Informatix Piranesi 5 review

£395
Price when reviewed

Piranesi stands out from all other bitmap editors because of its ability to handle material and depth information, as well as colour. And while that may sound like a relatively small difference, it unleashes a massive amount of painting power in a 3D environment.

Informatix Piranesi 5 review

To handle this extra bitmap information, Piranesi works with images in its own EPix (Extended Pixel) file format. An increasing number of 3D modellers, such as e-on’s Vue 6 Infinite (web ID: 120486), now support EPix export natively while Informatix provides plug-ins for most of the high-end packages that don’t. Alternatively, Informatix provides a standalone utility, Vedute, to load models in the common DXF and 3DS exchange formats ready for staging, lighting and export.

Crucially, Vedute also supports SketchUp (SKP) models and, with Google now providing SketchUp for free (web ID: 120478), this means everyone can create EPix content. Moreover, as Vedute 5 now imports textures as well as geometry, you can now use the main Piranesi application to enhance existing scenes rather than re-texturing from scratch.

Longstanding users are in for a shock, as Piranesi’s interface has undergone a total overhaul. However, it won’t take long to get to grips with the new environment. Previously, Piranesi employed a powerful but complex approach to painting built around a restricted set of applicators, each of which offered a wide range of render modes. Now, each applicator and render mode has been made a tool in its own right, so if you want to work with just the edges of your model, say, or apply a filter, or restore image data, there are now dedicated Edge, Filter and Restore tools.

And it isn’t just the toolbox that’s been reworked. Formerly, the properties of applicators were set in multiple tabbed dialogs. Now, there’s a context-sensitive Tool Options bar across the top of the screen that provides instant access to all the most important parameters, along with a button that opens a new Advanced Settings dialog for total control. Even better, the Tool Options bar offers drop-down access to texture, grain and cutout thumbnail libraries, and also to common presets for each tool.

During the overhaul, Informatix has taken the opportunity to rework most of the basic tools. There are new controls over the shape and size of the Painter and Brush tools and some tweaks to the Smudge tool. There’s also a new Stamp tool, which lets you load existing bitmaps to paint onto the scene – very handy, for example, if you want to spray realistic-looking ivy on an angled wall. Even more useful are the changes to the core Pencil tool, which can now be used to draw continuous lines as well as depth-aware rectangles and ovals. Most impressive are the changes to Piranesi 5’s relighting capabilities, which were hidden away as a fade option. Now, there’s a dedicated Light tool that lets you apply parallel, point, spot and strip-lighting effects.

The most significant changes are to Piranesi 5’s cutout handling. Cutouts are 2D bitmaps and 3D models that you can place into your scene, with Piranesi automatically taking care of sizing, masking and shadowing. New options include the ability to apply motion blur and silhouetting, as well as to handle selected cutouts as groups. There’s also a new tool that lets you load multiple cutouts ready for placing sequentially, or along a line or grid to quickly populate a scene. The inability to select individual cutouts, rather than whole directories, limits its usefulness, though. Again, the biggest practical advance is Piranesi 5’s new support for textured models which, with the existing support for the SKP file format, opens up Google SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse as a free source of ready-to-use 3D cutouts.

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