REVIEW: BLOW UP 2
A while back (well, two years ago) we reviewed a product called BlowUp from Alien Skin Software and that review can be found at http://www.the3dstudio.com/product_details.aspx?id_product=19868. Alien Skin has come out with version 2 of the BlowUp plugin for Photoshop and we will be covering what’s new in v2 in this review.
If you have ever tried to enlarge an image using a program like Photoshop you know that you can’t enlarge too much before you start to see blurriness and artifacts in the image. The idea behind BlowUp 2 is that instead of using standard methods like Photoshop’s bicubic enlargement it converts the pixels to a vector representation of the image which allows for smoother enlargements with crisp edges.
WHAT’S NEW IN 2
For the most part v2 is the same as BlowUp v1, at least in how it works (though it does have a much better interface now). As you would expect, a second version does bring in a bunch of new features that improve the overall product and we will cover some of those new features now.
? Image quality has been improved in the enlargements and the plugin can even cleanup JPEG compression artifacts when a low quality JPG image is all you have.
? You can now automate batch jobs using BlowUp 2 instead of having to manually automate them in Photoshop.
? You can now crop your images in the preview area so that only that area gets enlarged instead of the entire image.
? There are tons of pre-made settings for all sorts of paper types and sizes so you can quickly and easily enlarge with just a click or two. You can also manually control all of these settings and even save your own presets.
? You can enlarge images up to 300,000 which is way more than you would ever use but at least it isn’t stuck around 30-32k pixels like some other products are.
? Enlarging is much faster now and it supports multiple processors and multi-core processors.
HOW BIG CAN YOU GO?
Any time you use an image enlargement program like this the first question is always “How much can it enlarge?” In this case, there is no set answer to that question because it can, in theory, enlarge to around 300,000 pixels on a side (the Photoshop limit).
In real world use we were able to get pretty good results when enlarging up to around 400%, assuming you started with a good image. If you look at the example on the Alien Skin website you will see that in most cases they too enlarge around 200% to 400%.
There are certainly exceptions to this and times where you can enlarge far beyond that but usually only if you are printing on really large surfaces that will be viewed from further back. Don’t expect to take a 50x50 pixel image and blow it up to 5000x5000 and have it look good, no product can do that.
Here is the perfect example, you are out in your yard one day as the sun is setting and happen to have your DSLR camera on you when you see something streaking across the sky. You quickly aim the camera and fire off a few shots and within seconds the objects is out of sight.
As with any good UFO pictures all of the elements for a crappy picture were in place: Low light, check. Camera on macro setting by mistake, check. Camera being held by moving arms instead of a tripod, check. Here is a shot of the original image (scaled down for the point of this review on the left) and the BlowUp 2 enlargement of the UFO on the right. It can’t work miracles. My UFO is still unidentified.
SO WHAT CAN IT DO?
We have used the original BlowUp for quite a while and have used many competing products in the past, such as Genuine Fractals, so it would be pretty easy to include sample pictures here but you can just as easily see the samples posted on the Alien Skin website: http://www.alienskin.com/blowup/blowup_examples.aspx
As you can see from their examples, they don’t BlowUp the images too far and stick to 200% or so. This is fairly normal but in most cases you can easily go to 400% or so before the image stops looking good.
Now here is a real world example from a recent vacation. And by real world I mean a really low resolution image with bad JPG compression taken by somebody making minimum wage that has no clue how to use their camera beyond the “take a picture” button.
The original picture was 286x400 pixels (take from a DSLR but scaled down for website viewing so can get you to buy the larger version they took of you).
Original image (cropped)
Photoshop bicubic enlargement to 1200x1800 then cropped
BlowUp 2 enlargement to 1200x1800 then cropped
The differences between the Photoshop enlargement and the BlowUp 2 enlargement are very obvious. BlowUp 2 does a much better job at reducing the jaggies. When I printed all 3 of these on 4x6 glossy photo paper the BlowUp 2 version came out quite nice, though still not the same as if it was the original DSLR image of course (which would have been around 4000 pixels). Considering the low resolution original, though, it did a really nice job.
BlowUp 2 is a really great program and is even better than the first version, not to mention much faster. The original version was sold for around $199 while the new version is at $249. That’s a little high for the average home user but if you do a lot of photo enlarging work then it is a small price to pay for such a powerful program. If you are upgrading from v1 to v2 the upgrade price is only $99. There are cheaper programs out there, but they don’t offer the high end features of BlowUp 2, or the ease of use.
Drop by www.alienskin.com to purchase this plugin. Blow Up 2 works with Photoshop CS2 9.0.2 or later or Elements 4.0.1 (Mac) or Elements 5 or later (PC). With that said, it ran just fine on Photoshop CS (original) that is on our review machine.
The real question is: Why Adobe hasn’t bought up Alien Skin and simply included all of their cool plugins right into Photoshop?
The3dStudio.com gives BlowUp 2 from Alien Skin Software 5 out of 5 stars, and two enlarged thumbs up.
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