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Digital Shoebox: 
  Image Organizers and Viewers  (8/2000)

    by Douglas Dixon

    Hamrick VuePrint -- Cerious ThumbsPlus

    (See also Image Batch Processing Tools )

Is your PC filling up with image files from your digital camera? Do you have photos scattered all around your hard disk, most with names like FILE0014.JPG? Do you find yourself getting nostalgic for the old shoebox full of photos that you could quickly flip through and organize? Maybe what you need is some fun and powerful software tools to help you easily scan though your images and get them organized.

I have two inexpensive Windows tools for you that can help. VuePrint, from Hamrick Software, is an easy-to-use tool for quickly viewing and printing the contents of your directories. ThumbsPlus, from Cerious Software, is a more powerful tool for cataloging and organizing directories over your whole disk.

       

Both of these tools start by providing convenient views of the files on your disk. You can look at the contents of a whole directory with "thumbnail" views of all the files, view individual files, flip through the files in a full-screen "slide show," and print out both individual images and thumbnail views. You also can edit individual images and convert them to a variety of different formats. Both of these tools are available as Web downloads in shareware / trial versions, and then can be purchased electronically and unlocked with a registration number for $40 and $80, respectively.

I've used both these tools for several years, and have been especially pleased with the continuing series of free updates and major upgrades that both companies have provided. The versions reviewed here, with updates through March 2000, have added some cool and powerful new features, including support for video and sound files and multi-image viewing. In this article, I'll describe how these tools are useful for viewing and organizing your image files, and also highlight some of their unique features.

VuePrint

VuePrint from Hamrick Software is just what its name says: an easy-to-use program for viewing and printing files. It is especially useful for quickly scanning through a directory full of lots of files. You can simply select a group of files that you are interested in (or a whole directory), look them all over in a thumbnail view, then quickly flip through them as full-screen images.

VuePrint is developed by Hamrick Software, which was founded by Ed Hamrick as a part-time shareware business in early 1994, and became his full-time effort by June 1994. Hamrick calls VuePrint "the most widely used Windows program for viewing images," based on copies download from America Online and CompuServe. Hamrick has been selling VuePrint on the web for more than 5 years; more than 100,000 customers have purchased copies. "All of the support e-mail is handled by me personally every day," he writes on his site, "so I have a lot of incentive to make the software easy to use and bug-free."

VuePrint is available from the Hamrick web site as a free download, with a 15-day free-trial period. To unlock the downloaded version, you purchase it electronically for $40, and receive a serial number. The version of VuePrint reviewed here is 7.6, released in October 1999 (Version 7.0 was released in January 1999).

VuePrint is designed for fast and easy viewing of a directory of files. It uses only one window, and each different type of display fills that window. You can see the fast and easy approach in the way VuePrint provides one-key access to all its menus and options. To open a file, you type "O" -- not Control-O, or Option-O, or Alt-O, just the single letter keystroke "O". Similarly, you just press "T" for a thumbnail display, press space and backspace to flip to the next and previous image, and press "C" to close the files.

This slightly non-standard interface works well for quickly flipping through a directory examining files,
although VuePrint does have a disconcerting habit of filling the screen with its window. For example, when you select the File Open menu item, instead of displaying the usual small Windows File Open dialog box VuePrint fills the entire screen with a full-size dialog. This is startling at first, but nice once you get used to it, as you can see all the files in the directory.

VuePrint - Viewing Files, Thumbnails, Slide Show

To view a directory with VuePrint, you use the File Open dialog to navigate to the directory, and then select the collection of files that you want to view. You can select the files by type, including just specific image formats (i.e., GIF, BMP, JPG, or TIF), or all image, movie, or sound files. You also can select a specific list of individual files to be opened, or drag and drop files from the Windows Explorer window. VuePrint also can read compressed Zip files and Encoded files (uuencoded, MIME, Binhex) and display their contents.

      Main window

Once you select a group of files, VuePrint opens the first file for you to view. You can then quickly step through the selected files by pressing the space and backspace keys. For image files, you can zoom in and out by left- and right-clicking, click and drag over a rectangular region to zoom in on that area, or left-click and drag to scroll the image. You also can view images files side by side by using the File Split menu option to display a second application window.

      Image window

VuePrint also has an automated slide show option that steps though each selected file and shows or plays it. You can set the delay between files, and also specify various events that you can manually trigger during the slide show, including saving or printing the image.

In thumbnail view, VuePrint displays each image as a small thumbnail in a grid in the window. You can specify the number of images across and down in the grid. However, do not try to display thumbnails of video and sound files, since VuePrint just tries to play all the files one after another. In a directory with different types of files, be careful to just open the image files.

VuePrint - Image Editing and Printing

Beyond viewing files, VuePrint also provides tools for file manipulation, image editing and capture, and printing images. It has menu options to copy, move, and delete individual image files. It can convert images to different formats, and acquire images from TWAIN-enabled scanners.

VuePrint provides an good selection of image editing tools, including resize and crop, rotate and mirror, intensity and contrast, color balance, invert, and white / black point adjustments. It has a histogram display to help with these options. However, it has limited undo capability; the Undo menu item only applies to a resize operation. In some cases, you can reverse the effect of the last operation by selecting its opposite (i.e., brighten and then dim), but your best bet is to select the Reset menu item and start over.

Beyond viewing and editing, VuePrint is also a handy tool for printing images. You can print individual images, or a directory of image thumbnails from the thumbnail view. It provides some basic options for specifying margins and captions, and for stretching the image to fill the page.

VuePrint - Additional Features

VuePrint also provides some bonus features and utilities. It can save an image as the wallpaper for your Windows desktop, and install a screen saver to display a collection of image files in random order. It also can be run from a command line to batch up operations to convert or print a group of files.

VuePrint includes three other free utilities, VueIcons (display file icons as thumbnails of the image in Windows Explorer), VueSlide (for distributing slide shows on CD-ROM or floppy disk), and VueScan (for film scanners)

"I'm focused on film scanner software right now," says Hamrick. "I'm getting 100 e-mails a day about VueScan, and there's a lot of interest in it."

ThumbsPlus

ThumbsPlus, from Cerious Software, is a powerful tool for organizing and viewing big collections of media files.

Cerious Software was founded by Phillip Crews in 1992 as a software consulting firm. In 1994, he began marketing Thumbs as shareware, and quit his day job to work on it full time in July 1994. By 1996, the company had grown to six people (you can see their pictures in the "Thanks" section of the Help file). ThumbsPlus is now available in German and Japanese versions, and Cerious has shareware and retail distributors throughout Europe and in Japan.

ThumbsPlus is available from the Cerious Software as a free download for a thirty-day evaluation period. The single user price is $79.95, the upgrade to the new version 4 was $25, and the version 4.10 update is available as a free download. Version 4.10 was released in March 2000, and includes more consistent support for sound and movie files.

The core of ThumbsPlus is an ODBC database that maintains information about your media files and directory organization. This information includes the physical directories and files on your disks, the image thumbnails (so they are instantly available the next time you view the directory), user-defined fields for annotating and searching your files, and logical galleries in that you can group related images from different directories for easy access.

All this complexity and capability is hidden behind a conventional interface much like Windows Explorer, in which you view the tree structure of your disks and directories in the left pane, and thumbnails of the files in the current directory in the right pane. You just click on a directory to see its contents, and double-click on a file to view and edit it in its own separate window. Behind the scenes, ThumbsPlus is updating the database and running background operations to extract the thumbnail images, all without bothering you or even slowing down the user interface.

Of course, you can explicitly tell ThumbsPlus to scan a directory tree, or even a whole disk, so that all the thumbnails are entered in the database. You can also have several databases, and even import and export them. Thumbs will even keep track of files over the network, and offline files on CD-ROM and floppies. You also can take advantage of the database by searching for files with matching names or annotations, and by searching for similar images across a directory or the whole database.

ThumbsPlus - Viewing Files, Thumbnails, Slide Show

In the main window, ThumbsPlus shows the directory tree and thumbnails for the media files in the currently selected directory. Thumbs understands Zip files, and can display their contents like a directory. Thumbs has many options for displaying the thumbnails, including the size, layout, and annotations (with file name, size, date, resolution, etc.).

         Main window

Since the main Thumbs window is a file explorer, you can move, copy, delete, and rename files and folders by simply clicking and dragging, both within the Thumbs window and back and forth to Windows Explorer. The Thumbs window is automatically updated when the contents of the directory changes. Thumbs even has an Auto Rename option to name a series of files with a numeric suffix, and a Favorites list to save commonly-used directories.

To view a file, simply double-click on the thumbnail to bring up an image editing window. When viewing images, you can zoom in and out and scroll within a large image. You can open multiple image windows and arrange them yourself, or select the Tile Views option to automatically lay out the image windows, or the Sync Views option to synchronize the windows so when you scroll and zoom in one window you see the corresponding view in the other windows.

      Image window

From the image window, you can step through a series of files by pressing space or backspace. You also can use the Image Slide Show menu option in the main window to step through a full-screen display of each image file, with its name and file number in the directory.

ThumbsPlus - Image Editing and Printing

ThumbsPlus has extensive options for capturing, editing, and converting images. It can acquire images from TWAIN scanners, and supports digital camera formats. It can read and write over 50 image file formats.

Thumbs provides a wide array of image editing operations, including resize, crop and autocrop, rotate and flip, detailed intensity and color adjustment, filtering (noise, blur, sharpen, enhance), and special processing (auto color balance, cleanup JPEG artifacts, cleanup digital camera). It also provides a histogram view and histogram adjustments. While not a general image painting or drawing tool, Thumbs does provide a Stamp function to stamp an icon (like a logo) or a text string on the image.

ThumbsPlus is particularly useful for printing images. When printing individual images, you have extensive control over the margins, image resolution on the page, and image annotations to be printed. But the Print Catalog option is even more powerful: It gives you complete control of the layout of a collection of image thumbnails on each page, including the grid structure, headers and footers, annotations, and even fonts. And you can print catalogs for a group of selected files, or an entire directory, or an entire directory tree.

ThumbsPlus - Additional Features

Beyond its printing capabilities, ThumbsPlus also provides two other ways of exporting and viewing collections of images. You can create Contact Sheets, which are a group of image files with annotated thumbnails (like the printed catalog). 

      Contact sheet

You can also use the Web Page Wizard to create a collection of Web pages with annotated thumbnails, plus the ability to click on the thumbnail to see the full-size image. Thumbs creates an entire directory with the HTML files, thumbnail images, and full-size images, all at the desired resolutions. It gives you options to apply schemes to the Web pages, specify the layout and annotations, enter titles and footers, and even will simplify the file names to common Web usage.

    Web page

Finally, you can batch process a group of images using ThumbsPlus by defining a Batch Set, which is a series of image manipulation and editing operations to be applied to a group of files. In this way, you can clean up a set of images with some filtering, resize or crop, convert formats, overlay text or an image icon, or even apply a Digimarc digital watermark.

Image Viewing and Organizing Tools

VuePrint is a great utility for quickly looking though a group of files, using the thumbnail option to get a quick overview of all the files, and then the slide show features to flip through them in full-screen size. I find the single key operation makes flipping through files and between views especially fast and easy.

ThumbsPlus is a much more sophisticated tool, at twice the price, that I fire up when I need to view and manage an entire collection of directories. By using the explorer file tree view, and keeping all the information in a database, it's faster and easier for switching between different directories (without waiting for all the thumbnails to be recreated). Thumbs has strong image editing features, and lots of extra options, including the ability to batch process a group of files.

My favorite feature of ThumbsPlus has been the Print Catalog option, that lets me print out pages of thumbnails at just the right resolution to be useful for reviewing and sharing with others. The recent version 4 release then added some wonderful new capabilities and polished up the user interface and responsiveness. My new favorite feature is the Web Page Wizard, that lets me quickly export a collection of files (including video and sound clips) for Web viewing. In addition, since Thumbs lets you collect a group of files into a logical Gallery, you can easily create and update a series of Web pages without needing to move or duplicate files on disk.

References

VuePrint, Hamrick Software
    www.hamrick.com

ThumbsPlus, Cerious Software
    www.cerious.com