For those of you who are in the stone ages, Genuine Fractals is the defacto standard used by professional printers to resize images prior to printing. It is also used by a ton of web developers who want to resize images without jaggy artifacts when publishing images to the web. In this article, I try to determine if it is as great as its reputation or if Photoshop CS3 has finally gotten good enough to make this program obsolete.
NOTE: This article was not done with Photoshop CS4 because I do not currently own CS4 due to Adobe's bizarre upgrade policy (you can't downgrade from CS3 Design Premium to just CS4 Photoshop).
Photoshop CS3 versus Genuine Fractals 6.0 Downsizing Comparisons
When using the default settings with sharpening turned off from Genuine Fractals 6.0, you'll notice that CS3 does a pretty good job - in fact I'd say it is a bit better than Genuine Fractals 6.0:
However, that's now how you're supposed to do resizing because the best results are achieved when you sharpen just before saving. As a result, check out this version which uses the default sharpening settings of Radius 2, Amount 100, Threshold 30:
The sharpened version is much better, but I still prefer the Photoshop version because there's a slight artifact at the bottom of the fourth star on the bottom of the left gate as shown magnified here:
For those who are interested, I've included the settings used in both products below. Click on the image of the Genuine Fractals dialog to see a larger version with legible text.
Genuine Fractals 6.0 Default Resize Values
Photoshop CS3 Default Resize Values
In The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers Scott Kelby suggests that for reduction you should use Bicubic (best for smooth gradients) when downsizing (instead of the Bicubic Sharpener (best for reduction) option used above), so I also tried that and here's the result:
In this case, excluding the artifact bug, I prefer the Genuine Fractals 6.0 version (hover in and out of the picture to compare both versions).
Photoshop CS3 versus Genuine Fractals 6.0 Upsizing Comparisons
Here's a portion of the original image cropped at 100%:
Here's the results of a 100% crop of a portion of the same area after a 200% upsize with GF6 (no sharpening) defaults:
Here's a similar 100% crop of a 200% resize using Photoshop CS3's "Bicubic Smoother - (Best for Enlargements)" option in one resize (versus the conventional wisdom that says do your upsizing in 10% increments:
In my opinion the previous GF6 version looks a bit better and sharper than the Photoshop version. However, in The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers Scott Kelby suggests that you should resize in one step using the Bicubic Sharper (best for reduction) option - yes, you read that right - use the reduction option when enlarging! Anyway, here's the results using that option:
In this case, I'd have to say that Kelby was right because you get results that pretty much match those of Genuine Fractals 6.0 in my opinion. Kelby credits Vincent Versace with teaching him this technique, and I've gotta say that Vincent is on to something!
What's New in GF6
The web site does a good job of explaining what's new for Genuine Fractals 6.0, but my favorite features are the Gallery Wrap feature, the Tiling feature, and Batch Processing. Unfortunately all of these features are found in the Professional Edition only, so don't bother with the Standard Version.
If you've ever done a canvas, then you know that you need a little extra space in your image for the canvas to wrap around the wood mount. This simple, but wonderful feature makes that a snap to do when you are already using Genuine Fractals to resize your image to its final destination size.
Have a small printer, but want to make a huge print of something (practically speaking, think things like flow charts)? This is your feature as will do the hard work of breaking your image up for you so that you can print and piece it together later.
Have a directory full of images that you need to resize? Well now you can do it quickly and easily with this very useful feature.
What about the Lightroom Support?
Well that was one of those features I got excited about when I saw it, but the real implementation is a bit lame as it is really little more than a droplet which means Photoshop must be installed on your machine.
To use Genuine Fractals in Lightroom 2.0, you don't use the Export dialog as you might imagine but instead you use the File | Plug-In Extra's menu (yeah, I didn't know it existed either) which presents you with this dialog:
From there I suppose it would take you into Photoshop and give you the express dialog, but I never got that far. My CS3 installation is a bit flaky since I installed then uninstalled the CS4 trial version, so now I just get a droplet error when I try this. While I'm sure a clean installation would produce a better result, I'm not seeing anything here that makes me want to use the Lightroom support directly so I consider this to be a non-feature.
What about Alienskin Blow Up 2?
If you are like me and you've been seeing ads for Alien Skin's Blow Up 2 product, then you probably wonder if it is any good. I did too, so I downloaded the demo and put it to the test just a point of reference:
All I can say is WOW - that's good! This was with its default settings and no sharpening as shown here in its UI (which renders the results in near real-time):
I think onOne has a stiff new competitor in town so stay tuned for my upcoming review of this and other products from Alien Skin Software.
What's the Verdict?
Before I wrote this article, I had been super happy with Genuine Fractals 6.0 for downsizing images because everything I've ever thrown at it has turned out very well. If you've read some of my recent reviews then you've seen GF6 in action. For example, here's a recent photo that I was very pleased with:
It not only resized the image of the car nicely, but it did a reasonable job with the text and thumbnail images. However, when I wrote this article I decided to throw a very tough and complicated image to it so I'd put it to the test, and I'm sad to say it didn't perform as well as I would have hoped.
I can say that printing experts I've talked to say that when you are taking high res images and making them larger, the results are significantly better. However, nothing in this article has given me any significant proof of that. In fact, Blow Up 2 has blown my mind and shown me that a seriously good alternative exists.
The moral of the story is that you can still get reasonable results compared to GF6 using tried and true techniques in Photoshop. In addition, if you outsource your printing and web publishing (i.e., Smugmug, Flickr, 3rd Party) then you may never need to own this product as others will do the resizing for you. You just send your highest resolution images to these sites and let them do the rest. However, if you really need to do some serious resizing then you might want to take a look at Alien Skin's Blow Up 2 .
The problems seen with GF6 in this article causes reason for concern, but I know the folks at onOne will be working hard to address the problem and this isn't likely to occur with more typical photos. However, it is clear that the competition is heating up in this space so the new kid on the block (Blow Up 2) might cause some pain for onOne until they can catch up.
TIP: For best results save and then temporarily flatten your image before resizing an image with Genuine Fractals, and for the love of God don't have a smart filter in your layers palette or else you'll be waiting a long time for the resize.
Please visit the Discount Coupon Code page for a discount when you buy directly from onOne Software. You can also try out a free demo and watch some cool videos so you can see if this product is right for you.
Please use this link when purchasing from Alien Skin software. Unfortunately they have discontinued all coupon codes at this time from all sites.