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Simple photo effects program Akvis ArtSuite ($69, 10-day free trial) offers a generally attractive selection of frames and effects that can be used to decorate your pictures.
ArtSuite's tools are divided into Frames and Effects. Frames has a library of hundreds of edge effects, including Classic, Pattern, Strokes, Scratches, Page Curl and numerous other categories. In addition to the kinds one would expect, such as Antique, Wood or Plastic, ArtSuite has some specialty frames of interest. For instance, the Hand Painted Frames are a selection of artistic edges made up of painted scenes, similar to templates in Adobe Photoshop Elements and other programs. You can even save your own images as frames, though you would have to create the images in another program (such as Corel PaintShop Pro or Photoshop Elements) and save them as a PNG to use them. Far less comprehensive--but also less expensive--than OnOne Software's Photo Frame Standard, ArtSuite's Frames are attractive and appealing. They can be applied, saved, and printed quite quickly.
The Effects are limited to Texture, Shift Colors, Black & White, Channel Mixer, Glamour Effect, and Two keys. However, you might find that the Glamour Effect is worth the price of admission. Select skintones from your image with an eyedropper, and ArtSuite will automatically create a mask that allows you to smooth the skin and easily remove imperfections (such as wrinkles or blemishes).
Options for each Effect vary. For instance, for Texture you choose from a library of a couple dozen surface materials. Then, you select the Scale, positioning (Repetition, Reflection or Alignment) and use sliders to adjust Brightness, Embossment, Reveal Texture and Distortion. Other Effects are much simpler. With Black & White, you can create duotone images using a color wheel. You can save your applied effects as presets.
ArtSuite's interface is clean and uncluttered. However, the zoomable Before and After windows of the selected image are tabs rather than side by side, which makes it cumbersome to compare them. In addition, it doesn't conform to expected Windows design standards. For instance, it has no Undo command, though the key combination of Ctr-Z will sometimes Undo your last action, or you can click on Reset to Default Settings. So, it can take some getting used to.
The workflow can be cumbersome. It took us some time to figure out how to apply a frame. (You have to save it to your hard drive.) Nor were we able to add a frame to a picture that had an effect applied. The two modules act independently. In fact, each Effect is also independent, so you can't apply a Texture to an image you've just turned into a Black & White picture. The workaround is to save the Black & White, open it up, and then apply the Texture to the saved file. Then save that result, open it up, and apply a Frame.
ArtSuite is also available as a plug-in ($49) for Adobe Photoshop and similar programs, such as Corel PaintShop Pro. The advantage of the plug-in is that it will support file formats not supported in the standalone, such as PSD. (ArtSuite standalone supports PNG, BMP, JPEG and TIF file formats.) However, the plug-in doesn't have all the features of the standalone, such as the Hand Painted Frames.
Akvis ArtSuite can be frustrating to use at times. But the Frames are nicely varied and appealing, and the Glamour Effect is a convenient tool for creating portraits with that glossy magazine allure of model perfection.
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