Category: Image filter creation and application
Developer: Filter Forge
Minimum System Requirements: Mac OS X v10.4, 10.5 or 10.6
Processor Compatibility: Intel or PPC
Price: Starting at $149.95, 30 day trial version available
Who wasn’t amazed the first time you saw what could be done with the filters in Photoshop? The ease of applying a Gaussian blur or turning your photo into a watercolor painting are just some of the reasons Photoshop became the king of image editing. If you want a specific effect that is not in the included filters, you might look for a free filter online or perhaps you could create your own filters if you were an experienced programmer and understood computer graphics algorithms.
For the rest of us, if you want to build your own effects or have access to thousands of high quality filters, you may want to look at Filter Forge 2. This is a cross-platform, stand-alone application so you could use it even if you don’t have Photoshop. You can easily create your own filter by dragging and dropping controls in the editor and downloading (with the standard and professional editions you can also edit) the nearly 8,000 filters that have been created by other users. If you have Photoshop CS2 or higher, there is a plug-in so you can apply the effects to the current layer you are working on from within Photoshop.
Using the plugin from inside Photoshop
Filter Forge is filtering on steroids. Not only are there creative filters that can enhance or distort images, but about half of those online filters are textures that can be applied to an image or an area of an image in Photoshop to create surfaces such as brushed metal or wood flooring. With thousands of filters posted by other users, you might think that only a few might be gems but a quick stroll through the online gallery proves that this is not the case. Since Filter Forge has an incentive rewards program where users with popular filters could get an discount for an upgrade or even a free license, there are a ton of amazing filters available to use in licensed copies of the application for no additional cost.
Using Filter Forge 2
Just to get your mouth watering, take a look at some of the neat things that you can do with Filter Forge. When you open an image either from the File menu inside the Filter Forge application, or by triggering the plug-in from the Filter menu of Photoshop, the image (or Photoshop layer) will appear on the right side of the Filter Forge window.
Filter Forge 2 Application Window
On the left side, there are filter categories at the top and individual filter settings at the bottom. The categories are grouped with textures (building, frames, misc, organic, patterns, stone and techno) at the top and creative effects (distortions, frames, misc, patterns and photo) at the bottom of the list. As you add filters, the search field can really help sift through them all.
When you select a filter, you will see presets and settings that can be adjusted for each filter. Some designers may put several presets and various adjustments under the “settings” tab to tweak the filter. Some filters also include a randomizer so you can click to see variations. If none of the presets meet your needs, this would allow you to quickly scan through some different settings possibly as a starting point.
LEFT: Presets from the designer RIGHT: Adjustment controls for the filter
When you select any filter, the image on the right is rendered for a preview, but you can toggle back and forth between the rendered image and the original with the checkbox at the top of the window. Frames appear in both the texture and creative areas. The texture frames will be applied to the outer edge of the image while the creative frames can have transparent effects around the outside.
LEFT: My original image CENTER: Texture “photo frame” filter RIGHT: Creative “watercolor” frame filter
The application defaults to showing a smaller image for faster rendering of previews. You can enable the full size by puling the View menu to Preview Size and selecting Actual Size or switch back to the reduced size. Anyone who has worked with images or videos knows that the rendering time when applying filters can vary depending on each filter and the size of the image, so expect some waiting time while you experiment. When you do apply the filter to the actual image, you might be looking at a few minutes or even longer depending upon the speed of your processor. The “professional” edition takes advantage of multilple cores, but not the “standard” or “basic” editions. You can only apply one effect at a time, so if you want to apply multiple filters, you will need to apply one effect and then pull the layer back from Photoshop or save and load the image again.
LEFT: “Grunge” photo filter CENTER: “Noise Distortion” filter RIGHT: “Post Modern Grunge” creative filter
Online Filter Library
To get more filters, we only need to visit the Filter Forge website and look through the online library. You can click the “download more filters” link at the top of the application window or just visit www.filterforge.com/filters/ .
Featured filters are previewed on the library webpage
On the webpage, there is a search field to narrow by tags, featured previews at the top and then tabs with featured, popular and recent, and filters broken down by category. Looking through these is like being a kid in a candy store…your mind races with all the possibilities as you start dreaming of editing images. Clicking on a filter takes you to an online preview with a “before” and “after” image, along with preview of any presets. You can also see what the filter would look like with seamless tiling enabled. Installing this filter just takes clicking on the download button, which will automatically install this filter into Filter Forge (provided you have the application installed).
Looking through the online library of filters
Creating a Filter
Pulling Filter to New or clicking the “Filter Editor…” button will allow us to construct a filter. Filter Forge has a number of controls that can be drag and dropped onto the canvas area and then “strung” together by dragging between the controls. Each filter has a “result” control at the end of this string that shows the final product. Unless you are creating a texture filter, you will also need to add the “image” control as the source.
The image source (the beginning) and the result (the end)
Although the above filter only shows the same source image in the result, it shows how we have a start and a finish for the filter. Now we can add another control between the beginning and the end to “alter” the image. We just need to connect the flow so that the source image feeds into the middle control and connect that to the result. A “slider” control is added so that the user can change the amount of the radius which will affect our final result.
Simple filter that changes the result
If we want to add the ability to alter the color, we just drag and drop another control into the editor and string it into the “flow.”
Adding Hue/Saturation Control
Now our filter is able to give the user control over the color with a slider for the hue, saturation and the lightness of our image. You can see how this can start to get fun as we pick and choose more controls and add them into the chain to see how they affect the ultimate result.
You may get adventurous and decide to edit an existing filter from the online library. All you need to do is load the filter and click the “Filter Editor…” button to begin creating your own twist on someone else’s design. You can also learn about the techniques that were used to produce the other filters by examining how they were put together. This may be a good place to mention that the Filter Forge staff makes it clear that individual filters do not have any restrictions on use. This has some of the more talented filter builders expressing concerns in the forums that their hard work can be poached by others and used for profit. While this may happen, access to the thousands of filters is one of the main selling points, so the developers have to walk a fine line of encouraging the creation of additional filters and, at the same time, not restricting their creative use.
About half of the filters available are “textures” or surfaces that can be used for the creation of images—for instance, if you were designing an image in Photoshop (or another application that uses textures, such as Second Life) or you just wanted a seamless background for a images/webpage. On a recent project of mine, I was looking for a light and cheery background and found an image that was close to what I wanted in Filter Forge. Jumping into the editor, I was quickly able to tune it to exactly what I needed and push it out as a seamless tiled background.
LEFT: “Dotted Grunge” texture RIGHT: My edited version
Response time for email support was beyond my expectations. I ran into a question in the middle of the night and sent an email to support. Within hours I had a reply that cleared up my issue. The timely and professional response was impressive. The online forums are filled with helpful tips and tutorials. The community is very supportive online.
If you do not need to edit photos larger than 3,000 x 3,000 pixels or take advantage of multiple cores and 16/32 bit image modes, the standard version for $199 gives you a majority of the features for half the price of the Professional version (which retails for $399). There is a $99 “basic” version, but you lose the ability to create and modify filters. You can earn a discount or even a free copy of Filter Forge with their rewards program for creating and uploading filters that have “high” usage by other users (not just downloads or votes). What a great way to encourage quality filters that will ultimately benefit all users.
While the initial cost may seem steep, the benefit is having an unlimited access to high quality filters and textures. Keep an eye out for discounts, as they often appear on the webpage. They are already posting some teasers for version 3 in the forums online, so there is still ongoing development.
You can see a gallery of work created with Filter Forge in their online gallery. In addition to just seeing preview of the filters or textures, you can also see finished works and see which filters were used in the creation. These can be inspiring, and they really give you some idea of what is truly capable when these textures and filters are put to use.
Filter Forge is simply amazing. It is a bottomless application that will keep your creative juices flowing. While it is not inexpensive, if you have some talent for building you can earn an upgrade by sharing your work.
You will need access to the servers at Filter Forge to download and install shared filters, but it also grants you access to thousands of filters. Be aware that any contributed work could be used by others with no attribution and potentially used by others for profit.
Depending on the speed of your computer, your rendering times may be of some concern, but that comes with the territory of doing any high end graphics work.
As I said in the beginning, Filter Forge 2 takes filter contruction to a new level, and I believe that you are getting every bit of value you invest in this application. It has inspired me to take another look at all my design work and see where I can enhance images or push my creative limits. Share in the comments section your experiences with Filter Forge, or maybe even some of the artwork that you have created.
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