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Photoshop plugins (or plug-ins) are add-on programs aimed at providing additional image effects or performing tasks that are impossible or hard to fulfill using Adobe Photoshop alone. Plugins can be opened from within Photoshop and several other image editing programs (compatible with the appropriate Adobe specifications) and act like mini-editors that modify the image.
- 1 Plugin types
- 2 History
- 3 Host applications
- 4 Notable plugins
- 5 Related Books
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Photoshop-compatible plugins fall into several main types: filter plugins .8bf, import plugins (also called 'acquisition') .8ba, export plugins .8be, file format plugins .8bi, and automation plugins .8ly. Also, there are selection plugins 8bs and parser plugins 8by, but no one other than Adobe has ever created plugins of these types.
"Import/export plugins" acquire or write image data from or to certain devices, "file format plugins" open and save less common image formats (not inherently supported by Photoshop), and "automation plugins" automate certain tasks in the manner of Photoshop "actions" (macros).
|1991||Adobe first introduces filters and support for third-party Photoshop-compatible plugins in Photoshop 2.0. The same year, Aldus presents Aldus Gallery Effects - a set of filters including Emboss, Mosaic, Charcoal and other effects. When Aldus and Adobe merge in 1996, Gallery Effects will be embedded into Photoshop.|
|1992||Kai Krause releases one of the most renowned plugins of the 1990s -- Kai's Power Tools (a.k.a. KPT). Many artists of the time consider it a must-have plugin set for Photoshop. It features several advanced warp and deformation effects, as well as support for bump maps and 3D graphics formats (in KPT SceneBuilder).|
|1994||Joe Ternasky releases Filter Factory, a plugin allowing users to create their own filters using an internal programming language resembling C and compile them as separate plugins. It uses programmable formulas to process the red, green and blue channels of each pixel of the image. However, the fact that it requires considerable programming skills is viewed by many as a serious drawback.|
|1994||Alien Skin Software, founded a year earlier, creates the first drop shadow filter for Photoshop. The same year, they also release the Black Box filter set, later renamed to Eye Candy, which becomes an all-time favorite among Photoshop users.|
|1994||Auto FX Software is founded. In the subsequent years they release a couple of much-noticed Photoshop plugins and automated effects software products. Photo/Graphic Edges is one of the common image enhancement tools used by graphic artists of the time.|
|1997||Alex Hunter, inspired by KPT but dissatisfied with the limitations of the Filter Factory, presents FilterMeister -- "a 'bigger and better' Filter Factory". It is said to be much easier to use than Filter Factory, and many of today's free and commercial plugins are made in FilterMeister.|
|2007||Filter Forge Inc. brings procedural texturing to Photoshop by releasing Filter Forge, a plugin allowing users to build custom filters without any programming. In Filter Forge, filters are assembled in a visual node-based environment.|
|2008||YouSendIt Inc. enables delivering files across different users/computers from within Photoshop.|
Host applications or plugin hosts are graphics applications that are capable of running plugins. Many commercial graphics applications support Photoshop-compatible plugins — Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop Elements, PhotoImpact, Corel PhotoPaint, and Adobe Fireworks are the most renowned ones. There are several dozens more plugin hosts, including little known products like Chasys Draw IES, free editors like GIMP (with certain add-ons) and viewers like IrfanView. Much support is limited to the Microsoft Windows platform and .8bf filter plugins.
Photoshop fully supports all available plugin types; certain hosts, like Photoshop Elements, support most of them, while the majority of hosts support filter plugins only and many of them don't even support all available filter plugins.
The support for plugins was more uniform up until 2002, when Adobe restricted access to the Photoshop SDK containing the specifications for Photoshop plugins, and made the developer license more prohibitive. Since then, developers of other image applications have had limited or no access to it anymore, so they can't support newer host features. Therefore, plugin developers face a dilemma: either support the new host features that appeared in Photoshop 7 and later versions, like the access to layers, and lose the compatibility with other image applications, or use the old SDK version which already includes all important specifications and make sure the plugin will be supported by all hosts.
Around 2005, Adobe changed the policy so that developers could make the request for the SDK via a Web form with no fee charged for it and with all requests handled individually.
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Alien Skin Eye Candy 5: Impact
Eye Candy 5: Impact is a collection of ten Photoshop filters which create effects such as chrome, brushed metal, glass, bevels, shadows and reflections. For example, Brushed Metal is meant to simulate textured metal surfaces such as brushed aluminum and polished brass; Super Star generates a variety of shapes including stars, flowers and gears; and Backlight projects a light beam and spotlight effects from behind a selection. Most effects can be applied to a separate layer, giving users control over the effect in a non-destructive manner within the host application. Eye Candy 5: Impact contains 200+ presets.
AlphaPlugins Engraver II
AlphaPlugins Engraver II is a plug-in filter for Adobe Photoshop and compatible editors (Including CS3/CS4, Win and Mac). This plug-in enables you to make a variety of stylized photographic or vintage engraving looks. Engraving curves can be blurred to simulate the way ink spreads on paper in real engravings. You are also able to retouch your photo to achieve a pencil sketch look.
Engraver II cuts through images with thin lines forming a geometric pattern. The thickness of these lines will change depending on the image beneath.
Engraver II makes it possible to display an image as a stylized black-and-white or color print. Enjoy a wide selection of geometric patterns and variety of lines for your illustrations as well as creating fringe patterns by overlapping layers. To achieve the right thickness of lines, correct spacing, pattern displacement and degree of relief, adjust the plug-in controls.
Pros: Windows and Mac versions, Photoshop CS3/CS4 is supported, RGB and CMYK color modes, 8 and 16 Bits/Channel, High-resolution pictures are supported, a wide variety of presets are built-in.
Auto FX Gen1 Plugins
Photoshop Plugins from Auto FX Software have been around since 1994 and provide the digital artist with a wealth of creative visual image enhancement tools. From realistic atmospherics effects like lightning, snow, rain, haze and fog to creative effects that turn photos into puzzles, create lighting and shading, adjust focus or add stylized borders to hundreds of new high resolution backgrounds and textures - there are countless visual options the user can shoose from to give their images that distinctive look and feel. The included presets make it easy to apply ready-made effect settings with a single click.
Auto FX Software recently upgraded their whole line of products. Their latest release at the time of this writing carries the "Gen1" addendum in the product name associated with the following updates:
• Newly Designed and User Friendly Interface • Newly Added Content and Effects • Limitless Image Size Capabilities
Pros: quality output; detailed parameters and presets for each effect; free trial available for download
Cons: no undos; high memory consumption. 
AV Bros. Page Curl Pro and AV Bros. Puzzle Pro
These two plugins from AV Bros. are targeted to create the page curl (AV Bros. Page Curl Pro) and jig-saw puzzle (AV Bros. Puzzle Pro) image effects.
Page Curl Pro provides with dozens options, such as multi bending (curl and/or fold), specifying the content of the page’s back side, orienting page in 3D space, texturizing the page using the bump maps, powerful options for lighting the page, etc.
Puzzle Pro is also full of features, such as a number of solutions for constructing matrix of the knives for cutting the image into puzzle pieces, modifying the content of any piece by using built-in effects (bevel, blur, etc.), image overlay option for making the particular puzzle piece to carry the content taken from the layer other than the active layer, etc.
Both plug-ins are fully compatible with Adobe Photoshop CS3 - CS5, including support of the Smart Filters and Video Layers (for PS CS3 - CS5 Extended) options of these hosts.
Pros: high quality output, powerful export options, convenient and intuitive user interface of both plugins.
Cons: the Mac OS X versions of these plugins are only 32-bit, so if used with Photoshop CS5 (Mac), then this host is to be run in the 32-bit mode. 
Extensis Photo Tools
This is one of the more significant plugins for Photoshop. Since its beginning over 500+ releases has been provided. Extensis PhotoTools assembles a collection of special effects for Web and print design which includes bevels, frames etc.
Filter Forge allows its users to build their own filters – seamless textures, visual effects, distortions, patterns, backgrounds, frames, and more. The key features of Filter Forge include a visual filter editor and a free online library of user-created filters.
Filter Forge comes in three editions: the Basic edition provides unlimited access to the filter library but cannot create filters. The Standard edition allows photographers and graphic artists to create their own filters. The Professional edition provides features useful in architectural visualization, 3D rendering and design. It includes support for bitmaps as large as 65,000 x 65,000 pixels, 16 & 32-bit image modes, and floating point-based file formats such as OpenEXR and PFM.
Flaming Pear SuperBladePro
SuperBladePro is a plugin that combines textures with bevels and mirrorlike reflections. It helps quickly create tarnish, iridescence, and glassiness effects. Its features include waterstains, moss, abrasion, spotlighting, dust, grit, embossing, fractal blotches, and smooth Gaussian bevels. SuperBladePro also includes text effects that can be applied to the text itself, creating a contour around the letters, or to shapes, solids and areas with feathered masks.
Pros: a large number of controls allow users to customize their textures and texture effects, including importing bump maps and 3D lights.
Cons: not possible to run the help file from the dialog; too many options on a single dialog; the icon buttons don't have any tooltips or written explanations.
GrowCut is an interactive masking plugin. It works only with opaque objects. For most cutout operations, it is required only to draw some strokes inside and outside the object of interest. For other cases a set of border refinement tools is provided.
Pros: intuitive user interface; fast masking.
Cons: doesn't support transparency (works only with opaque objects); high memory consumption.
Kai's Power Tools
Kai's Power Tools (now called Corel KPT Collection) are a set of filter plugins created by Kai Krause. The various versions of Kai's Power Tools—KPT 3, 5, 6, and X sets—are compilations of different filters. KPT Convolver is used to customize design blurring, edge-detection, focus and color embossing. KPT Projector, mainly duplicating Adobe Photoshop's Free Transform capabilities, can rotate the bitmap image in 3D space and tile the results, as well as animate the distortions. The KPT Goo filter produces a single frame freeform liquid distortion. KPT Materializer creates advanced surface textures based on bump maps. The KPT Gel filter uses various paint tools to synthesize photo-realistic 3D materials such as metals, liquids, or plastics. The Equalizer filter with its three modes is used for applying variations on sharpening effects. KPT SceneBuilder produces photorealistic 3D scenes by importing and rendering 3DS files and can work as a standalone 3D modeling tool. KPT SkyEffects is designed to simulate the interaction between the light from the sun or moon with as much as six atmospheric layers of haze, fog and cloud. (KPT SceneBuilder and KPT SkyEffects are not available in the Corel KPT Collection.)
MagicPicker color wheel panel
Since the introduction, this plugin received a noticeable interest from community of digital artists. And counts more than 12000 downloads of free version. It's an extension non-modal panel for Photoshop for digital painters and artists. It includes simplified instruments for color picking in various forms, including a color wheel intended for digital painting on the tablet.
Pros: non-modal panel for color picking, that opens itself without a click; introduces color wheel in form of a panel for earlier versions of Photoshop (CS4 and CS3) and CS5
Cons: in current version (1.1) for Photoshop CS3 the main window cannot be docked
- Photoshop Filter Finesse by Bill Niffenegger. Book includes a comprehensive filter guide / history up to 1994
- The Plugin Site - Adobe Photoshop plugins and plug-ins, filters and effects for Paint Shop Pro, Corel Photo-Paint, Adobe Premiere
- http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0NEW/is_1991_April_25/ai_10645290. Missing or empty
- KPT Effects - Corel KPT Collection - Software Review and Rating
- The Official Filter Factory FAQ
- Alien Skin Software Web Site
- Auto FX Software Web Site
- FilterMeister Web Site
- Filter Forge - Features
- "virtualPhotographer Help". optikvervelabs.com. 2009. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
- "IrfanView PlugIns". irfanview.com. 2011. Retrieved 15 September 2011.
- John Nack on Adobe: Why do I have to pay for the Photoshop SDK?
- Eye Candy 5: Impact
- Eye Candy 5: Impact - Software Review and Rating
- Macworld | Eye Candy 5 - Textures
- AV Bros. Web Site
- Filter Forge - Photoshop plug-in review
- Filter Forge - Photoshop Plugin to Create Your Own Filters
- Flaming Pear:Products:SuperBladePro
- Graphics - Corel KPT Collection - Corel Corporation
- John Nack on Adobe: Photoshop gets a new color picker panel
- deviantART: raybender's Journal: MAGIC PICKER
- MagicPicker panel for Photoshop