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[Review] ArtMasterPro

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Old 05-27-2006, 06:43 PM
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[Review] ArtMasterPro

I suggested to Don McCrae over at Fo2PiX I'd might do a review of ArtMasterPro almost a year ago. But after using it a bit, I decided I couldn't review it (more on that later). But the current pencil sketch contest, combined with the wisdom offered by procrastination has persuaded me to change my mind.

What is ArtMasterPro?
ArtMasterPro is a standalone program for turning photos into photo-art. Now, programs that can do that are common, even Photoshop Elements can do a passable job. But what makes AMP different is the experience and knowledge earned by Don over his years of development of software like Buzz.Pro (famous in the photo-art world). And some of the results to be had using AMP are beautiful and much more realistic artistic renderings than all but the most labor-intensive techniques can offer using other software.

In its simplest mode, AMP offers a wizard interface (see attached screencap) that walks you through the conversion step by step. Almost every step offers the opportunity for control and customization. And, of course there's a full manual mode for the truly ambitious.

After choosing your desired artistic effect from a list, AMP analyzes the photo a dozen or more different ways and stores each of these results. Then it uses each result at the appropriate time to help create the finished artwork. The amount of control offered at each step varies, from adjusting sliders to actually painting on the image. But you can also just accept default values for each step.

AMP ships with 15 ArtWizards (photo-art styles) and more can be purchased on their website. You can also record and save your own custom wizards. There's a free trial version you can download and use 10 times.

Ok, if it's so amazing, why didn't you review it a year ago?
Two reasons. I'll offer each, then explain why I changed my mind.

It's expensive
The $499 pricetag for ArtMasterPro was just shocking to me. Add another $20 for each additional wizard and it gets even pricier. I mean, it's not even a plugin, and aside from its fabulous artistic renderings it has some pretty severe technical shortcomings (more on that in a bit). However, I came to realize that AMP isn't aimed at you or me, or any other hobbyist or casual user. It's aimed at photo studios, minilabs, and other commercial outlets that want to add additional services for their customers to buy. In that situation, considering the quality of AMP's output and the negligable effort involved, the prices are a total non-issue. I'd recommend it in a second for that invironment.

It's buggy and has technical limitations
Well, that's not totally fair. I did have a lot of technical problems (crashes, files not saving, etc.). And there are filesize restrictions, both input and output. And you need a patch to use TIF files, and I've yet to get it to save as GIF. But these can't be totally blamed on AMP (but can be totally blamed on Fo2PiX). You see, AMP is written in Java, which is an idiocyncratic choice, to put it nicely. My guess is that Java was chosen so it could run on both Windows and Mac machines. But Java is not a bulletproof development language (again, putting it nicely) and Java apps can wilt like a maiden aunt if you don't treat them just right. So again, too frustrating for the home user, but if you're getting paid $30 for 5 minutes work you can put up with a lot of frustration.

So, bottom line. Do you recommend ArtMasterPro?
If you sell portraits, or sell prints, or sell frames, or have any sort of retail customer flow and can hang out a "we turn your prints into paintings" shingle, then yes. ArtMasterPro probably does a better job than you'll be able to do on your own, and certainly does it a lot faster. The software cost will be made back very quickly, and the technical quirks can be cussed at in private, away from the customers.

If you're a hobbyist, or a budding artist, I'd steer you away from ArtMasterPro. It's results can be stunning, but they're Don McCrae's art, not yours. But I'd definitely recommend some of the other tools offered by Fo2PiX.

(attached is the contest photo run through just the default settings and slightly resized for uploading. AMP can do much, much better, I promise, but I did this less than 2 minutes so I could have something to attach).
Attached Images
File Type: jpg scrncap.jpg (63.0 KB, 32 views)
File Type: jpg pencil.jpg (96.9 KB, 48 views)
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