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MacOSaiX - Mosaics for Mac OS X

MacOSaiX

MacOSaiX
Publisher: http://homepage.mac.com/knarf/MacOSaiX
Retail Price: Freeware
System Requirements: Mac OS X 10.2 +
128 meg memory (256 meg recommended)

Freeware -a word that conjures up memories of frequent crashes, non-intuitive interfaces, one-trick-pony software and basically, not a whole lot of positive scenarios. Of course, one might say, it's free, so "you takes your chances." And take a chance I did. I saw a brief blurb in MacAddict about freeware that was included on their December 2004 disk called MacOSaiX. The name is a combination of Mac, OS, and a tongue-in-cheek spelling of Mosaic.

MacOSaiX
After installing MacOSaiX, my freeware fears disappeared. This is one fun little application that makes photo-mosaics - of the type seen in high-priced advertising and magazine editorial illustrations - available to users with OSX 10.2 and above. Once this process was the exclusive domain of what I can only speculate to be mainframe computers running gazillions of bytes and calculating light, dark, and color to build a single picture made up of thousands of little photos.

Mosaic set up
Here's how MacOSaiX works: You assign an image from which to make a mosaic. The devil is in the details, as it says in MacOSaiX's Web page FAQs at http://homepage.mac.com/knarf/MacOSaiX. Images with less detail require fewer tiles and thus fewer images to make the mosaic.

You chose the shape of the tiles, and number of tiles across and down, from a default of 20 x 20 and on up. Your source of images that will comprise the mosaic can be (by default) your User/Pictures folder and/or any other folder you designate, including iPhoto. A Preview window displays the full image, with tile grid superimposed if desired.

Glyphs and Googles
For those with not enough images, other options of source imagery to be used as tiles are provided as choices in the interface. You can choose Random Glyphs, for example. This image source picks a random letter (known as a glyph) from a random font on your computer and draws it in a random color over a background of a random color.

Another choice is Google Image Terms. You put in the terms and a Google search comes up with the images. You can also choose multiple sources, such as Glyphs and Googles.

Let the Magic Begin
What happens in a second window displayed to the left of the first is pure magic. Caution: You can use up a lot of your productive time playing with this application. It's that impressive and that much fun. Sort of like that commercial: "Your friends will think you spent hours preparing..." - when all you do is set it up properly and go away for a few hours. How long depends on how many tiles you are asking the software to create in order to make a picture.

Stunning Results
The software may complete an image and still be searching for better matches for tiles. Therefore, the longer it runs, the closer the detail gets to replicating the big image. You can click on a tile and choose a different image than the one selected if you desire, although this is a sluggish process.

Once done, you can export the image as a tiff or jpeg. The tiff I exported in my test using two friends' portrait was 124 Megs and at 300 ppi was 21 x 28 inches. The detail was excellent. When I zoomed in on screen I was able to see sharp renditions of my source photos in their tile positions. Check out some of the examples on the MacOSaiX Website noted above to see some impressive resolution.

Caveats and Tips
Sometimes you may have to create an artificially full-ranged selection of photos in order to give the software enough images to fill in appropriate areas. A folder of normally exposed shots may lack these extreme levels. When the lighter areas in my photo were slow to fill in with tiles, I took half of my 1,000 original digital shots and duplicated them, creating an action in Photoshop to batch process them with "whited-out" brightness levels. I did not need additional dark-biased photos since I had a lot of night shots. Only after adding the lightened shots was there a full range of light and dark to make a convincing mosaic.

Don't close the application before exporting the resulting mosaic or you will have to start all over again. It does not save the mosaic composite done to date, only the setup parameters. I suggest exporting as a tiff and then down sampling to your needs. That way you still have the highest resolution original in the tiff.

Final Comments
You can get Version 1 from the MacAddict disk or download it from the Website. It's free, so no frivolous spending is required. Version 2 is in beta. MacOSaiX has managed to disprove all of my cliché opinions about freeware. Who knows? You might just come up with a practical application or project to justify all that fun.

Reviewed by NCMUG member John Hershey