Portraits & Prints from Econ Technologies is an application much like those you will find at many portrait studios. It features quick and easy touch-up and picture printing functions with easy to use templates for printing multiple images in different sizes on the same sheet of paper.
Being a photography major I was the natural choice for reviewing this software, and this is actually a product I have been meaning to try out. I am an almost daily user of Adobe Photoshop so I wasn’t quite sure whether or not I would like this application at first. It didn’t take me long to realized that it was actually a very handy application.
Where might you use this application instead of Photoshop, which has a very similar Picture Package feature? When you need to do it fast and easy is the first thing that comes to my mind. I was recently part of a very small team that was taking photographs at a formal dance and providing people with digital prints a few minutes later. I was manning my iBook and using Photoshop to manually crop the images to 5×7 and then using the picture package feature to setup and print two images per 8.5×11 inch sheet of paper. At first this was working fine but eventually I started to get overwhelmed and the wait for the pictures went from ten minutes to over thirty minutes. Portraits & Prints would have allowed me to streamline the workflow and save time.
In my testing of Portraits & Prints I haven’t gone lightly on the application. I decided to throw a folder of 36 300 DPI 11×14 inch TIFF’s, all of which were around 25 megabytes each, onto it to see what would happen. Portraits & Prints managed to handle all 938 megabytes without flinching. I would even go so far as to say that it generated the thumbnails of each image as fast as Photoshop CS’s File Browser would have if not faster. Changing between images did take a few seconds but this is to be expected on a 1 GHz iBook.
Portraits & Prints has some fast and easy to use image enhancement features. They offer you adjustments for Saturation, Brightness, Contrast, and Sharpness. These are presented as easy to use sliders but they lack a level of fine control since they can only be adjusted in increments of plus or minus ten percent. I am impressed with how well the Sharpness enhancing feature works though. Econ Technologies appears to be using a method more akin to Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask filter than convention sharpen methods, which often cause a higher level of noise. One of the problems though is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to view an image at actual size so it can be hard to judge if you have over sharpened or not. It also has a Red Eye eliminating feature, a standard crop feature, and a feature that allows you to add dialog bubbles like in comic books to the photos.
Portraits & Prints Pro has a template editor, which allows you to create and edit templates to your liking. You can add image zones of whatever size you feel like as well as graphics, shapes, text, and dialog bubbles to the templates. The application also has a Template Exchange feature that lets you download and use new templates from the Internet. There is even a handy selection of Avery templates available through the Exchange.
One thing that is an annoyance with Portraits & Prints is that it doesn’t take the orientation of the source photo versus that of the image zones in the template into account. Say you want to print two 5×7 inch prints from source files that are portrait oriented (taller than they are wide). Portraits & Prints will place these images into the template in their original orientation even though the 5×7 inch template has spaces for photos that are in the landscape orientation (wider than they are tall). It is a simple matter to fix this manually but it would be nice not to have to worry about it.
When deciding on the area of the image you want printed there are some handy move and zoom tools that you use. This lets you quickly crop and position the image without having to resort to using the standard crop tool on the individual photos. It is a small feature that might not make that big of a difference if you are only working with a few images, but when you are working with a large number the small bit of time saved on each image will add up quickly.
Portraits & Prints includes a number of export options including JPEG, TIFF, PNG, SGI, Photoshop, and Jpeg2000. Jpeg2000 isn’t a format to get too excited about now but hopefully within a few years it will be a more supported and useable format.
The Print To File feature has an option to adjust the DPI of an image, which is very nice. If you are saving it to print later you want a higher resolution of at least 300 DPI but if it is for posting on the Internet you want to use 72 DPI since anything larger will just take longer to upload and download without actually effecting the image quality any. The annoying thing about this feature is that it only exports the selected image not the whole layout. If you want the whole layout you have to work around it by choosing the Print To Printer option and then using the Save As PDF option in the printer dialog.
The Print To Email feature allows you to send an email featuring all the images in your layout. It allows you to set the pixel dimensions from a popup menu with many common sizes in it, and you can select the image quality from a similar popup menu. The images are then exported as JPEG’s at the settings you selected and placed into a new message in Mail. One thing that struck me as odd about this feature is that it doesn’t resample the images down to 72 DPI yet it didn’t leave them at 300 DPI like they started out as. Instead it adjusts the DPI and the pixel dimensions so that you end up with a print size equal to that in your layout and yet with the pixel dimensions you choose in the dialog. I think it would be better to include the DPI selection popup menu like in the Print To File feature that way you could send a higher quality printable version or a version with a smaller file size for viewing on-screen. As is you get a larger file that isn’t as good for printing.
How does Portraits & Prints compare to iPhoto ’04? It is hard to compare these two to each other because they are different in scope. iPhoto ’04 is more of a photo organizing tool than a photo printing tool. iPhoto ’04 does have options for printing multiple photo’s per page but there is very little control in how and what sizes the prints end up as. The software for nearly every printer I am familiar with can do basically the same as iPhoto ’04 if not better. In the image adjustments category I give the edge to Portraits & Prints for its very nice Sharpness adjustment. Unfortunately I don’t have iLife ’05 yet so I can’t make a comparison to the new version of iPhoto’s image editing and printing abilities, which are supposed to be greatly improved.
I didn’t expect much of Portraits & Prints going into this review so I am pleasantly surprised with it and even see how it could be very a useful addition to my workflow. There are two editions available from Econ Technologies. The standard edition will run you $30 US, while the Pro edition with the extra template editing and creation features will run you $50 US. The pricing seems just about right to me, and I am generally picky over pricing. Also there is a free demo of Portraits & Prints available. If you do a lot of printing of digital photographs then I definitely recommend that you give this application a try.
Application reviewed: Portraits & Prints 2.0.2.
Review hardware: 1 GHz Apple iBook G4 with 768 megabytes of RAM.