such things as create action-packed animated GIFs, reduce the size of bloated image files, build 3-D images, or perform specialised tasks such as generating image maps. On the other hand, some of the most worthwhile Web-related graphics add-ons are miscellaneous in that they do so many things they transcend even the broad categories discussed above.
Candidates: The easiest way to find single-purpose utilities for Web graphics is to search the Internet for try-before-you-buy products like Alchemy Mindworks' GIFConstruction Set (Mac/PC #12), which allows you to take several GIF files and combine them into one animated image. You'll also find tools to create 3-D images inside packages like CorelDraw's CorelDepth, or the Simply 3-D tool found in Micrografx's Webtricity. Our Pick: Our favourite broad-spectrum add-on for Web graphics is PhotoImpact with Web extensions (PC #124) from Ulead Systems (www.ulead.com.) PhotoImpact is a powerful image editor in its own right, so you may want to add this tool to your collection, especially if you don't already own a heavyweight pixel tweaker. On the other hand, most of the Web-oriented components of this package are also available. With PhotoImpact available at a street price of about u63, it's the best deal.
What makes this the best all-round tool? Start with PhotoImpact itself, a robust image editor with features such as the ability to transform outline-oriented art into 3-D images suitable for buttons, rules and other Web-page graphics. Among the Web extensions are GIF Animator, a sophisticated tool for creating moving GIFs; GIF Optimiser which takes a group of files and reassigns the colours in them to provide a uniform, optimised palette; and GIF/JPEG Smart Saver for previewing and tailoring compression.
Other add-ons in the Ulead package include fast and efficient 3-D Buttoniser, Background Designer for creating seamlessly tiling backgrounds, drop shadow and frame filters, and a tool for creating regular or irregular CERN or NCSA image map tags from your images. PhotoImpact Album is one of the best cataloguing tools on the market, and the package's Capture makes it easy to grab software screen shots for your Web page training manuals. Individually, these are all great tools - as a package, they're hard to beat.
David Busch is a contributor to Internet World.
Dust storm on Titan only the third Solar System body where such storms have been observed
New technique could enable quantum computers to scale-up to millions of qubits
Systrom and Krieger taking time off "to explore our curiosity and creativity"
Comcast's £29.7bn winning bid more than twice the £13.7bn Rupert Murdoch valued Sky at just eight years ago