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Munching Images: 
    Tools for Batch Processing Your Photos  (6/2001)

    by Douglas Dixon

   ACDSee / ACD Systems   --  CompuPic / Photodex Corp.
   Image Robot / Jasc Software  --  ThumbsPlus / Cerious Software

    (See also Image Organizers and Viewers)
    (See also DeBabelizer)

As you work with your digital images, do you find yourself repeating the same tasks over and over again? Perhaps you have a set of vacation photos that you want to send to you family, but need to shrink and compress them all down before sending them by e-mail. Maybe you need to touch up a collection of dark interior shots by brightening and sharpening them.

Now you can stop having to perform these kinds of repetitive tasks manually on each image: Photo and image editing tools are adding "batch" capabilities to automate the process of applying these kinds of common operations to a list of files.

In this article I'll describe four different image tools that provide a range of support for batch operations: ACDSee from ACD Systems, CompuPic from Photodex Corporation, Paint Shop Pro with Image Robot from Jasc Software, and ThumbsPlus from Cerious Software.

Each of these tools has developed strong customer support through years of development and enhancement. Each provides a wide range of general capabilities, including image browsing, viewing, and editing. They are also relatively inexpensive (under $100), and have evaluation versions available for download. Two are Windows-only applications, and the other two are cross-platform, available for the Macintosh, and one also for Unix.

Photo and Image Tools

These days, photo and image editing tools have grown to provide a comprehensive set of image-handling capabilities, from input capture to image processing to output. These four tools each span almost the full range of capabilities, including:

- Image Capture: Input from scanners and digital cameras
- Image Files: View a wide variety of image file formats
- Multimedia Files: Play multimedia (video and audio) file formats
- File Browsing: Explore the hierarchy of folders on disk; View each directory's contents as thumbnail images
- File Management: Organize files while viewing image thumbnails; Rename, copy, move, delete
- Image Viewing: Quick viewing of individual images; Zoom, scroll, side-by-side, slide show
- Image Editing: Manual paining operations; Brush, overlay, tweak pixels, text, layers, masks
- Image Manipulations: Resize, rotate, adjust color, filters, arithmetic operations
- Photo Adjustments: Automated photo clean-ups; Red-eye reduction, scratch removal, color balance
- Photo Effects: Fun effects; Artistic look, distortions, textures, picture frames
- Print: Print individual and multiple images, contact sheets, thumbnail catalogs
- Convert and Export: Save in a wide variety of image file formats
- Generate Web Pages: Export photo album as Web pages with image thumbnails and links
- Share: Send via e-mail or upload to a photo-sharing Web site

In this article, I'll highlight the strengths and market focus of each tool, and then concentrate on the batch-processing functions. I'll leave it up to you to decide which kind of tool is most appropriate for the way you work with image and other media files.

ACDSee / ACD Systems

ACDSee, from ACD Systems (www.acdsystems.com), is an image viewer for digital image management and enhancement, with a focus on fast image viewing. ACDSee has been under development since 1993, and has an estimated 15 million users worldwide. With over 15,000 corporate customers, ACDSee has been particularly popular for professional applications, and recently received a 2000 Front Line Award from Game Developer magazine.

The current version, ACDSee 3.1 Service Release 1, was released in December 2000 for Windows. This release included faster image display, batch file functions, redeye reduction, and support for exporting to thumbnail contact sheets and Web pages.

The ACDSee browser provides fast access to images in both directories and ZIP archives. Image files are displayed as thumbnails or in details list, and the browser also has a Preview window to immediately view the selected image. The browser also has a Tag window to annotate images with descriptive information for later searching. ACDSee has a simple Viewer window for fast image viewing, and a separate Photo Enhancer window for more sophisticated effects, filters, and color adjustments.

   

ACDSee provides batch operations through individual commands that can operate on a selected group of one or more files. The Rename Series command renames a selected collection of files according to a numbered series (i.e., file-01, file-02, etc.). The Convert command saves one or more files in a desired output image file format. The JPEG Transform command rotates one or more files. The Adjust Level command adjusts image brightness, contrast, whitepoint / blackpoint, and gamma settings.

   

ACDSee 3.1 for Windows is available as a $49.95 download. A Macintosh viewer and browser, ACDSee for Mac 1.5, is available for $39.95. ACD Systems also sells a suite of individual tools for image viewing, image management, slide shows and screen savers, photo editing, Web servers, and instant messaging.

CompuPic / Photodex Corp.

CompuPic from Photodex Corp. (www.photodex.com) is a digital content manager application for finding, viewing, editing, and sharing image files. Photodex has been developing photo browsers since 1991, and estimates that the CompuPic product line has 10 million users worldwide. CompuPic is available for a wide variety of platforms, from Windows to Macintosh to various Linux and Unix systems.

Photodex released CompuPic version 5.1 in June 2000, and then CompuPic 5.2 and CompuPic Pro 5.2 for Windows in November 2000. The 5.2 version added lossless JPEG image rotation, unlimited undo and redo, and a new interface with customizable toolbars. The new CompuPic Pro 5.2 version also includes web page generation, website scanning and download, HTML page management, Picture CD creation, and advanced batch operations.

   

CompuPic includes a Batch Conversions utility to quickly change the file format of a group of files. You first select the files to convert into a File List, and then choose the Direct Conversions command. CompuPic then displays a dialog to specify the output folder for the converted files, the color depth, and output file format.

The Advanced Batch Conversions (ABC) utility in the CompuPic Pro product provides the ability to select from a set of available operations to perform on a collection of images. These include: resize, crop and border, image adjustments (brightness, contract, color, white / back point, gamma), rename and output path, text and image overlay, and rotate, mirror and flip. You can also save a configuration for later use.

   

The base CompuPic application is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux/Unix for $39.95, and CompuPic Pro 5.2 is available for $99.95. A manual set and CD also is available for $9.95. The CD contains copies of the application for all platforms that you can unlock with a registration key.

The next 5.3 version of the CompuPic tools are due to be released at the end of January 2001. CompuPic 5.3 should allow you to browse all file types on your system, and launch an associated external application if needed to view the file. It should also include a batch rename function. CompuPic Pro 5.3 should have full database support with the ability to attach any kind of information or metadata to any file. Photodex is targeting it to enable power users to better manage large collections of photos.

Image Robot / Jasc Software

Paint Shop Pro from Jasc Software (www.jasc.com) is a popular Windows image editing application that has grown from its shareware roots into a very capable tool for photo browsing and editing. Jasc reports that Paint Shop Pro is the second best selling retail photo editing application (after Adobe Photoshop), and estimates that it now has 20 million users. While Paint Shop Pro has a built-in batch capability for converting between different image file formats, Jasc also sells a companion program, Image Robot, for automating graphics operations.

The core of Paint Shop Pro is a full-fledged image editor with graphics drawing and painting functions, plus image filtering, manipulations, and conversions. It has also added basic image browsing capabilities, and Web support for GIF animations by including the Jasc Animation Shop tool.

   

Paint Shop Pro 7, released in September 2000, added photo clean-up tools like red-eye removal and automated color adjustment, more special effects, Web image tools, and productivity enhancements including the ability to save and restore a project in progress as a workspace.

Image Robot essentially packages up many of the Paint Shop Pro image adjustment, manipulation, and filtering capabilities so they can be saved as a script and applied as a batch operation to a group of files. Image Robot can be used standalone and as a complement to Paint Shop Pro.

Image Robot 2.1 from fall 1999 enhanced the ability to manage list of images to be processed, and added support for new file formats including Encapsulated Postscript. Image Robot 2.12 from fall 2000 added support for the Paint Shop Pro 7 file format.

   

To use Image Robot, you first build a script with a list of commands. This process is completely graphical; you scroll through a list of available commands in the main Image Robot window, add each command to the script, and set the command options in a dialog box. As you build the script, you can add, delete, re-order, and edit the commands in the list. Image Robot also has a small Preview area where you can load a sample image to visually check the results of running individual commands and even the entire script on that image. You can also check the commands by scrolling through the list and reading a text display of the command options.

When you have finished building a script, you can then start it running. Image Robot will prompt for the input files that it is to be applied to, and the output directory and file format for the processed files. But you can automate the process even further, by building an Image List of files to be processed, and by defining the output directory and format as part of the script. Since you can save and load both scripts and image lists, this gives lots of flexibility for processing the same group of files in several different ways. For the ultimate in automation, you can also run scripts from the command line.

Image Robot 1.2 is available for $89 for download. Paint Shop Pro is available for $99 for the download version, or $109 for the boxed retail product. Jasc also sells Media Center Plus, a digital media file organizer, and Quick View Plus, for previewing the contents of almost any kind of file.

ThumbsPlus / Cerious Software

ThumbsPlus from Cerious Software (www.cerious.com) for Windows combines a powerful media file database with image viewing, editing, and conversion tools, plus a powerful batch processing capability. The core of ThumbsPlus is a full-fledged database of digital media files that you access by exploring your disk directory structure and viewing image thumbnails. You can then use ThumbsPlus to manage your files and even search for images by content, i.e., for images that look similar to another in color or shapes.

   

In recent releases, Cerious has been adding stronger support for Web page and contact sheet output, and other digital media types (audio and video). ThumbsPlus 4.10 from June 2000 added movie thumbnail and viewing options and now uses DirectShow for all movie and sound files.

ThumbsPlus has a simple Image / Convert command for converting multiple files to common types, plus a full-fledged Batch Process command similar to Image Robot. ThumbsPlus presents the batch process as a multiple-step series of dialog boxes: first open an existing batch set or define a new one, then select the files to process, then build the list of commands, including transforms, adjustments, file information, and processing, then select the output format, directory, and names, and finally run the batch set.

   

The ThumbsPlus batch sets can get quite sophisticated, including calling a batch set from within another one, operating on vector metafiles, and renaming the output files with a numeric sequence. ThumbsPlus is available for Windows for $74.95 for download, or for $79.95 shipped with CD-ROM and documentation

Good Batch

With these tools in hand, you no longer need to be manually repeating the same image operations over and over again. Whatever kind of image tool you like to work with, on whatever platform, from a viewer to a browser to an image editor, you can find batch file processing capabilities to fit your needs.

ACDSee for Windows and Macintosh is a fast image browser and viewer that has extended several of its basic commands to also operate on a group of files.

CompuPic is a similar digital content manager and fast viewer for Windows, Macintosh, and Unix. CompuPic Pro adds the ability to define and execute sets of operations on a group of images, as well as other features such as Web page import and export.

Image Robot is a Windows batch processing tool for creating and running arbitrary lists of commands command on lists of images. It is based on the commands supported in PaintShop Pro, but is a separate, stand-alone tool.

ThumbsPlus is a database-driven Windows image browser, manager, and manipulation tool with a fully-integrated batch processing capability for defining and running lists of commands.

All of these tools are available for download as evaluation versions, and all cost under $100. So give them a try, and get automated as you manage media files on your desktop, clean up scanned photos, and manipulate your images.

References

ACD Systems - ACDSee
    www.acdsystems.com

Cerious Software - ThumbsPlus
    www.cerious.com

Jasc Software - Paint Shop Pro, Image Robot
    www.jasc.com

Photodex Corporation - CompuPic
    www.photodex.com