Vivid Details Test Strip 2.0 Photoshop Plug-In

The Vivid Details Test Strip 2.0 opening screen presents a classic nine-around selection of small frames of the image open in Photoshop providing a visual choice between lighter and darker variations as well as more or less of the six primary colors.
Photos © 1999, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

If you have ever used a darkroom to make photographic prints it is likely you have also used a test strip to determine the ideal exposure to make your final exposure. That method, of making a sequence of increasing overlapped exposures on a strip of photographic printing paper to discover the correct printing time, is the inspiration for Vivid Details Test Strip 2.0 Photoshop Plug-In. Essentially it is a visual on-screen and digital print output adaptation of the darkroom test strip method for determining the ideal adjustment of a digital graphic image open in Photoshop. Test Strip 2.0's usefulness however extends beyond just the determination of the correct "exposure" to result in a desired range of print densities. It provides on-screen visual comparisons for color balance, brightness, contrast, and color saturation. In addition, it supports making adjustments to each of these dimensions of quality consecutively and cumulatively, and then provides a before and after split-screen comparison. Finally at each of these five stages of adjustment, Test Strip 2.0 supports making a print of what you see on-screen. This function allows making adjustments precisely for ideal print output, and essentially provides a practical means to calibrate your printer to produce the output quality you desire personally. An information/instruction sheet illustrating how to use Test Strip to calibrate print output to match on-screen image appearance is included in the package.

Test Strip's Saturation five segment variation window is a very valuable aid to fine-tune image color for making print tests to obtain accurately adjusted output.

Using Vivid Details Test Strip 2.0. First off, installing Test Strip 2.0 is automatic, with one possible exception for Windows users. That is, if you have installed Photoshop on a drive other than "C," or in an unconventional folder, then you will need to use the Browser tab in the installation dialog to locate the Photoshop/Plug-Ins folder. Once installed Vivid Details is listed on the bottom of the Photoshop filter menu. Just select it, then Test Strip, and the Test Strip 2.0 dialog window appears displaying the current image open in Photoshop. The opening screen, in default mode, provides a nine-around set of mini-images with the "current" image in the center, surrounded by lighter and darker, as well as six color balance variations. The degree of variation in percent, as well as the color variant positions are adjustable. By clicking on any of the eight alternates in the ring, that amount of change is applied. In addition there are four more Test Strip selection windows, each of which can be configured differently to suit individual taste. I personally found the fourth, Color Saturation, most useful in making print adjustment evaluations, as saturation is the most difficult value to judge perceptually on the basis of screen appearance for digital print output purposes.

Although Test Strip is a powerful
visual tool for adjusting digital photographic image values, it is not an entire editing and color correction facility. In fact, before using it you should size your image for the output desired (necessary to make evaluation print samples), and Photoshop's Histogram should be opened and the graph examined to see if the image gamut fills the color space. If there is blank space at either or both ends of the Histogram graph display, open the Levels dialog and adjust the highlight/shadow pointers in to the ends of the indicated image information to spread the gamut out to use the entire color space. Then if one area of local contrast is too light or dark, use the Curves dialog to proportion the tone levels to display the correct brightness at all tone levels. Finally, if the image requires sharpening or other filtration like noise removal, also apply those before using Test Strip 2.0.

Evaluation And Recommendation. Test Strip 2.0, like its so ubiquitously used counterpart from traditional darkrooms, is an ideal and invaluable tool to determine and apply image value adjustments to digital photographs with your computer. It does not, however, replace basic color correction done in scanning or with Photoshop's Levels and Curve dialogs anymore than making a test strip when enlarging a photograph can make up for a poorly exposed or processed film image. Considering how difficult it is to visualize how print output from a computer will appear based on how the image looks on-screen, Test Strip 2.0 is most valuable to make those fine adjustments which will result in fully optimized prints of your digital photographs.

Test Strip 2.0 has a list price of $149, and is bundled with Imacon and some Epson products. For more information, contact Vivid Details, 8228 Sulpher Mtn. Rd., Ojai, CA 93023; (805) 646-0217; fax: (805) 646-0021; or web site at: