Over 20 years, Photoshop has attracted creative third-party plug-ins. Hugh John welcomes some updates

Alien Skin has a well deserved reputation as one of the most creative software houses supplying third-party filters and effects for Adobe Photoshop.

That creativity is clearly evident with Eye Candy 6, a drastic re-ordering and overhauling of the Eye Candy 5 collection. The 30 filters which were previously sold in three separate packages – 'Impact', 'Nature' and 'Textures' – are now organised and divided into 'Text and Selection' and 'Texture'. Both colections are included in Eye Candy 6, making it excellent value for money.

Text and Selection is intended for use with text or particular selections. Filters include Bevel, Chrome, Fire, Glass, Icicles, Smoke, Rust and Snow Drift, and each filter has a host of presets. Better yet, if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for it’s possible to apply further fine-tuning. Do you want Smoke as in ‘Blown out Candle’, ‘Billowing Black’, ‘Billowing Rocket Launch ’ or ‘ Wispy Match or Wispy Purple Haze’? Creative choice is limited only by imagination.

The Texture collection is where you’ll find some eye-catching digital simulacra of natural or ‘real world’ effects. Textures such as Marble, Animal Fur, Reptile Skin or Brick Wall are astonishingly convincing and can be applied to an entire image or a section of it. Both sets of filters can be fine-tuned and personalised to the Nth degree and Alien Skin provides a number of viewing panes – horizontal, vertical, diagonal – which allow the user to juxtapose the original and treated images.

All 30 of these filters could be applied directly and effectively to digital images but the most potent use of Eye Candy 6 is likely to be in a graphic design context, in either traditional print media or web creation. It’s a snip to create eye-catching headline, and logo effects using textures such as Brushed Metal, Animal Fur, Water Drops and Wood and then applying Bevel, Perspective Shadow or Gradient Glow. And for CS4 users there’s also a Button Maker tool which, well, creates buttons for use on web pages.

The Alien Skin team has been hard at work under the bonnet too. Eye Candy 6 was one of the first plug-ins to work with Adobe’s 64 bit version of Photoshop and the program’s software architecture has been tweaked to make the most of newer multi-core CPUs. Large image files can be rendered quickly and easily.

And if you’re not happy with the final product that’s no problem as Eye Candy filters – when used with Photoshop’s Smart Objects technology – are non-destructive and can be removed. Which is just as well because with such a powerful and exotic range of tools there’s a good chance that those animal-skin, extruded, Motion Trail headlines that looked so good on the front page of the school magazine today might perhaps on reflection seem just a little too adventurous!

Ratings (out of 5)

Fitness for purpose        4
Ease of use                   4.5
Features                        4.5
Quality                           4.5
Value for money           4

Eye Candy 6

Plug-in for Adobe Photoshop (approximately £159) and can be used with one of the following host programs: Adobe Photoshop CS3 or later; Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 or later on Mac OS X; Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 or later on Windows; Adobe Fireworks CS4; Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2

A demo version of Eye Candy 6 is available here.


OnOne PhotoEssentials and Plug In Suite

OnOne also makes graphic applications to complement Photoshop software; PhotoEssentials 3 is a collection of five tools that work within Photoshop Elements and Plug-In Suite 5 contains six for big daddy Photoshop.

The question is why would anyone want to pay good money for filters and tools that are already provided by Adobe in the company’s two versions of Photoshop? There are a couple of compelling reasons. First because, good as the Adobe filter set is, it’s not comprehensive, and neither is each individual tool the best of breed. Adobe, for example, doesn’t offer the sort of frames that you can create in OnOne’s PhotoFrame. Second, third-party developers can afford to specialise on particular aspects of digital imaging in a way that would not make economic sense for a huge company like Adobe.

OnOne filters also offer the sort of automated features that speed up the editing process. The five tools in PhotoEssentials – Make it Better, Cut it Out, Make it Cool, Frame It and Enlarge It – are simple to apply and allow users to fix brightness, colour, and contrast sharpness as well as to apply masking, frames and image enlargement. At less than £50, PhotoEssentials is a very attractive proposition for anyone looking to augment the editing options already available in Photoshop Elements.

Plug In Suite 5 really is tremendous value with an education price of £145, considerably less than half the street price. For this you get six fully featured programs – Genuine Fractals 6, Mask Pro 4, PhotoTools 2.5, PhotoFrame 4.5, FocalPoint 2 and PhotoTune 3 – that continue to set the standard for Photoshop filters.

Genuine Fractals, an image resizing plug-in, works with Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple's Aperture and uses, “fractal algorithms to resize images with almost no loss of image quality”. If your school is looking for poster-size blow-ups this fits the bill.

Mask Pro is quite simply an excellent and easy-to-use masking tool that removes unwanted background cleanly and efficiently. Advanced students who wish to add depth-of-field effects once an image has been shot will want to check out Focal Point 2 which also enables users to simulate the effects of specific lenses, introduce blur or apply vignette effects. PhotoTools and PhotoTune are quick-fix automation techniques that introduce high-quality photographic effects. Finally, the star of the show, PhotoFrame, which – as the name suggests – enhances your image by placing a frame around it. You’re spoilt for choice with traditional wooden frames, filmstrip surround, acid-etched irregular frames and digital effect ones (all of them fine-tunable).

PhotoEssentials and Plug In Suite represent excellent value for money and would bring increased productivity and creativity to Adobe’s already impressive Photoshop Elements and Photoshop. These are excellent sets of tools for more advanced photography or graphic arts students and would undoubtedly enhance individual or portfolio work, or indeed a school publication.

Ratings (out of 5)

Fitness for purpose        4
Ease of use                   4
Features                        4
Quality                           4
Value for money           4.5

Plug-In Suite 5
PhotoEssentials 3
£145 and £47 respectively
The above are academic prices available from Academia
www.academia co.uk
Tel: 08456 120 118
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