PhotoImpact 7’s “Z-Merge”

by LCGuy

So, just what is the heck is this new “Z-Merge” feature, anyway?

True to form, Ulead has pioneered ahead of its competitors into the forefront of image editing by adding an exciting feature to PhotoImpact 7 that is unparalleled by any other image editor I can think of: the “Z-Merge” feature. If you remember, years ago, long before anyone else had thought of it, PhotoImpact was the first image editor to let you instantly draw/create realistic looking rendered 3D objects, with editable lighting and shadows, while the other image editors still had you filling individual layers with stroked shapes, then gradients and then using the Gaussian Blur filter on it all, and then manually creating a feathered black copy beneath it for the shadow:

Now that the industry has somewhat “caught up” with PhotoImpact in that regard, Ulead has taken the latest version of PI another step in a new direction... this time, to shrink the gap between traditional 2D imaging and 3D modelling software. Yes, “Z-Merge” finally gives us artists the ability to merge multiple objects as if they were on the same plane, and, if they overlap each other (parts lay on top of one another in the “Z-Merge layer”), it even lets them combine according to their “depth”.

Confused? Well, then, let me explain, in a more simple fashion, if I may, with the following illustration of “Z-Merging” three different colored 3D path objects:

How’s THAT, eh? (ok, .. ok, I added a 4th ball in the middle - so shoot me!)

As you already know, PI uses “objects” which automatically lie on their own layers; each individual object actually becomes its’ own “layer”, to be precise. You can change the stacking order of the layered objects as needed to make the ones you want to be seen in front of or behind others either by using the Layer Manager with the “drag n drop” technique, or with the “Send to Back/Front” buttons on the Task Bar when any objects are selected with the arrow tool.

Enter the “Z-merge” feature, which, when activated, creates an imaginary “layer” that is on top (in front of, closest to the viewer) of all the other objects in the image, and acts as a work place for you to place as many objects you like there, together, just by selecting the “Z-Merge” button and then selecting the object and toggling the “Z-Merge” box on the Task Bar. Yes, multiple objects can now exist in a fully editable state, ALL on one theoretical layer, allowing them to overlap and intersect with each other; the resulting combinations are infinitely promising.

Ulead didn’t stop there, though. They knew that just intersecting objects wasn’t enough; they also gave the PI user the ability to finely adjust how much the objects intersect with each other- to allow one object to show more, or less than the one it intersects with. How did they do that?

Well, lets look at these two metal balls, which are on the “Z-Merge” layer at a “Z-Elevation” setting of “0”:

Now, if two objects lie in the same layer, then one would think that their bottoms (back sides) would all align, right above the objects layered just below them. This is true in the “Z-Merge” mode, by default, as you can see when it is enabled and more than one object is placed in the “Z-Merge” layer... the “Z-Elevation” reading will be “0” (see the image just above for two objects with “0” “Z-Elevation values).. This means that they are exactly even with each other - one is not any more “in front of” or “behind” the other, so that when they overlap, they intersect an equal amount of each other’s object, as shown, again, in the above image of the green and burgundy metal balls.

But, what happens if we want one to “dominate” (to be “in front of the other object) the intersection of the two, as in the above two images? In other words, when the two intersect, more of one shows than the other because it is theoretically “closer” to you in the “Z-Merge” layer? Well, then we have to use the “Z-Elevation” setting (controls the theoretical “depth” of each object in the Z-Merge Layer) on the task bar with that object selected, and increase/decrease the value there in accordance with whether you want that object further back in the Z-Merge layer or more up front, like this:.

In the above screen shot, you can see that by selecting the green ball with the “Z-Merge” function on, and increasing its “Z--Elevation” value to “16” from its original “0”, and leaving the burgundy ball at “0”, the green ball “dominates” this intersection, and we didn’t even have to move either ball to do it.

Now, once you are done arranging the objects in ”Z-Merge” mode, you will no doubt want to use it with the rest of your image, right? Well, that means you don’t want the “Z-Merged” objects to always be in front of all the other objects in your image. So, make sure you are satisfied with your “Z-Merge” objects in every way, select them all with the regular selector arrow tool, right click, and select “Combine as single object”. This will create an ordinary image object that automatically appears along with your other objects in your layer manager, allowing you to get on with creating the rest of your image. But remember, once you combine the “Z-Merge” objects, they aren’t editable in “Z-Merge” mode any more, so be sure you are satistfied first.

So, what can we really do with this darn thing?

DOWNLOAD the .ufo file for the above arrow piercing triple hearts, and play with it. I’ve already set up all the objects for you, so its just waiting for you to experiment with it by selecting the objects and playing with the “Z-Elevation” settings for each of them, and then moving ‘em around to see how they interact with each other afterwards. The following are some quick images I did with the above “Z-Merge” objects, after finalizing the “Z-Merge” settings and merging all into a single object, but you should feel free to move the objects all over the place and REALLY go wild.

This is a monochromed effect on the above image.

And of course, applying some gradients to it never hurts.

But, then again, nothing is ever what it really seems to be, is it?
(Man, that arrow has GOT to hurt, ya think?)

The ”Z-Merge” function will prove to be a most innovative feature to the image editor using PhotoImpact. Remember, the only limitation to its’ use will be set by YOU, the digital artist.

The images on this page were created, optimized and exported for this page entirely in Ulead’s PhotoImpact 7.

Current list of LCGuy Mini-Tutorials for
Ulead PhotoImpact and/or Strata 3D Pro:

Files for download: