by Leigh Cockrell

Photographers, graphic designers and printing professionals who work with digital images on a daily basis know that to insure maximum quality out-put of their digital images it’s crucial that each image have a high enough resolution (file size) for the print quality and size of the final output. All too often though, images need to be drastically scaled-up or resampled in order to print or display correctly. Doing so effectively, until now, required that you be a well-seasoned Photoshop user with a keen eye or use a professional service provider or printer—a pricey and time consuming option.

But now, a new age in image-scaling has arrived with “pxl SmartScale” - the great new Photoshop plug-in from Extensis (for Mac/Win $199.95). This powerful plug-in lets you resize digital im-ages up to 1600% of the original size with no discernable loss in print quality. Its intuitive in-terface seamlessly integrates into Photoshop with familiar crop, magnification and navigation tools, floating/docking palettes and a full screen preview which lets you view options in real time. A detailed scaling tool gives you the choice of refining your scaled image even more by controlling the overall sharpness, edge contrast and edge detail. These adjustments are unfortunately preset with limited levels and would be more practical if they were slider bar controls with wider ranges.
In addition to its amazing scaling capabilities, SmartScale has a powerful built-in compression file format that provides six levels of visually loss-less compression. The PixelLive (VFZ) file format, at the highest level, reduces files to about 60% of comparable TIFF file sizes and produces proof quality images that are easily emailed.

When saving a file in the PixelLive (PFZ) file format you also have the option of embedding password protection that restricts viewing and modification rights of that file. These files can be shared and viewed from within Photoshop with a free plug-in from Extensis and outside of Pho-toshop with a stand-alone PixelLive application from Celartem. Both are free downloads from their respective web sites.

All things considered this is a wonderful tool for scaling images and the results are amazing. But be forewarned: SmartScale can’t take a postage size image off the web and turn it into a print quality poster. But a clear image at say 700KB can be en-larged to a 175MB file with wonderful results. It really depends on the quality of the original, and ultimately the quality needed in the final output. I’d suggest printing a few samples of your scaling efforts on a high quality output device to evaluate your actual results before you start scaling images that will be used in an expensive high-end print job. Better safe than sorry!

A final note, if you are considering SmartScale be sure your system can support it before you make the investment. The operating system requirements are considerable:

  • Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1 or higher, Photoshop Elements 2.0 or higher
  • Mac OS 9.2.2 or Mac OS X 10.2.5 and higher
  • PowerPC G3, G4, or G4 dual or equivalent
  • 128MB RAM minimum, 256+MB recom-mended
  • Quicktime 5.0.2 or higher (if running Mac OS 9)