I owe Julie a long overdue review. OK, OK, two long overdue reviews and one that I can probably still call “on time” at this point. I am going to start with my review of something from one of my favorite product categories — Photoshop plugins. I really can’t seem to get enough of these fun software toys. Here we go.
Filter Forge, Inc. is currently in their Beta Stage 2 for version 4.0 of their flagship product — you guessed it — Filter Forge.
Pictured above is the basic dialog that comes up when you launch Filter Forge 4.0 from within Photoshop. In this particular case, it is showing the initial factory preset from the Creative > Tri-Color filter. Most filters come with several presets. You can see the first six presets available for the Tri-Color filter at the bottom left corner of the dialog box. You can scroll down in the preset area to view any additional presets for the currently selected filter. Before I get too carried away, all of the photos in this review are reduced resolution to allow them to fit neatly within The Gadgeteer’s layout. Click on the screen grabs like the one show above to see the text and other elements in their original resolution. Later in the review I will provide a bunch of examples and these can be opened in even greater resolution to see the fine details of the images and applied effects.
In general, Filter Forge filters are grouped into categories like Organic, Patterns, Creative, Distortions, Photo, etc. Some of these categories contain filters that provide various area fills: stone, woodgrain, patterns, etc. Because these fill textures are procedurally generated, they are resolution independant. This kind of filter could be used in a lot of different ways – creating a realistic environment for a 3D game comes to mind. As a photographer, these types of filters are really the least useful for me, but I did play around with some of them, and they are seriously cool to use. The Misc > Electricity pattern fill shown in the dialog captured above generates a variety electrical effects.
The Stone > Layered Stone effect shown here provides a way to realistically mimic an eroded stone surface. It comes with several factory presets. To the right of the Presets tab, you will find a Settings tab. Here you can modify the random number to create a different fill from the same settings. In other words, you could apply a different version of the same texture with different raised areas and avoid using exactly the same fill in multiple places.
Filter forge also includes various digital frame filters with the Frames > Halftone Frame filter shown here. These can also be randomly changed to apply the same basic effect to multiple photos without making them all identical. As you can see in the setting tab shown in the lower left corner of the dialog box, you can easily tweak the setting from a given preset. Your changes can easily be saved as a custom preset for future use.
Most of the Filter Forge 4.0 functions we have discussed so far can be found in other Photoshop plugin packages offered by Alien Skin, Nik, etc. The other vendors typically provide you with a variety of presets and a way to tweak their default settings. Every other product I have used so far also allows you to save your own presets. I think it is time we touch on the feature that sets Filter Forge 4.0 apart from it’s competition. True to the name, Filter Forge allows you to forge your own filters out of fundamental building blocks.
Shown above is the visual Filter Editor integrated in the Filter Forge 4.0 interface. Here we have the Frame > Halftone Frame filter open in the Filter Editor. You can see some of the building blocks wired together to create the halftone edge effect.
By clicking the Components button on the upper right side of the Filter Editor, you can bring up the various building blocks that make up each of the filters that come with Filter Forge 4.0. These components are organized into categories similar to the way Filter Forge organizes the various filters that come with the plugin. This is a chance for even the casual user to look under the covers to see how all of these different effects are generated. More importantly, it provides a visual drag and drop interface and workplace for the more advanced user to create their own filters. You are no longer limited to the imagination of the vendor who created your Photoshop plugin. Filter Forge provides the tools to create anything you can visualize. The Filter editor comes with extensive online help to get you started creating your own filters. The Filter Forge website also has a forum for advanced users to share ideas, etc.
You can use an existing filter as a jumping off point for a new filter or start with a clean slate in the Filter Editor.
This leads to another really cool aspect of the Filter Forge user community – the company provides you with a place to share your creations with other users.
Or, if you are like me, a place to go and download all of the filters that other more advanced filter geeks have created and shared (9836 filters available at the time of this writing). I actually had to go back and take another screen grab of the filter download page because there were more than 200 additional filters added in the days, (ok weeks, alright! months) since I started writing this review. This is seriously an unlimited source for filters and well integrated with Photoshop.
Even in beta, this plugin was much more stable than any other I have ever used, including many created by more well known suppliers. I had not a single crash while working with Filter Forge 4.0, and I did all of my work in the Beta 1 version.
Now it is time to get to some samples of Filter Forge 4.0 effects applied to my photos, with the exception of the first example below that was applied to a photo of Julie’s.
Filter in example above: Photo > Grunge
The above photo of my granddaughter has the Photo > Lomo filter applied.
This last non-baseball photo has the Photo > Old Photo filter applied.
The following examples are all baseball photos from this past season. I will first include the original photo and then the photo with Filter Forge effect.
^Creative > Engraving
^Creative > Pen & Ink
^Frame > Watercolor Frame
^Photo > Grunge
^Photo > Lomo
^Photo > Old Photo
^Photo > Vibrance
^Photo > Vibrance
^Photo > Vibrance + Frame > Grunge (more than one effect can be added)
^Creative > Artomatic (for that zombie look that is so popular these days)
^Creative > Blueprint Drawing
^Creative > Election Poster
(I had to use the random function several times to get the face revealed this way)
^Creative > HDRtist2 + Frame > Watercolor Frame
^Creative > Dabber
^Creative > HDRtist
^Creative > Comic Book
That is all for the samples. Be sure to open some of them in full resolution to see the effect’s fine detail. As you can see, there are also great deal of photo effects also included in Filter Forge 4.0. It is not just a texture fill tool. I have really only scratched the surface of what this application can do. It is certainly the most full featured package I have used. Having said that, if you don’t find what you need, you need simply wade into the Filter Editor and create it yourself.