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ImagePals 2.0, a suite of very impressive tools

for today's electronic, visual communicators

By: William Brautigam and Scot Giambalvo

ImagePals v2.0 is new, improved and offers enough features to make it unlike other graphics utilities packages we've previously reviewed. ImagePals has defined several distinct features for itself, and in version 2.0 refined those feature sets extremely well. It offers five modules through which the user can capture, view, catalog, manipulate, and convert graphic images. The modules are clean, refined and perform well. Album is used to organize and catalog "media" files, Image Editor is used to manipulate (as well as convert) images, Screen Capture is a sharp utility for just that purpose. CD Browser allows you to view Kodak Photo CDs, and finally Viewer, which is capable of displaying a wide variety of graphics.

Installation

The program is comprised of 4 high-density diskettes and corresponding concise manuals. The included manuals cover: an Introduction Guide, Image Album, Image Editor and Screen Capture. Installation was straight forward, offering defaults/user choices for application/target directory, and installable filter options, as well as sample images. When complete, ImagePals creates it's own group which includes each module's icon as well as two read.me files and a Ulead Drivers icon. The installation process creates two directories on your hard disk, one for program files, and a ULEADS.DAT subdirectory under the windows directory where ImagePals stores configuration information. Why they chose this method is still unclear to United States, but it is not user modifiable. The installation was uneventful and took under 20 minutes using the disks provided.

 

Usage and observations

The modules included with the program are free standing and can their usage can best be described as such.

Album

ImagePals Album is the mainstay of the application suite, offering the user the ability to catalog an incredible number of "media" files. It is not limited to graphics, but can include audio, video, midi, and many others encompassing a total of 29, that we counted, formats.

For practical purposes, let's say you've just purchased a CD-ROM containing color clipart. The CD came with a thumbnails printed catalog with images approximately 1/2" high by 3/4" wide…very practical. ImagePals' Album allows you to import "thumbnails" into custom catalog you create. You can choose from several sizes (resolutions) of your thumbnails which offer some pretty large viewing options. Double-clicking on a thumbnail in your album brings up ImagePals' Viewer, (See Viewer later in this review) which offers you a significant number of options to view your original file. Printing thumbnails with the same options in size and resolution is a snap. If you have a color printer, you can print you own thumbnail catalogs in full-color. This is handy if you share the clipart across a network——someone somewhere else always needs a hardcopy of the art. We use removable media to store images. Occasionally drive letters get reassigned when we reconfigure our system. It is nice to know ImagePals can accommodate this type of apparent drive relocation/reassignment. In order to re-associate the album's thumbnails with the proper files, we had to select all of the thumbnails in the album and choose Relink from the Thumbnails menu. It would have been better, easier and faster if there was a global command for this on the File menu. Perhaps this will be a future enhancement but we got accomplished the drive letter reassignment/reindexing in relatively short order.

ImagePals Album uses a bookshelf metaphor to store your cataloged images. Each catalog, on the bookshelf, has an icon that looks, appropriately, like an open book. Our test installation created 34 albums on our bookshelf. We have had them all open and viewable at one time with no apparent slowing of the program. It’s easy to be fooled by the program's ability to manage multimedia files, graphics, sounds and video, so quickly, because ImagePals also offers extensive "notation" capabilities. Being able to attach notes to each and every file in you catalog will ultimately make locating files of specific interest not only painless but quick. The search tools of Album are simple, ready-to-use and located on the tool bar. You can search by keyword, subject, description, query, file name, file size, date media and volume label. As an added feature, the nice folks over at Ulead, included a tool box right in Album that allows you to launch all of the other Ulead modules. It even offers a function for you to include applications of your own to launch from the toolbar, similar to the functionality found in Lotus Smart Masters® Icons.

Image Editor

Image Editor is surprisingly fast and nimble, yet it offer features of the most popular image-editing packages at a fraction of the price. By way of comparison It performed many functions as fast or faster than Photoshop and with excellent results. When started Image Editor opens with a clean interface, tools on the left, color palette on the right and an information bar along the bottom of the window, most notably displaying the available memory. It offers many features including but not limited to:

  • 1. Full Scanner support using TWAIN acquisition with import and export features.

    2. High volume batch support to streamline functions, e.g. converting or saving all of the files open in the workspace.

    3. Applying masks to images à la Photoshop

    4. Stitch copies of the same image together to form a seamless wallpaper effect, and Tile Two different Images

  • These last two features are extremely precise and yield fabulous results, we spent several hours just playing (this is the sign of a useful tool...) with Stitching and Tiling.

    The Image menu offers options commonly found only in the familiar high-end publishing packages. Features such as Tone Mapper, Tone Adjust, Brightness & Contrast, Hue & Saturation, Invert, Level Adjustment, Optimize, Convert, Duplicate, Resample and Resolution. Each of these features are self explanatory. Note worthy is the fact that almost all of them offer a "preview" button to see your changes before they are applied, and in each dialog box is a help button that give a brief instructional tutorial (very impressive).

    The Effects menu introduces the meat of the program with Blur, Sharpen, Despeckle, Emphasize Edges, Find Edges, Adjust for NTSC (how it would look on a TV screen), Special Effects (from Average to Windy with full slider controls and dynamically changing preview windows), Warping (very cool, looks like a quilt with buttons that you scrunch around and the image moves with them), Custom Filter, Free Resize, Flip, Rotate, Slant and Distort. These are the same features found in high-end programs. They're no less effective in their ability to produce stunning results. Finally the View menu offers the customary zooming options as well as image information and system information.

    One incredible feature not found in many image-editing packages is the ability to "delay rendering". What this means is you can manipulate your image several times and instruct it to render a modified image when you want it to, instead of after each program change. This is an important function if you work with large image files, and it's included in Image Editor, this is a BIG bonus.

    ImagePals' Image Editor opens many formats of graphics, and will convert to nine others via the Save As command. We found that there is even direct support for Adobe Photoshop's 2.5 file format (very nice). A shortfall. if it can be called one, is the program does not support 32 bit TIFFs or CMYK image editing. For commercial printing, you'll have to convert your file using another application...for everyone else in the world, look at the price difference, and consider this low priced package. Overall, Image Editor surprised and elated us!

    Screen Capture

    A pleasant surprise is the Screen Capture utility. It is not just another one of those "lousy" screen capture programs added to the top of the "bundle" to enhance the feature rich sensation at the point of sale. It is fantastic, our new screen capture utility of choice.

    Upon launch you get a little application window with the familiar menu and tool bar from which you can practically run the whole show. The tool bar offers first a drop down box from which you choose your target to capture, including Active Window, Active Workspace, Full Screen, Menu Under Pointer, Selected Object, Selected Area, Clipboard and Execution File (that one surprised us too). The next drop down is the "Hot Key" choices, from which you pick a hot key to effect a capture. Next is a series of buttons, which include: Capture an image to file, Capture an image to Screen Capture Workspace, Capture an image onto the Clipboard, Capture an image and send it to the printer, Capture an image and send it to the Image Editor. the final three buttons are Add canvas, border and or shadow to images as they are captured, Convert images to another data type as they are captured, and finally Change the resolution of images as they are captured. This is one involved Screen Capture utility, but worth mastering if you have any screen documentation projects ahead of you.

    CD Browser

    If the program has a weak link it is the CD Browser. Why? Because it will only view a Kodak formatted CD, not just any CD that happens to contain Photo CD images. We discovered this the easy way. We tried to view a PCD clipart disk, and it didn't work. Pop in a Photo CD and boing it worked fine. It offers quick links to the Viewer application by double-clicking on a thumbnail and the Image Editor via drag-and-drop operations. On the tool bar you choose your CD-ROM drive from a drop down dialog box. You can choose the initial viewing resolution from another drop down, and that resolution is used for the "opening of the file" in the image editor. Buttons include launching the Image Editor, launching the Album, Launching the Viewer, show information about the CD and show information about the selected image. All in all this is a very robust tool for a very finite audience, nevertheless, usable and well developed... thumbs up.

    Viewer

    Look closely at ImagePals' Viewer while your looking at your image. Each time you double-click on a thumbnail in Album you launch an independent instance of Viewer and that image file. Viewer can Save As (thus convert) and you can tile or cascade all open "Viewer" windows with one click from any one of them. Oh, and Viewer also does the zoom-in and zoom-out thing as well!

    Conclusion

    Don't be intimidated by the incredible number of menu selections and dialog options in ImagePals v2.0. The wide-varying choices available make this an excellent image manipulation and customization tool. The Help dialog boxes are fantastic and incredibly informative, you really don't even need the manuals (which are also extremely well developed). We recommend this package highly. It falls into the category of "essential tools" for any graphics-intensive users. For the price you can do a lot worse and possible not better.

     

    MSRP: $199.00*; Upgrade: $49.00; Competitive Upgrade: $79.00

    *Includes free CD of images; prevalent Street Price: $129.00

    Phone: 800.858.5323

    310.523.9393

    Fax: 310.523.9399

    Ulead Systems Inc.

    970 W. 190th St.

    Torrance, California 90502



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