LizardTech Genuine Fractals 3.5

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Greatly improved print quality when bitmap scaling, especially for 16-bit files, but increasingly looking outdated.

Bitmapped images, whether digital photos, scans or computer-originated, play an essential role in all publishing workflows but they have a fundamental limitation: their resolution and so maximum quality is fixed when the image is first created. Of course you can always increase the resolution and image size after creation in a bitmap editor such as Photoshop with the program interpolating the extra pixels as necessary, but inevitably these averaged results look soft or, even worse, pixelated. That’s why Genuine Fractals caused such a stir when it first appeared with its claims to provide “resolution on demand”, in other words the ability to scale up your bitmaps without losing quality.

The program works as an import/export plug-in for Photoshop. First you save your flattened image to the proprietary STN format which is based on fractal and wavelet technology. This offers two options: Lossless which ensures that size-for-size the pixel data of the STN is identical to the original and Visually Lossless which offers greater compression and so smaller file sizes (smaller than the equivalent TIFF but larger than JPEG). The big difference comes when you re-open your STN file as the Genuine Fractals dialog appears enabling you to scale your image, or a selected part of it, to any size that you want.

This is exactly how the original version of Genuine Fractals worked back in 2001 so what’s changed? The answer is very little. The working method is identical as is the STN format and so end results. There’s been some minor tweaking around the edges with a slightly larger dialog preview and now thumbnail support for STN files within Photoshop’s File Browser and Windows Explorer. The only serious reason that you might be tempted to upgrade however is that Genuine Fractals 3.5 now supports high-end 16-bit RGB files (though if you work with CMYK or Lab files you’ll still need to upgrade to the more expensive Genuine Fractals PrintPro).

So the big question is does Genuine Fractals work? The answer is a definite but qualified “yes”. Compared to images blown up with Photoshop’s own Bicubic resampling, the resized STN images are less averaged and less soft and so keep more of their visual impact. And it’s an improvement that is even more marked where it counts the most – in print. However that’s certainly not to say that the results are perfect. No program can add detail that isn’t there in the first place – you’ll never be able to print an acceptable poster from a web graphic or screenshot for example – but it is possible to keep the deterioration in quality in check.

If you regularly have to scale and print images beyond their comfort zone then Genuine Fractals can certainly help improve their quality. However the program hasn’t kept up with the times and, apart from the 16-bit support, pxl SmartScale from Extensis now offers more.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

October 2004

Requirements: Pentium III, 128/256MB of RAM, 10MB of hard disk space, Windows 2000 or XP, Adobe Photoshop 6 or later


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