The Paula Sanders Report:
Review of Alien Skin's Blow Up

August 28, 2006 12:23 am

Tags: Alien Skin, product reviews

Blow Up is a Photoshop-compatible automation plug-in for enlarging images. Alien Skin states that it enlarges without the stairstep, halo, and fringe artifacts of bicubic interpolation. It works with Photoshop CS or later and Elements 3 or later. It, also, supports 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit images and RGB, CMYK, Lab, Grayscale, and Duotone image modes.

Blow Up can be recorded and played back as an action in Photoshop; and it will make use of multiprocessors, multi-core, and hyper-threading.

Blow Up is not alone in the market place. There are other programs that are its competitors. The main one is Genuine Fractals 4.1 (GF) and Genuine Fractals 4.1 Print Pro. I did a review on the latter. However, this review of Alien Skin's Blow Up is not a comparison review. Fortunately, both companies offer demos. GF and Blow Up enlargements are not referred to in a similar manner. In Blow Up, 400% width and 400% height gives a 1600% area enlargement which is the target, except in many circumstances where it can be used to enlarge up to 6 times as well or nearly as well as the 400%. One can also sharpen the image as it enlarges, but I will discuss that later in the review.

I created images and enlarged them using Photoshop's bicubic and bicubic with sharpening, Genuine Fractals 4.1 Print Pro, and, of course, Blow Up. After creating and printing numerous images, my basic conclusion was that the decision was up to the user. Photoshop offered the least favorable enlargements after 400%. But both Blow Up and Genuine Fractals 4.1 Print Pro offered visually slightly different textures and hues when the images were enlarged. Unfortunately, the differences were not large enough to be visible on the web. To make a choice on what is visually pleasing, download the demos and try them out.

Now, for a discussion of the interface where Blow Up definately differs from its competition. The interface contains controls for not only regulating the type of enlargement - percent, inches, cm, mm, points, and picas but, also, controls for adding grain to the image as well as a control for sharpening the image.


I first wondered why I would ever not sharpen when creating an enlargement, but, then, I found that some enlargements actually looked better when the Sharpen Amount was at 0. Grain is an interesting addition. It adds texture where the image may appear to be a little flat or the image tone not varied enough even though the image looked good at a smaller size.

It was very hard, as I stated earlier, to create images at screen resolution that showed variations. While the settings for sharpening and grain were noticeable in print, at screen resolution they were barely visible, and I did not feel that they gave fair examples of the different programs. For that reason, alone, a demo is great to have. I will, however, show some examples that I feel show some variations. Portraits are excellent for this purpose. [I used pictures of myself so that I would not have to get any photo releases.]

At 300 dpi, the original picture was 7/8x 1 3/8". At an enlargement of 400% x 400% or 1600% area, the dimensions were: 3 3/8 " x 5 1/4". When the image was enlarged by 600%, the dimensions became: 5" x 7 7/8". The dpi of 300 was kept constant.

If you look at the product interface above, you will see that there are other choices such as duplicating the images before it is enlarged. Also, one can see how large the file was and will be before actually enlarging it. One can set a preference for receiving messages from Alien Skin as to updates, etc.

The program worked perfectly as stated in Alien Skin's printed material. It was easy to use and it could be set up in more that one program of Photoshop and /or Elements. So, if one had both Photoshop CS and CS2 on a machine, it could go into both.

The requirements are:

Macintosh Systems:

  • PowerPC G4 processor
  • Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later

Windows Systems:

  • Pentium 4 processor
  • Windows 2000 or Windows XP
A full version is $199 and an upgrade is $99.

Alien Skin Blow Up Demo

For more information on Alien Skin and their plug-ins, please visit the Alien Skin web site

Genuine Fractals 4.1 Print Pro Demo

All supporting images are copyright, and cannot be
copied, printed, or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the artist.

The Paula Sanders Report is a regular Renderosity Front Page featured column, where Paula investigates and comments on graphic software, techniques, and other relevant material through her reviews, tutorials, and general articles.

August 28, 2006

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Article Comments

Orio ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 29 August 2006

That's useful info, Paula, thank you. - Orio

deemarie ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 29 August 2006

Paula, do they have a version that will work with Photoshop 7 or under? I was amazed by the image quality of your enlarged example. Will you be doing a future article where you compare Blow Up with other similar software programs? Dee-Marie

Paula Sanders ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 29 August 2006

Hi - I'm not aware that they have any program for Photoshop 7. I don't like to do comparisons, but describe each program separately. With demos being available, the user can decide which to use. This does not mean, however, that I will not describe a progam's negatives. I just will not do it in terms of another program.

Shoku ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 29 August 2006

When enlarging in PHotoshop it is actually best to do it using Bicubic Smoother, and at 10% increments. Using this methoded one is able to make a succesful poster out of much smaller images.

LCBoliou ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 30 August 2006

Paula, have you evaluated IrfanView ( This is a freeware (unless using commercially) image application that does an excellent job of resampling images. It has Hermite, Triangle, Mitchell, Bell, B-Spline, and lanczos resampling filters. In so far as I've been able to see, the B-spline and Lanczos filters are a bit superior to Photoshop CS2 resampling. I own CS2, so I was able to compare.

Paula Sanders ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 30 August 2006

Hi LCBoliou - I am not familiar with this product, but I will definately check it out. Thanks a lot.

jg4176 ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 31 August 2006

Hi, I don't know if anyone has had any experience with the Fred Miranda plugins, but they seem to also offer an economical enlargement plugin that works with many versions of Photoshop, including elements and PS7. They may be worth a look. (

Spawn2002 ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 01 September 2006

Hi Paula,I use GF Print Pro & am extremely happy with it.For my usage,I sharpen the image after it is enlarged,then shrink back to the size it will be posted at.Any artifacts that may be there are not visually spottable.An excellent program.

Gongyla ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 02 September 2006

You have a special talent to describe in human words software that you tested out in practical situations. I always look forward to your next article. Indeed: never underestimate Irfanview (PC only) to DeeMarie: for the price of that plugin, you can about upgrade to CS2 for 7, and that is really a better investment (my opinion of course).