Every once in a while a product debuts that threatens to change the status quo of the established order. PhotoRetouch Pro 1.0 (PRP) is one such example. This application by Binuscan has been seven years in the making, and is being billed by some as a “Photoshop killer”. That’s quite a claim.
Whatever market position PRP ends up occupying, one thing’s for certain: it’s an intelligently crafted and supremely powerful photo-editing and pre-press productivity title. The user interface is the least-cluttered I’ve come across, yet never at the expense of intuitiveness. There are only three floating palettes: one each for tool selection, tool options, and information. PRP uses no layers, and paths and masks are applied directly to the image. Maximizing screen real-estate is the aim here, and, to this end, another nice touch is the editability of the tools pallete. Rarely used tools can be dragged into a toolbox, where they remain accessible, but out of sight.
The engine room of the application is its Process menu, which contains the retouching and re-processing tools. Every engine room needs a stoker, and Binuscan’s is RECO, which draws its name from “rebuilding colours”. This colour engine has its roots not in colour research by some lab rat, but in real ink, a real press (Planeta offset) and one maniacally dedicated pressman. That pressman was Binuscan’s founder, Jean-Marie Binucci, who, in the early 1990s, spent a year doing little else but printing millions of colour swatches in a bid to create a satisfactory desktop colour-separation solution for his own use. It is this work that informs RECO, a technology that provides one-click optimization of an image’s levels, re-organizing the histogram to provide smoother transitions. As a quick, accurate way to enhance image data – not just colour – it’s unbeatable, and far-superior to Photoshop’s Auto Levels.
Processes can be applied globally or as a selection, and it’s here that PRP promises serious productivity gains – courtesy of the Paint Process tool. Applying image changes as a selection in Photoshop is a multi-stage process, involving selection tools and the creation of masked-off adjustment layers. In PRP, control-clicking Paint Process brings up a contextual menu of processes. Real-time changes made in the chosen process’s window are not applied to the image itself. Rather, these are “painted” on with the Paint Process tool, which can be adjusted to paint at anything between 4 and 500 pixels. This maskless painting-on of sharpening, smoothing, saturation and colour changes is liberating.
Other features in Process are equally useful, and all benefit from the well-designed interface: each Process window has a before-&-after window that allows changes to be viewed in real time, so there’s no applying and reapplying, as is so often the case in Photoshop.
JPEG removal is a feature that will be especially welcomed by graphics and pre-press professionals. Although JPEGs display OK on monitors, defects caused by lossy JPEG compression – including jagged object-edges – are all-too-obvious in print. JPEG Removal replaces this information.
Of those processes to have Photoshop equivalents, I found Sharpen, Greyscale Conversion and Saturation produced far-superior results in PRP. Of its similar tools, cropping and path-creation are also superior in terms of ease-of-use and productivity.
Binuscan’s print background is never more evident than in PRP’s colour-separation tables, which are built on ICC architecture. CMYK channels can be edited even when an image is RGB, allowing the user to work on separations using maximum colour information – instead of having to convert to CMYK and losing much information in the process.
Another great print-specific feature is Descreening. Most newspapers find themselves forced at some point to print an already printed image, in the sure knowledge it will be ruined by a horrible moiré effect. Descreening prevents this.
Then there’s the Vacuum Cleaner, a real-time touch-up tool that’s far better and quicker than Photoshop’s cloning tool at eliminating dust and scratches. Although Photoshop 7.0 has improved in this area – introducing a Healing Brush and a Patch tool – these still don’t work in real-time.
CDC 4x, meanwhile, is an interpolation feature that’s actually worth having, being able to increase image size by up to 200 per cent with impressive results. Unlike bicubic interpolation (which generates jaggies, blur and colour changes) CDC 4x preserves edges, sharpness and colours. This feature is designed for increasing the size of images from low-end digital cameras.
Bundled with PRP 1.0 are both reflective and transparent (and always pricey) colour-targets for creating ICC profiles for workflow peripherals – and I’ve a quibble with this: not every PRP customer will need them, so why not offer a cheaper version without them? There was a stability issue, too: the Warp tool crashed the app in both Mac OS 9 and OS X. PRP can also run like syrup in OS 9.
Pre-press professionals who use Photoshop solely for colour-correcting images and for colour separations are missing out: PRP offers smarter, more-accurate colour-management and improvement tools. Its interface is also more intuitive, and it promotes greater productivity. In this regard, PRP can indeed be seen as a Photoshop killer. If, however, you rely more on Photoshop’s image-manipulation tools, then view PRP as a powerful companion product.
PRP will also appeal to niche markets on the strength of single features alone. Photo labs will love its Quantifier process, which offers spot-on one-click colour correction for time-faded colour photos, while medical staff and forensic scientists will kill for DA Radio process, which adds 3D detail to 2D X-rays.