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Software Review: Plug-In Suite 5 from onOne Software

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The Plug-In Suite 5 is a complete set of photographic plug-in products from onOne software. It contains six separate products, that when combined, provide just about everything you need to handle even some of your most complex photographic chores.

The six products are PhotoTools 2.5 for adding photographic effects, PhotoFrame 4.5 for adding borders and that little something extra of a finishing touch to your photos, Mask Pro 4.1 for masking images, as well as the recently reviewed Genuine Fractals 6 for photographic enlargements, FocalPoint 2 for adding depth-of-field to your images, and PhotoTune 3 for professional color correction.

With the Plug-In Suite you get the latest version of each of the 6 products. For further information about Genuine Fractals 6, FocalPoint 2, and PhotoTune 3, please refer to my prior reviews of each of these products. For the other three, PhotoTools 2.5, PhotoFrame 4.5, and Mask Pro 4.1, these are intermediate upgrades and so I will highlight what has been updated to date.

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What is Needed to Run Plug-In Suite 5?
• Windows (XP or greater), or Mac (OS X 10.5, 10.6)
• Pentium 4 or equivalent (Windows), PowerPC G5 or Intel processor (Mac).
• 2 GB RAM
• 3 GB hard drive space
• OpenGL 2.0 capable video card with 128MB VRAM running at 1024×768 or higher (1280×1024 or higher recommended)
• Required host of Adobe Photoshop CS2, CS3, or CS4
• Optional host application of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 or Apple Aperture 2.1

PhotoTools 2.5
PhotoTools gives you hundreds of professional grade effects to enhance your photos. These are effects that have been created by professional photographers and hall-of-fame Photoshop users that they use in their everyday work.

PhotoTools is an automation plug-in. That is, it is a program that installs within Photoshop and can only be used with Photoshop installed. It automates the processing of actions that would normally take several steps to complete.

You can then stack multiple effects on top of each other. You can then control the order of each effect and how they blend together for a truly unique look. You can even save your effect stacks for future use and share them with friends who have PhotoTools, or access them inside of Aperture and Lightroom to speed up your workflow.

So What is New with PhotoTools 2.5?
• Photographic Effects have been further enhanced to add over two-dozen new creative effects to make your images stand out. These new effects include ones that use the new MaskingBug such as dynamic vignettes and graduated filters. There is also a new collection of environmental effects that simulate rain, fog, snow, and even rainbows.

• onOne Panel now gives you easy access to launch PhotoTools without having to navigate through Photoshop's menu system. It also gives you direct access to your favorite presets from the panel as well.

• Easy access to the onOne Exchange which is a community Web site managed by onOne Software that enables users of PhotoTools 2.5 to download free presets for their own use. These presets can then be imported into PhotoTools directly from the File menu. You can also upload any presets that you have created to be shared with other users of PhotoTools. Access to this is built directly into the PhotoTools user interface.

While PhotoTools 2.5 is not a major update, it still keeps becoming better with the additional effects and the onOne Panel not only gives you more effects, but makes them easier to access as well. PhotoTools is a powerful product that gives you the freedom to present your best images. It will allow you to give your photos that professional look with just a couple of clicks. I know that this will remain in my toolbox for a long time to come.

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PhotoFrame 4.5
PhotoFrame 4.5 lets you create image frames and add boarder effects to your images. With just a couple clicks you can now add realistic film and darkroom effects to your images, as well as artistic edges, torn paper, brush strokes, and even full-on layouts with backgrounds, textures, and adornments.

So why would you need something like PhotoFrame? If you are a professional photographer, graphic artist, or illustrator, many times you need to add that little something extra to your client's image. Perhaps you are putting together a portfolio to sell yourself and you need something to set you apart from the rest. That’s where PhotoFrame comes in. It gives you thousands of predefined options and the ability to modify and save your own based on the presets, you really have an unlimited range of choices available to you.

So What is New with PhotoFrame 4.5?
• Design element collections have been enhanced to include several new collections of design elements. The first is a whimsical collection featuring fresh and bright design elements that are great for children and family layouts. The second is a new family event collection that includes elements and layouts for the special events in your life like birthdays, graduation and holidays, etc. Also included is the Bohemian collection for high school seniors with a distinct, vintage look. Finally they have added some great backgrounds from noted photographer Kersti Malvre. All of this adds the finishing touch to your images with a library of professionally created edge effects and design elements that really make your images stand out.

• onOne Panel now gives you easy access to launch PhotoFrame without having to navigate through Photoshop's menu system. It also gives you direct access to your favorite presets from the panel as well.

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• Output your way by adding design elements to the current layer, or a new layer. You can also have each frame rendered to its own layer so you can make further adjustments or masking in Photoshop. You can even apply a frame as a layer mask so you can selectively blend multiple layers together. PhotoFrame 4.5 adds the ability to output design elements as a clipping mask to the several output methods already available. Clipping masks are a great way to vary the shape or edge of an image layer in an editable, non-destructive fashion. One thing to note is that output options are limited in Apple Aperture.

PhotoFrame 4.5 is incredibly easy to use and it really makes a difference in your presentation. If you are a professional, especially working in the portrait realm — weddings, senior pictures, family portraits — I don't know how you can do without a product of this type.

Mask Pro 4.1
Mask Pro 4.1 is the latest version of the plug-in from onOne Software that makes it easy to mask and cut objects out of an image. This can be done for placement in another image or to replace the background in the original image.

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Masking is the process of selecting and erasing parts of an image. Normally you select the parts of the image that you want to keep and erase the areas that you want to drop. You can use the selection tool in Photoshop, but to get it right it can take a lot of time and effort especially if you don't want a halo effect or other problems. Mask Pro 4.1 makes this process much easier and can save you a lot of time.

So What is New with Mask Pro 4.1?
• Complete set of masking tools that help you take on the toughest masking project. Included are tools such as the Magic Brush which will remove colors while maintaining transparency and the Chisel, a touch-up tool, which will help you get the edges of your image perfect without any edge halos at all.

• Masking without edge halos which are the nasty bleed from the background color. This halo effect will prevent your subject from blending with a new background in a realistic looking way. Mask Pro 4.1 now has color decontamination technology and touch up tools which make halos a thing of the past.

• Real-Time masking previews let you see the result of your work in real time. You can see your image on a new solid color background, a checkerboard or even against the underlying layer in Photoshop to visualize your final composite as you mask.

• Masking hair and transparent objects can be tricky work, but Mask Pro allows you to easily create a mask that preserves the details you want and even removes unwanted ambient color contamination caused by reflections and transparency. Mask Pro 4.1 actually paints away the colors that you do not want in your image, leaving a natural transition between the subject and background.

What is the bottom line on Mask Pro 4.1? It is as simple or complex as you need it to be. For very simple images it takes almost nothing to use. As your selections become more complex, there are tools that help you get you the masking that you need.

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What I especially like are the different views so that you can make sure that you are really getting the cuts you expect. I like some of the simple things like the ability to change your brush stroke by using the scroll wheel of your mouse. I also like the ability to make transparent selections of things like bubbles and glass.

If you need a one-stop shop for all of your photographic needs, Plug-In Suite 5 will certainly provide you with all of the tools. Obviously, the purchase of the bundle provides the most value for your dollar. If you are looking for a complete suite then I can highly recommend Plug-In Suite 5 from onOne.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.