PhotoGrav 3.0 Review
‘At last’, the words to a song by Etta James, describe how I felt when the PhotoGrav 3.0 software arrived on my desk. I quickly cleared my desk of projects to give my review of the new product its due. And, I do mean new. This software is brand new and not a warmed over upgrade we see from most software products.
The basic concept remains the same from the earlier versions of PhotoGrav. Create the best quality image for laser engraving. This is exactly what this software delivers.
Over the years, PhotoGrav has established itself as the standard for laser engraved photo quality. Born from necessity over 10 years ago, the need for quality laser engraved photos continues to expand. New materials and marketplaces have put laser engraved photos in demand.
How PhotoGrav 3.0 works
The solution for success in any process is to remove the variables. The fewer the variables, the less human interface required to make questionable judgements. PhotoGrav 3.0 works so well by reducing the variables in the laser engraving process.
Three major variables are present in the laser engraving process:
Setting up for your model and brand of laser system is done the first time the software is loaded on your computer. Simply select from a drop down list of manufacturers and models and click on the corresponding one. In the same setup window, settings for engraving resolution and lens type will also need to be selected. After clicking OK, the settings will be saved when the software is run in the future.
Should you want to change these settings, go to File >System Default>Select Machine to find the same screen you used to initially setup the software.
Variables in materials are handled by the drop down menu in the main production screen. The drop down menu is an extensive list of materials and selecting one will apply specific filters to the image for optimum engraving results. These enhancement filters effectively compensate for the absorption factor of each material. Simply said, acrylic will absorb the laser energy faster than stone. The result is consistent-looking results of the same photo when using several types of materials.
Another variable in the process is the photo itself. Each photo is unique with its range of highlight, midtone and shadow values. When the photo is being processed by PhotoGrav’s algorithms the histogram is being created. This is transparent to the user unless you are in the Interactive Mode where you can see and edit the histogram.
PhotoGrav 3.0 effectively reduces the variables in the production process using these three main areas. The user will find much more consistent results over a wide range of materials and customer supplied photos.
Using PhotoGrav 3.0
Geeks and technophobes can rejoice in that this software product has features for both types of users. The Interactive Mode will impress geeks with all the sliders for tweaking images and special filters for unique effects.
Me, I like the automated processing of the Final Process button. The goal is to process the image and get it on the laser for engraving as fast and simple as possible. PhotoGrav 3.0 accomplishes this by using a minimal number of clicks to achieve the goal. Let's get started with a real world photo engraving project.
Start by opening a photo in PhotoGrav. Click the Open Image button to point to the photo that will be processed for laser engraving. PhotoGrav now allows the use of several image types for processing. Image types that can be opened include jpg, tif, bmp and png formats.
The image I opened was a jpg format photo from a digital camera. It is a photo of baby Sophia and it will be engraved on a 5x7 maple wood shape. The photo is in color and the background has been removed using the magic wand tool in Photo Paint.
The next step is to click on the Select Material button. A pop up menu will appear listing the 26 different materials. The material to select for our maple wood is the Cherry with light vertical grain. This material setting works well with all light to medium colored woods.
After selecting the material the next step will be to size the image to the final engraving size. Click the Resize Image button and the pop up screen will appear for the size and resolution. Enter the size you want the image to be scaled to for engraving. To fit my 5x7 maple wood shape lets use a width of 4 inches. PhotoGrav will automatically scale the height of the image to keep it proportional.
When setting the resolution keep in mind the brand of laser system you have. If your laser works in 250/500/1000 dpi ratios, choose a setting of 500 dpi. When your laser works in 300/600/1200 dpi ratios, choose a setting of 600 dpi in this screen. Click the OK button at this time and PhotoGrav will resize the image.
One important note when using PhotoGrav is that once the image is processed it can no longer be sized larger or smaller. The highly modified format of a PhotoGrav processed image does not allow scaling. Take your time at this point of the process to get the final engraving size figured out and let PhotoGrav do the work for you.
The image is now ready for processing by the algorithms in PhotoGrav. Click the Final Process button to start the magic. When processing is complete a simulated image will display. The top left of the main screen will show several buttons with letters on them. By clicking on these buttons you can view the Original, Grayscale, Engraved and Simulation images.
At last we will save the Engraved Image by clicking on the Save Image button. Click on the Engraved radio button and then OK. I keep a folder on my desktop of Engraved images so they are easy to find when I import them into my layout software.
Engraving the Processed Image
With the image processed and ready for engraving we can import it into our layout software. The processed image is a monochrome bitmap format that can be imported into all standard layout programs. So whatever program you use to print to your laser will be fine for handling the processed PhotoGrav image.
Once I have the processed image imported, I can add text and borders to finish the layout design. The project is now ready to print to the laser.
The one variable that still exists in the process is determining what power and speed settings should be used for engraving. PhotoGrav does provide some settings for engraving but they were not a good starting point. Variations in materials and laser tube output make this feature very difficult to make super accurate. A good starting point would be to start with the same settings used for engraving text into the material. From this point, you assess the results and make some small adjustments to the power setting.
Look closely at the facial features of the engraved photo. Adjust your settings so the eyes engrave sharp and clear. Keep in mind that some materials like black marble may work in reverse of other materials like wood. Be sure to write down your settings as you go. As you progress you will find the ideal settings that will be seen in the result and in your written settings.
While focusing on the process of laser engraving a photo I have purposefully left out some details regarding the advanced features of PhotoGrav 3.0. These advanced features can be found under the Interactive Mode button. Arrays of sliders are available for manual override of the image and processing features.
I worked with several photos, some very poor and used the Interactive Mode features to help improve the results. My findings were negligible compared to the amount of time I invested in running test after test. In short, the automatic enhancement by PhotoGrav works excellent and the need to override the software did not yield much gain.
Some photos did engrave better when they were enhanced in Photo Paint using the Tone Curve Tool. These were photos that had blown out highlights or very dark shadow areas and by adjusting the Tone Curve they could be enhanced enough that algorithms in PhotoGrav 3.0 could do their magic.
In my garage tool box I have several tools I use over and over and rely upon them. PhotoGrav 3.0 is in my toolbox of software programs and I have found it to be reliable and easier to use than the previous version.
The goal is to focus on the profitability of creating laser engraved products our customers will love. The simple work flow makes the engraving process of photos easy for rookies or experts. PhotoGrav 3.0 is an excellent production tool for low to high volume of photo engraving and is a valuable asset for any laser system owner.
COPYRIGHT 2008, LaserBits, Inc.