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|| News Item: Posted 2004-03-30

Image Size: It may be everything (Second of two parts)
By Tom Braid, Edmonton Sun

(*This is part two of a feature on Interpolating digital images up to much bigger sizes here is the link to part one in case you missed it:

Photo by

Shortcut's: PhotoZoom 1.02 interface running on Mac OS X Panther.
I have mentioned that having your pictures sharp and in focus is important when considering interpolation. It is quite simple - just like a negative, if your photograph is just a little out of focus when blowing it up 10 to 20 times its original size, it will lead to you having a picture that is REALLY out of focus. Common sense, but something you need to know. Interpolating software does a good job of maintaining what you have in your original file as it takes it up to huge sizes but it will not fix or mask picture problems. Like out of focus or excessive noise, you will need noise reduction software for the latter part, and for the focus part, you will need more practice. Keep reading Sports Shooter for tips on that! :-)

There are limits to everything and there are times that you should not interpolate. Why upsize just because you can do it? Reed Hoffmann from Blue Pixel in his column of December 2003 touched on this subject ( ) and he is 100% correct. Mr Hoffmann said, "The only time a photo should be resampled is when it's known what size it will run (in a paper or magazine, or on your inkjet printer)." This is true and Reed is right.

We had a day last year when a student blew up a 3.5 megabyte image to 35 megabyte and put the picture into the system and it ended up on the front page. It looked kind of funny so I checked out the image and was surprised to find a photo that was so big in our photo browser. Depending on the size we need only around 8 to 12 meg for a front-page picture.

I asked why? Turns out because I had said, "As a general rule you can interpolate pictures up to 10 times their original size without losing noticeable quality", he was blowing his images up 10 times "to make them better."

Of course, there is a big problem with this. When you interpolate images, you are pushing the pixels to their max and risking quality loss. Why interpolate something up way bigger than you need for final output? Best advice is to know or have a close estimate of how big the final output and resolution will be before you start interpolating to gigantic sizes!

Photo by

Digital Domain's: Qimage interface running on Windows XP.
Another thing to consider and most photographers do not know this, but when a picture is downsized, it is also being interpolated, but just down in size. A whole bunch of digital information is being thrown away to get it down to that smaller size. This of course under certain circumstances can lead to a picture that has bad final output quality as well. It is less noticeable for sure, but it can happen.

The past year alone has seen several brand new interpolating programs hit the streets as well as some of the older interpolating programs coming out with improved versions. There is now a healthy competition in this area and interpolating is becoming more and more a part of a regular workflow for many photographers, photo departments, photo agencies and production houses around the world. Interpolating is something all digital photographers need to learn about. I truly believe this is very important, and with the free trials that are available it is easy to test out.

The fact is your digital pictures are being interpolated whether you realize it or not.

Printer drivers have interpolation software as part of their function; how do you think it prints out at such high resolution from small digital files? The drivers and RIPpers for those big photo lab printers have some kind of interpolation software inside them in order to output such nice big prints. It is with good interpolation programs and techniques where one photographer or production house will beat out another one on final output.

Many Sports Shooter members have already heard about fellow Sports Shooter member, Pulitzer Prize winner and The New York Times staff photographer, Vincent Laforet's gallery show " PERSPECTIVES" that is opened in New York on March 16th. Vincent upsized and interpolated all of the pictures for this impressive gallery show before his final output, and from what I heard these prints looked fantastic. I look forward to Vincent's next "Digital Darkroom" story to get the entire lowdown on just how he completed these tasks.

Learning proper interpolation methods and techniques, getting comfortable with all this stuff will not happen overnight, that is for sure. It did not happen overnight for me or any other person who now knows what can be done with interpolating.

One of the easiest ways to interpolate is of course to just input a new image size while working in Photoshop. Many photographers and production shops like to resize digital images in Photoshop using the 110% "stair-step" technique. A technique that has been used for years with many finding good results. This technique recently received a big boost in interest after an extensive and excellent behind the scenes published report on Rob featuring Sports Illustrated's digital picture workflow. Found in this feature on the third page it talks about how the magazine uses the "stair-step" 110% technique. This excellent behind the scenes story on Sports Illustrated can be found at this link:

Of note an easy to use and FREE 110% "stair-step" Photoshop action can be downloaded from my website at this link:

Here is an alphabetical breakdown with web links and prices of the current software and methods that you can be obtained to interpolate your digital images. Watch for the many short-term limited use and trial offers the different program developers have online.

Results and image samples of interpolating using all the methods listed below will be posted on

Photo by

LizardTech's Genuine Fractals Print Pro 3.0 interface running inside Photoshop 7 and on Windows XP.
* Genuine Fractals Print Pro 3.0 $299.00US and Genuine Fractals 3.0 $159.00US. Photoshop plug-ins.
As pointed out in the story above the original Genuine Fractals Photoshop plug-in is the granddaddy of all specialized interpolating programs developed to interpolate digital images up to much bigger sizes. With slow computers of old days gone by, it has taken around eight years and the now much faster computer processors for these products really to catch on in the main street marketplace. LizardTech the program's owner now markets three different versions of Genuine Fractals, Print Pro 3.0-$299.00US, Genuine Fractals 3.0-$159.00 and Genuine Fractals LE 3.0-$49.95. The first two do not have any restrictions on the sizes of digital images that you can input and then output during use, but the LE version does have file-size limits and restrictions set into it. My advice on the LE version is, if you are going to spend $49.95 on a program go for PhotoZoom as it has no restriction at the same price! Sorry about that GF, but come on, working photographers can't operate with restrictions. To use Genuine Fractals 3.0 and the Print Pro 3.0, you first have to do one extra step and save off your image into a special file format .stn or what they call a "STiNG" file from Photoshop. Then you just reopen the file and when Genuine Fractals launches you enter the new desired size inside the interface and the program takes over and does the rest. I find myself that the pxl SmartScale's interface easier to use overall. The only difference between the two upper Genuine Fractals programs that I know of is that the Print Pro can manage a file format called "CIE-Lab" unless you need this file format for your daily workflow, save the extra $140US. Look at the Genuine Fractals 3.0 version for $159.00US. A fully functional, without watermarks, trial version of Genuine Fractals Pro, good for 20 individual uses that will let you save off and go to press with the interpolated pictures can be downloaded for your inspection at:

* Independent developers. Prices vary.
There are a number of independent developers of interpolation software around the world. These programmers, as are other computer programmers, are extremely smart and gifted people. It was impossible to study and test all programs available worldwide for this story that I have written. There is a special section dedicated to just these independent developers on the forums area and it can be found here:

* InterpolateTHIS-up 110%-Action for Photoshop. Free of charge.
As mentioned above, a special offer for you to be able to check easily into and get going on the subject of advanced interpolating, has posted a free Photoshop action that up-sizes your digital images 110% for every click and it is available for download. Yes free, with no strings attached. I do not believe that this is the best for all interpolating needs - especially if you are up-sizing your digital files very large from their original resolution size. If you have a good digital file with little noise or you are in a real hurry on deadline, this is the simplest and fastest of all advanced interpolating methods for sure. The results from doing small steps of 110% will almost always be better than upsizing all at once using the "Images Size" control inside Photoshop. As with all other methods and programs on the market today, practice, experiment and only interpolate your digital images if you have too. Stay away from JPEGing your interpolated file and NEVER erase your original file. Once loaded into your Photoshop action palette, with every click of this action, you will interpolate your image up 110% at a time. Very simple and nothing too radical is done to the image by upsizing at 110% per click. It does compounds the image size with every click, so it does not take long to make a very large file. This action is a good way to start out if you are really unsure of this whole subject, and the price is right! Free.

* Stair Interpolation Pro (SI Pro) is a Photoshop plug-in. $19.90US"
Fred Miranda has turned a hobby into a flourishing cottage industry by developing and selling 100's of Photoshop actions as well as his more developed and structured Photoshop plug-ins. While they both take advantage of Photoshop's® bicubic interpolation, unlike the free Photoshop action offered above by, Fred Miranda's Stair Interpolation Pro (SI Pro) is a developed, fully functional easy-to-use program which has its own interface with controls and options; including sharpening, custom controls to set page sizes for later printer output. Fred Miranda's Stair Interpolation Pro (SI Pro) has thousands of happy customers and these digital photographers leave very positive comments worldwide on web bulletin boards about its interpolating abilities. I am one of them. This is an inexpensive way to enter the interpolation world; it is low cost and it does work. There is NO free download or trial version of Fred Miranda's Stair Interpolation Pro (SI Pro); you will have to buy it to try it."

Photo by

Adobe's Photoshop 7 running on Windows XP. Showing "General" controls box where Bicubic set-up can be found and set, inside "Preferences" under the "Edit" menu.
* Photoshop 5, 6 and 7 (even Photoshop 7 is hard to find for sale these days)
Photoshop has a number of interpolating choices and options that can be found in the "Preferences" of the program itself. The choices are: Nearest Neighbor, Bilinear and Bicubic. The best one to use in Photoshop is in fact Bicubic. You should really take a quick double check to make sure that your version of Photoshop is actually set to use Bicubic when it up-sizes or interpolates an image. The reason for this is simple; the Nearest Neighbor interpolation technique does just what it says. It takes the nearest pixel and it clones it as it up-sizes the image, this of course can lead to a decrease in quality very quickly as well as moiré in certain sections of the photograph depending on the image content. To check and or to change the interpolating method of your choice all you have to do is go into the "Edit" menu, open ""Preferences" and then open "General" and the interpolation box is right there. Please check above for the link that will get you a free 110% interpolation Photoshop action.

* Photoshop CS (Creative Suite) Full version $649.00US or Upgrade $169.00US
The same rules and choices for interpolation apply for CS as they do on the other versions of Photoshop above, use Bicubic interpolation!! But there are more choices for Bicubic in this newest version of Photoshop. You now have built into CS these choices: Bicubic Smoother, Bicubic Regular and Bicubic Sharper. Now from my limited experiences with these new options, Bicubic Regular-is the same as all previous versions, Bicubic Smoother-softens the sharpened edges of the pixels a little as you interpolate the image and Bicubic Sharper-sharpens the edges of the pixels as you interpolate. DO NOT use the smoother or sharpen settings of bicubic if you are planning on using the free 110% step action offered above by as it could either over-sharpen or over-soften the image by the time you get up to the final required image size. If you want to use these new options to upsize the image, that is fine; just upsize it all at once. For the big enlargements and interpolations you almost always will be better off using the regular Bicubic and the 110% action or by using some of the other independent program options that are being offered in this article. If you can handle massive downloads you can obtain a 30-day trial version of Photoshop CS at:

* PhotoZoom $49US and PhotoZoom Pro $129US PC or Mac. (Just renamed and improved from S-Spline 2 and S-Spline Pro).
As you have already read above, S-Spline (now renamed PhotoZoom) is the software that I have used the most to interpolate images while working at the newspaper. At work we have coined a new phrase, "It's been SPLINED! Or, Can you Spline this for me?" No need for explanation as everyone knows what we are talking about and with little or no training everyone on staff has figured out how to use this simple stand-a-lone program with confidence and ease. S-Spline 2, (I mean PhotoZoom man that is hard to get used too) is also heavily used for prepping the pictures that come in undersized for ads and any other images we need interpolated at our paper. At $49US for the basic version of PhotoZoom (which is what we use at work), it is only beat by the free action offered above or by the price of Stair Interpolation Pro (SI Pro). Again PhotoZoom and its sister Pro are stand-a-lone programs that run on PC or Mac; there is no need to have Photoshop in your computer to plug in to. This is a very big thing for some photographers because believe it or not some papers do not give photographers Photoshop or the versions they do have are so old that they will not take the current and new Photoshop plug-in programs on the market mentioned in this story. If you own multiple computers one can be interpolating in batches while you working on another computer that has Photoshop. The Pro version has many added features, controls and a better algorithm. One of the features is batch processing so if you have a large number of files that need to be interpolated just point the program to the folder and go to bed. When you get up, they will all be done for you. At $129US for the Pro this program beats most other Pro programs for price and performance for sure. The one thing PhotoZoom really needs to add is the option to crop the image you are interpolating. This would help speed up the process for sure, as right now you have to either crop your pictures in another photo program or waste time interpolating unwanted information. A fully functional but WITH watermarks trial version of PhotoZoom Pro can be downloaded for your inspection and use. But with the watermarks in place and on top of your final interpolated images, you can't go to press with them.

Photo by

This is a copy of the front-page of the Edmonton Sun for March 15, 2003. The original file before interpolation was a really bad 140k police mugshot that we had on file.
* pxl SmartScale is a Photoshop plug-in. $199.95US
pxl SmartScale is a brand-new technology and easy-to-use program, it was just released last July 2003. You will have to own a copy of Photoshop 6 minimum as pxl SmartScale only comes as a plug-in with no current plans in the works for coming out as a stand-alone program. pxl SmartScale was developed and priced to capture the higher-end digital imaging users who need a high quality scaling plug-in for Photoshop. It has an easy to use interface with many very handy time-saving features. Not having to save off to a special file format before resizing, being able to crop inside the interface and allowing you to scale an image from a file on disk without ever actually opening the file in Photoshop are just three of them. pxl SmartScale also boasts "Its ability to resize digital images up to 1600% of the original size with no discernable loss in print quality." Now that is a pretty huge claim indeed. To put that into understandable numbers for you - that would mean a 1-megabyte file would end up being 256 megabyte after you upsized it by 1600%. That is just a massive amount of upsizing for a very small file. I have personally used this software and while I do like its ease of use and the results, I have not tried this ultimate 1600% claim yet but I will soon. I do want to see what a 1-megabyte picture looks like as a 256 megabyte file. At $199.95US, it is not the cheapest program on the market, but at the same time, it is not the most expensive. After giving some personal information, you can download a fully functional, without watermarks 30-day trial version of pxl SmartScale that will let you save off actual interpolated pictures. Meaning you can go to press or print with your results without watermarks.

*Of special and interesting note Celartem a large Japan based technology company in fact owns both Extensis the makers of pxl SmartScale and Lizardtech the makers of Genuine Fractals. These two completely different programs are in competition with each other, and they are owned by the same company.

* Qimage-Image Viewing/Printing Software (PC ONLY) $44.95US:
Mike Chaney is the independent creator and programmer of this stand-alone PC-ONLY software. Qimage is a highly developed program that has multi-uses and extensive functions built into it. Because of this it does take training and practice to learn how to use this program for interpolating purposes. If you are looking just to single out an image to interpolate it to your desktop for other uses, like offset press which I personally am. Compared to all other specialized interpolation software on the market, I have found Qimage's interface to be by far the most difficult program I have tried to date. To be completely fair, Qimage was and is designed for many functions including the preparing of pictures for printing, some colour management and the organization of multiple pictures packages for final desktop printing, an all-in-one printer driver/interpolating/colour management program so to speak. Mr. Chaney's high-end interpolating development has seen Qimage use Lanczos, Vector and now a new Pyramid interpolation as part of its printer driver management system. There are many end-users who just love Qimage's multiple uses and when they get a chance they leave positive posts on the web bulletin boards and forums. And why not? For $44.95US, it comes with a lifetime of free upgrades. A fully functional, without watermarks, 30-day trial version of the PC-only Qimage can be downloaded for your inspection and use at this link:

Photo by

This is a copy of the front-page of the Edmonton Sun for March 2, 2003. The original file was a 1.2 meg file that we needed to be just around 9 meg. This was our first ever S-Splined front-page.
* S-Spline 2 and S-Spline Pro-multi platform stand-alone programs (See PhotoZoom)
The S-Spline 2 and S-Spline Pro family of stand-alone programs have just been renamed, improved with newer faster algorithms and replaced by a new family of stand-alone programs called PhotoZoom and PhotoZoom Pro. If you are a past customer and own an S-Spline program, it is my understanding that you can upgrade to these new version free of charges. Now I do not know how long that offer will last so the best advice I have is that you should upgrade now! All of their old websites have now been replaced with this one.

Other related web links mentioned in the story above;

* Website dedicated to only information on interpolating. Check out the free downloads and forums;

* Mark Yamamoto, San Jose Mercury News past column on Genuine Fractals April 2001;

* Poynter Online's story on Genuine Fractals and how Sports Illustrated used it in 2000;

* Links to best digital resource sites;

* Story on giant truck blow-up and the event that started and founded a new webpage;

* Reed Hoffmann from Blue Pixel in his Pushing Pixels column of December 2003, Warning to not resample unless you know what you are doing;

* Vincent Laforet's personal website, what can you say this guy is amazing;

I hope that I have been able to shed some light and good information on the subject of interpolating digital images for you. I have started a thread on the Sports Shooter bulletin board so that any questions that you might have can be answered on the public board benefiting all who visit. The link for this continued discussion is called "Let's talk interpolating digital images";

As well please feel free to visit and post any and all question on the forums that can be found as part of my website; the forums can be found here:

I would like to thank Robert Hanashiro and the rest of the crew for all the support while making this article.

And to my wife Birgit, children Stephanie and Nicholas for putting up with my not being around much while I continue to work on this subject, other professional as well as the other community projects that I work on.

(Tom Braid is the chief photographer Edmonton Sun and co - founder Tom also serves as the secretary of the Western Canadian News Photographers Association,

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