Review: AKVIS Retoucher Plug-in

Fix your small photos easily within Photoshop and PS Elements. (July 31st, 2009)

MacNN Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: AKVIS Software Inc.

Price: $87 US

The Good

  • Fixes difficult problems in small photos.

The Bad

  • Crashes when used with large photos and files. For scratches and small damage, Photoshop built-in healing brush works just as well. Uses large amount of CPU process time when processing.

Adobe Photoshop CS4 is a very powerful photo and graphics editor but its updated changes make the learning curve rather long. After months of testing, I've only mastered a few of the myriad of features. That said, anytime I can find software that automates the editing process I'm happy to test them out. Most of these utilities come as plug-ins that install easily into Photoshop.

The Problem and Task

I've scanned a lot of very old slides and photos; many of them in poor condition with stains, dirt, scratches, and tears. I've used various liquids and cloths to clean the slides prior to scanning, but in most cases, even that is of little help.

Sample Damaged Photo Highlighted


Sample Damaged Photo Highlighted

One Solution

When I heard about the photo retouching plug-in AKVIS Retoucher 3.5, I was excited to finally find a tool that might help reduce the time it takes me to edit the scratches, dirt, and tears out of my scanned slides in Photoshop. AKVIS markets Retoucher to users who need to restore and fix damaged photos, to remove scratches, stains, wires, and even restore missing edges and photo parts.

AKVIS Retoucher

Admittedly, the programming behind AKVIS Retoucher must be extensive. To fix your photos you select the problem area and open the filter, which compares surrounding pixels and replaces the offending marks with the corrected color and fixes. My high hopes were misplaced. I really wanted to love this plug-in, but was met with disappointing results in a variety of ways.

How Retoucher Works

To use Retoucher most easily, you open a damaged file in Photoshop CS3 or CS4. If you own Photoshop CS2, AKVIS offers a legacy version of the software, included in the price.

The easiest Photoshop solution is to switch to Quick Mask mode and highlight the areas that need to be fixed. Using one of Photoshop's editing tools, such as a brush, or a selection tool, you select the problem areas, which show up in red by default.

Sample Damaged Photo Highlighted


Highlighted Cage Bars To Be Removed

After you've selected the problems, you switch back to the normal mode and Invert the selection from the Select menu.

Sample Damaged Photo Inverted


Inverted Selection

Next, you select the AKVIS plug-in from the Filters menu and the Retoucher window opens with your selected areas highlighted in red. You can move your picture around to see the needed areas, zoom in or out, or change the parameters of the changes to be made.

Retoucher Options


Retoucher Options

The green arrow starts the change process and replaces your selection with the fixed pixels.

Retoucher Working


AKVIS Retoucher Window In Progress

Once the change is completed you click the green checkmark to view the changes in Photoshop and save the file or not. As you can see in the fixed image below, the eye requires more editing.

Retoucher Done


Completed Image

The Tests

My experiences testing Retoucher were so frustrating that I just cannot recommend the software in its current iteration. The only way I was able to fix the file pictured above is to reduce it to 4" x 6" file, but I had wanted to print a poster, not a postcard.

I wasted a few days fighting with Retoucher, but I didn't just test it in one way and give up. Most of my scans are at least 8" x 10" photos and the software seemed to choke on anything greater than 4x6. Many attempts yielded the following two error dialogs.

Retoucher Error Message


Retoucher Error Message


Once you receive these errors, you must remove the plug-in and reinstall it. If you don't you get yet another error message.

Retoucher Error Message


I gave the software the benefit of the doubt and tested it in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard with Adobe Photoshop CS4, Mac OS X Tiger 10.4, and Adobe Photoshop CS3 with the same results: Crash and burn. Next, I enlisted the help of two other MacNN writers. One had limited success with Leopard and Photoshop CS3, but wasn't happy with the resulting fixes in the photograph. The other experienced the same error messages as I received.

I successfully fixed a 1920s photo of my Dad, but it didn't save me much time. Choosing the problem areas took the same amount of time as fixing the spots with the Photoshop healing brush, but Retoucher required more steps.

Damaged Photo


Damaged Photo


Completed and Fixed Image


The slide scan of my Mom and friends from the 1940s, as seen on the first page, was the worst mess, and the attempt to fix the problems caused Retoucher to crash on all three machines. Attempts to remove all the cage bars at once time across the baby leopard photo I took a few months ago also had the same result.

The tests in which I used my PPC G4 PowerBook with the Retoucher legacy version in Photoshop CS2 and Mac OS X 10.4 seemed to work the best. I fixed the leopard photo above, and I removed some wires in a fall photo I shot last year, but the results didn't look great. Photos with more complex problems still caused the plug-in to crash.

Verdict

While the intent of AKVIS Retoucher is admirable, the software doesn't work reliably, unless you edit small photos only. The latest update information claims that Photoshop CS3 and CS4 compatibility bugs were fixed, but that wasn't my experience. All of the great comments I read about the plug-in referred to older versions. I sincerely hope that AKVIS Software resolves these issues and offers a free update soon, because I really need to fix some poster-sized photos.

by ilene hoffman, reviews editor


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