Alien Skin’s Blow Up 2 is a Photoshop plugin designed to help you create images that are larger than the native resolutions coming out of your camera. Alien Skin provided me with a review sample of Blow Up 2 and mentioned words like “presets”, “single-click” and “take the complexity out.” I took them up on their claims and gave it a spin.
While I don’t enlarge many prints beyond 8×10, I have, on occasion, used Photoshop’s bicubic image sample method to enlarge prints up to 20″ x 30″. I have always thought that this capability in Photoshop works pretty well. That was, however, until I saw the results from resizing using the Blow Up 2 plugin.
Blow Up 2 is simple and effective. Even for someone with my level of patience, the work flow is so smooth. After installing Blow Up 2, I tested a number of files from several different cameras, including the Nikon D3s, Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 7D.
In the two samples provided below, I have included 100% crops from portions of images resized using Blow Up 2, as well as Photoshop’s built-in bicubic resampling method.
Sample Image 1
In this image, I took the original Nikon D3s file, which has a resolution of 3853 x 2564 and increased it to 10,000 x 6655, or roughly 66.5-megapixels. The default image is large enough to print a 12.84″ x 8.55″ image at 300 dpi. The resized image can be printed at 33.3″ x 22.18″ at 300 dpi.
The 100% crop below comes from the rear wheel of the car. Pay close attention to the edges in this crop.
Full-res Blow Up 2 File (right-click and choose “Save link as…”)
Full-res Photoshop Bicubic Resize File (right-click and choose “Save link as…”)
Sample Image 2
In this image, I took the original Canon 7D file, which has a resolution of 5184 x 3456 and increased it to an extreme 30,000 x 20,000, or roughly 600-megapixels. The original file is large enough to print a 17.28″ x 11.52″ image at 300 dpi. The resized image can be printed at 100″ x 66.67″ at 300 dpi.
The 100% crop below comes from the right side of the Sunsphere tower.
Unfortunately, I can’t provide full-res samples due to the extreme file sizes of this second sample.
Now, you aren’t going to be looking at either of these images as close as you are now. Those print sizes are quite large and will generally be viewed from several feet away. However, even at several feet, there is still a noticeable difference between the Blow Up 2 version and the Photoshop bicubic resized version.
Go ahead, get up and move across the room from your monitor with the second sample image crop on your screen. The Blow Up 2 version just looks smoother, doesn’t it? That’s a more likely viewing distance, and you can see that it still makes a difference.
Now, I don’t claim to understand what makes Blow Up 2 look so much better, but Alien Skin says that Blow Up 2 temporarily converts pixels to vector art in order to create smoother edges instead of the dots you get in Photoshop. As a result, Blow Up 2 eliminates the ugly stair stepping blocks along edges and gives you a smoother line.
Blow Up 2 comes with a ton of presets for common output sizes – from 4″ x 6″ up to 40″ x 60″. The presets also include paper choices and Blow Up 2 performs appropriate sharpening levels automatically based on your paper choices. And of course, you can customize sizes, sharpening, noise and grain if you prefer.
If you have a folder full of files that need to be enlarged, there is an easy “batch resize” option, which eliminates any need for creating a Photoshop action (as was the case with the first version of Blow Up).
Blow Up 2 supports numerous color spaces and bit-depths, including 32-bit for HDR images. The maximum resizing is 300,000 x 300,000 pixels, which is as big as Photoshop will go. Alien Skin warns that Photoshop would choke on a file that large though – I didn’t try one that big, but the 30k pixel image took awhile to save.
You know by now whether this software is something that you need or would use. I can’t recommend it to everyone because not everyone needs this kind of resizing capability. However, if you print big, then Blow Up 2 is hands-down better than what you get in the box with Photoshop.
Blow Up 2 is available for at retail for $249 for the full version or $99 as an upgrade from the original Blow Up. At the time of this review, the full version is available at B&H Photo for $229.