Copyright (c) 2002-2016 by Harald
Photoshop Add-ons: Actions, Scripts and Extensions
and Commercial Plugins
your Plugins on the Hard Drive
your Plugins to a New Computer
FilterMeister Plugins work under Windows XP / Vista / 7 / 8
Filter Factory Plugins under Newer Operating Systems
Older Plugins under MacOS X
32-bit Photoshop Plugins on 64-bit Operating Systems
Photoshop Plugins with Adobe Lightroom
Modes and 16-bit Images
Filtering with Plugins
Processing with Plugins
your Own Plugins
1. About Photoshop-compatible
There are many types of plugins available: for
web browsers, audio players, video tools and all kinds of applications.
One of the most commonly used and popular type of plugins are Photoshop
plugins or more generally expressed Photoshop-compatible plugins.
Since they were introduced by Adobe in 1992 with Photoshop 2.5,
thousands of them were developed by a few hundred people and companies
all over the world. More than 80 image and video applications presently
support Photoshop plugins to a more or less large extent. Most commonly
used applications that support them are Photoshop, Photoshop Elements,
Paint Shop Pro, Photo-Paint, IrfanView and GIMP.
Photoshop-compatible plugins are aimed at supplying
additional image effects or performing special tasks that are impossible
or difficult to achieve with the means of an image application alone.
They integrate into the host application and are executed from within
the application. There are several types of Photoshop-compatible
plugins available, e.g. filter plugins, import and export plugins,
file format plugins and automation plugins. Additionally there are
also color picker, selection, parser, stack renderer and meassurement
plugins, but noone else than Adobe seems to have ever created plugins
of these types. The most common type are filter plugins which have
the have the file extension .8bf and usually supply special image
effects. Import/export usually let you acquire or write image data
from or to certain devices, file format plugins let you open and
save exotic image formats and automation plugins automate certain
tasks in the manner of Photoshop actions.
1b. Other Photoshop Add-ons: Actions, Scripts
In addition to plugins Photoshop (and partially
Photoshop Elements) also support other types of add-ons: actions,
scripts and extensions. Extensions could be called "plugins", but
as Adobe chose to name them extensions and not panel plugins, we
can conclude that they are not plugins in the strict sense. Nevertheless,
actions, scripts and extensions are sometimes wrongly named as plugins
by the press or even some developers.
A Photoshop action is a sequence of actions that
was recorded in Photoshop 4 (1996) or later. It can be saved a .atn
files and played back again later. You can make Photoshop action
display the dialog of called functions, e.g. those of filters, in
order to adjust settings. However, the action sequence is fixed
and cannot be changed dynamically, which makes Photoshop action
ineffective for certain tasks.
In Photoshop Elements 11 an Action panel was added,
so action files can be opened and played. In older Elements version
you have to place the .atn file together with a thumbnail image
in a certain folder in order to make it accessible. The ElementsXXL
plugin makes it much easier to play back actions in Photoshop
Elements 10 and older. ActionsXXL
(for Windows) even lets you record actions in Photoshop Elements
6 and higher.
Shortly after Photoshop 7 was released in 2002
the Photoshop Scripting plugin became available. This automation
plugin is delivered with Photoshop since then. It allows running
Unlike Photoshop action these scripts can have an UI and react flexibly
to user input. Lately Photoshop scripts are able to behave like
automation plugins and can be controlled by actions. The HDR Toning
effect that is available since Photoshop CS5 on the Image > Adjustments
menu looks like a filter, but is actually a script. ElementsXXL
allows running scripts in Photoshop Elements.
When Photoshop CS4 became available in 2008 a
new type of "add-on" called extension was born. Photoshop
extensions, also called flash panels, look and behave like the other
Photoshop panels. So they have a non-model UI that is open all of
the time. Extensions are enhanced versions of Photoshop actions
and scripts and are comparable to automation plugins. So they cannot
process images themselves, but can run filters that do that.
With the arrival of Photoshop CC 2014 flash panel extensions are
no longer supported. They are replaced with HTML5 panel extensions,
which also work in Photoshop CC. Unfortunately this means that hundreds
of flash panels can no longer be used in Photoshop CC 2014 and future
Photoshop versions. As the complete UI needs to be rewritten (Besides,
HTML5 does not support all Flash features!) it is very likely that
only a minority of the flash panels will become available as HTML5
2. Plugin Hosts
Applications that let you execute and apply
plugins are called plugin hosts. Most graphics applications that
support Photoshop-compatible plugins are commercial. The most popular
plugin hosts are Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop Elements,
PhotoImpact, Photo-Paint, Fireworks and Painter. But there are several
dozens more of plugin hosts, e.g. Plugin Commander Pro, Serif PhotoPlus,
PhotoExpress, Picture Publisher, PhotoDeluxe, PhotoBrush, Digital
Image Pro, Photo House, PhotoDraw, Ultimate Paint and Photoline.
But not only graphics applications support Photoshop
plugins, also vector, 3D, animation, video and presentation applications
do, e.g. Illustrator, CorelDRAW!, Freehand, Canvas, 3D Max, Bryce,
After Effects (up to version 5.5), Premiere (up to version 6), Combustion
However, through the years more and more freeware
applications support Photoshop plugins. You can find links to such
tools on the Free
Photoshop-Compatible Tools page at The Plugin Site. The most
recommended ones are PhotoPlus,
and Ultimate FX.
While Photoshop (and usually Photoshop Elements)
support all available plugin types to the full extent, other applications
only support filter plugins and sometimes also import/export and
file format plugins. Automation plugins only work in Photoshop and
Photoshop Elements, because they need special features that are
only available from Adobe. Many low-cost applications don't even
support all available filter plugins. They sometimes crash with
some plugins, they don't display transparency correctly in the preview
(like Fireworks), they don't display a color selection dialog (like
PhotoBrush), they don't let you zoom or scroll the preview or they
display only a part of the image in the preview (like GIMP).
Not only the image application developers are
to blame in some cases, because some plugin developers (e.g. Visual
Infinity) wanted to provide the look of Photoshop by using the Adobe
Dialog Manager in their plugin. As a consequence such plugins don't
work in non-Adobe applications.
Some plugin developers make their plugins only
compatible with Photoshop and don't care about or even try to avoid
supporting other image applications. In some cases there are some
tricks to make them work in other applications nevertheless: You
need to install a trial or demo version of Photoshop (Elements)
to keep the installation of some plugins from quitting and afterwards
you need to copy some of the .dll files of the plugin into the main
folder of your image application. Of course, you also need to copy
the .8bf file(s) into the plugin folder of your image application.
In 2002 Adobe restricted access to the Photoshop
SDK, which contains the specifications for Photoshop plugins, and
also changed the license agreement of the Photoshop SDK. Luckily
2006 Adobe gave up asking plugin developers a $195 fee for accessing
the SDK. It seems the new license agreement does not legally allow
to use newer versions of the Photoshop SDK to add support for Photoshop
plugins in non-Adobe applications. So incompatibilities with non-Adobe
applications that support Photoshop plugins may rather increase.
4. Free and Commercial Plugins
We have to distinguish between free and commercial
Photoshop plugins. While there are several thousands of free plugins
available, there are only a few hundred commercial ones.
Most of the free filter plugins were created
with Adobe Filter Factory, which has not been updated since 1995.
These FilterFactory plugins can be recognized by their zoomless
preview, up to eight sliders with a triangular knob and a file size
of 49,152 or 56,344 bytes. Whereas the majority of these thousands
of plugins produce abstract, modern-art-like effects, which are
barely useful in many cases, there are some plugins which produce
nice and useful effects. But as FilterFactory doesn't support any
sophisticated interpolation or antialiasing, several of these plugins
produce hard edges in the image.
Unfortunately many FilterFactory collections
aren't distributed with the one or two files that are needed to
make them work. You can find a tutorial about this problem at The
Plugin Site. For links, ratings and descriptions of these Filter
Factory plugins visit the
Filter Factory Plugins page at The Plugin Site.
Example of an Filter Factory
plugin dialog: simple sliders and no preview zooming
Many of the remaining mass of free plugins were
created with FilterMeister
and FilterFormula, enhanced successors of Filter Factory. Because
FilterFormula hasn't been updated since 1999 and FilterMeister is
still developed further, a lot of sophisticated plugins have been
created with FilterMeister. Unlike most Filter Factory plugin, these
FilterMeister plugins often touch the level of professional plugins.
Several commercial plugin colections were also developed with FilterMeister.
Screenshots of FilterMeister plugins can be found at the Filter
Gallery of the FilterMeister web site.
Several companies also offer feature-limited,
free versions of their products, one or two free plugins from a
commercial product or other free plugins with a limited range of
possibilities. Additionally there are some developers that only
produce freeware or open-source plugins, but don't use FilterFactory
and its successors. All in all, there are some very useful plugins
available as freeware which can even be compared with commercial
plugins. For links, descriptions and ratings of these free plugins
please visit our Free
Plugins page at The Plugin Site.
More than 200 companies currently offer commercial
plugins with prices ranging mainly from $5 to $200. Other than the
free plugins which are mostly limited to special image effects,
commercial plugins offer solutions for a wide range of different
image processing tasks. Although commercial plugins are usually
more sophisticated than free plugins, you may also come across low-quality
plugins that are offered for much money. So the price of a plugin
is not always an indicator for quality. For links and short descriptions
of commercial plugins, please visit the Commercial
Plugins page at The Plugin Site.
5. Converting FFL files
Back in 1998 I created a file format called
"Filter Factory Library" (short FFL) for storing thousands of Filter
Factory plugins in one file at less than 1% of their original size.
This is achieved by only saving the filter source code, slider names
and author information in the FFL file. The only application that
can create such FFL files is Plugin Commander Pro, but there are
several other applications that can use them, e.g. Plugin
Galaxy, Filters Unlimited, PicMaster, Ultimate Paint and the
User Filter for GIMP.
If you want to convert a FFL file back to Photoshop
plugins, you at least need the Light Version of Plugin
Commander. There are text and video tutorials on how to do that
on the Plugin
Commander Tutorials page.
6. Installing Your Plugins
Some applications like Paint Shop Pro, PhotoImpact
and Photo-Paint let you define several plugin folders in the Preferences
or Options dialog. This gives you a lot of freedom to decide yourself
where to install your plugins. Whereas Paint Shop Pro and Photo-Paint
immediately display new plugins, you need to restart PhotoImpact
and some other tools to make the plugins accessible after you defined
a new plugin folder.
A few applications like Photoshop and Photoshop
Elements usually demand installing or copying plugins to a predefined
folder e.g. a folder called Plug-ins which is located inside the
application's folder. Nevertheless Photoshop and Photoshop Elements
let you choose an additional plugin folder under Edit > Preferences
> Plug-Ins, but Photoshop needs to be restarted to make it work.
Under 64-bit Windows you need to make sure that
you install 64-bit plugins in the Plug-ins sub folder of the Photoshop
64-bit folder, which is usually located a C:\Program Files\Adobe\Photoshop
xxx\. On the other hand 32-bit plugins have to be placed in
the Plug-Ins sub folder of Photoshop 32-bit located at C:\Program
Files (x86)\Adobe\Photoshop xxx\. Under 32-bit Windows
and MacOS X there is only one plugin folder, so this problem does
Unfortunately the Plug-Ins sub folder is translated
in localized versions of Photoshop up to Version CS3. This can be
a bit confusing for non-English users or for people using various
localized versions of Photoshop. Here are the names of the Photoshop
plugin folder in other languages, so that you know where to put
plugins in case you are using a non-English version of Photoshop:
|English (Photoshop 5 and later):
|English (up to Version 4):
Luckily Adobe decided to not translate Plug-Ins
anymore in localized versions starting with Photoshop CS4. Better
late than never.
To learn how to install plugins in your graphics
application and how to access them in your graphics application
you can find instructions
for more than two dozens of applications at The Plugin Site.
7. Organizing your Plugins
on the Hard Drive
If you use your Photoshop-compatible plugins
with only one image application, you can of course install them
into its plugin folder. But once you upgrade to a newer version
of your application, you have the problem of moving your plugins
to the new plugin folder. Simply copying the plugins into the new
plugin folder works for many but not all plugins, so you may be
forced to install some of them again. Similarly, if you want to
use plugins with different graphics applications on the same computer,
it might be a waste of hard drive space and time to do multiple
installations of each plugin.
A solution for these problems is to use a central
folder, e.g. at C:\Plugins\, for storing your plugins. It is also
recommended to use a sub folder for each plugin manufacturer, plugin
collection or plugin product, otherwise you may have problems if
you want to delete or remove a certain plugin and its additional
How to create a shortcut to
your central plugin folder
To make your graphics application(s) display
the plugins located in a central plugins folder (e.g. C:\Plugins\)
or any other folder, you have to enter or choose the path in the
Preferences or Options dialog of your application(s). But as some
applications won't let you do that, you can use a little trick.
This trick won't work with each application, but it works fine with
Photoshop (Version 5 and later), Fireworks (Version 4 and later)
and Painter for Windows. The trick is to place a shortcut (a .lnk
file), which points to your plugin folder or one of its sub folders,
into the plugin folder of your graphics application. The shortcut
file can be created by right clicking above your plugins folder
in Explorer, selecting "Create Shortcut". Now you just need to drag
the shortcut e.g. into the Photoshop Plug-Ins folder.
7b. Moving your Plugins to
a New Computer
When you want to use your Photoshop plugins
on a new computer, you should backup your installed plugins on the
old computer and transfer them to the new computer, e.g. by copying
them into Photoshop's plugins folder or by copying them to a new
main plugin folder and pointing your application(s) to it. This
works fine for many plugins. Some basically work, but not allow
access to presets or the manual. A few require a full installation
to work on the new computer. Nevertheless, you can save yourself
many installation procedures this way.
Another important aspect are preset files, which
you saved yourself and are essential for your image processing.
Try to locate them on the old computer (e.g. by doing a system-wide
search with a preset name) and back them up. Then copy them into
the appropriate preset folders on the new computer.
8. Making FilterMeister Plugins
work under Windows XP / Vista / 7 / 8
Unfortunately some developers abandoned their
plugins that they created with FilterMeister. They did not recompile
them with the latest version of FilterMeister to make them compatible
with the latest Windows operating systems. There are two major problems
that old FilterMeister plugins have: First of all, they crash under
Windows XP, Vista and 7 if your CPU supports Data Execution Prevention
(DEP) and you have DEP activated for all programs. The only workaround
at the moment is to go to Start > Control Panel > System >
Advanced > Performance > Settings > Data Execution Prevention
and limit it to system programs. Alternatively you can add your
graphics application (which you use for running plugins) to the
exclusion list on the same dialog.
The second problem of old FilterMeister plugins
is that they crash under Windows Vista and 7 if your computer has
2 or more GB RAM. On some systems they even crashes with less RAM.
This problem can be fixed by using FM
Patcher. FM Patcher is a tool that manipulates old FilterMeister
plugins to make them run under Vista.
A 64-bit version of FilterMeister was released
in October 2014. Unfortunately not all FilterMeister plugins were
recompiled as 64-bit plugins. So to run 32-bit FilterMeister plugin
a 64-bit application you need the LaunchBox
Nevertheless it is recommended to contact the
developers of such plugins, tell them about the problems and ask
them to recompile their plugins with the latest version of FilterMeister.
9. Using Filter Factory Plugins
under Newer Operating Systems
Under Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 Filter Factory
plugins have the same problem as FilterMeister plugins: Crashes
because of Data Execution Prevention (DEP). To avoid crashes go
to Start > Control Panel > System > Advanced > Performance
> Settings > Data Execution Prevention. There you can either
limit DEP to system programs or add your host application to the
The better alternative is to use Filter Factory
filters with tools like Filter
Filters Unlimited or Plugin Galaxy 3. Plugin
Galaxy for Windows renders Filter Factory effects with even
higher quality than the original Filter Factory plugin and allows
using them in 64-bit host applications.
On the Mac the Filter Factory plugin was not
updated when Photoshop was ported to MacOS X. It was possible to
run Filter Factory plugins under earlier versions of MacOS X with
Photoshop 7 in Classic Mode, but it required MacOS 9 installed on
another hard drive partition.
Luckily there is a workaround: You can open
and use Filter Factory plugins and .AFS files (which contain Filter
Factory source code) directly with a Photoshop plugin called Filter
Foundry. You need at least Version 1.2 of Filter Foundry for
this. Even more interesting is that Filter Foundry lets you open
and use Filter Factory plugins that were only released for Windows,
which is the case for more than 90% of all Filter Factory plugins.
Filter Foundry doesn't display the slider names, doesn't render
some filter effects absolute correctly and runs a bit slower than
the old Filter Factory, but these are only minor issues. More serious
is the fact that there is no 64-bit version of FilterFoundry available
yet. So to use Filter Foundry in Photoshop CS6 and CC you have to
rely on LaunchBox.
A list of all available Filter Factory plugins
an be found on the Filter
Factory Plugins page at The Plugin Site.
10. Using Older Plugins under
Under Windows you can still use all Photoshop
plugins that were developed since 1994 for 32-bit Windows. With
Apple's constant changes of the MacOS that cannot be said for the
Mac versions of Photoshop plugins. With the switch from MacOS 9
to MacOS X many old plugins became unusable in Photoshop. Unfortunately
some of them were never updated for OS X. As previously mentioned
you can only use them under MacOS X if you have Photoshop 7 and
MacOS 9 installed.
Another obstacle was added with the Mac version
of the Adobe CS2 suite. Photoshop plugins developed for Photoshop
7 and CS are PEF binaries that can be executed in Photoshop CS2,
but other CS2 applications like Illustrator or Image Ready are not
able to run them anymore. From Version CS3 on these PEF plugins
are also not running in Photoshop anymore. The new plugins that
work in Photoshop CS2 and later are so called Mach-O binaries.
With Apple's switch to Intel processors and
the arrival of Photoshop CS3 there is another problem with Photoshop
plugins that were created for the PowerPC processor. They are not
displayed in Photoshop CS3/CS4 if your Mac has an Intel processor.
However, there is a way to overcome this obstacle: You can select
the Photoshop CS3/CS4 icon, choose Get Info from the File menu and
activate the "Open using Rosetta" check box. After starting
Photoshop CS3/CS4 it will be executed in Rosette mode and recognize
the PowerPC plugins. Unfortunately this also means that Photoshop
will run slower.
Starting with Version CS5 Photoshop only supports
Macs with an Intel processor. This means that you cannot use plugins,
which were developed for the PowerPC processor, in Photoshop CS5
and subsequent versions anymore. Additionally the 64-bit version
of Photoshop CS5 is executed by default, which means that 32-bit
Intel plugins are ignored. In order to use 32-bit Intel plugins
in Photoshop CS5, you need to run the 32-bit version of Photoshop.
To do that select the Photoshop icon in the Photoshop folder, choose
File > Get Info from the menu and activate the "Open in
32-bit mode" check box.
Photoshop CS6 and CC for MacOS are 64-bit only.
This means that they cannot run 32-bit plugins anymore. So you need
to get 64-bit versions of your Photoshop plugin in order to run
them with Photoshop CS6/CC. As some plugins will never be available
as 64-bit versions, you have to run them in older versions of Photoshop.
However, there is a tool called LaunchBox,
which lets you run 32-bit plugins from within Photoshop 64-bit.
This way you do not need to switch Photoshop CS4 or CS5 to 32-bit
mode in order to run 32-bit plugins and you can also use them in
Photoshop CS6 and CC.
If you are using MacOS X 10.8 and higher, you
have to deactivate Gatekeeper in order to install Photoshop plugins.
To do that go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy
> General, click on the lock icon on the lower left of the window,
type in your system password and finally activate the Anywhere option.
If your Mac has a Retina display, you may experience
problems in Photoshop CC with older plugins without Retina support.
Unused space can be seen on the plugin dialog and crashes may occur.
To avoid this problem please do the following: Select the Photoshop
icon in the Photoshop folder, choose File > Get Info from the
menu and activate the "Open in Low Resolution" check box.
11. 64-bit Photoshop Plugins
Since version CS4 Photoshop is available as
a 64-bit executable for Windows in addition to the usual 32-bit
version. Photoshop 64-bit only runs on 64-bit editions of Windows
(XP 64-bit, Vista 64-bit, Windows 7 64-bit, Windows 8 64-bit). Under
32-bit Windows only the 32-bit version of Photoshop is installed.
Creating a 64-bit version of Photoshop for MacOS X meant more work
for Adobe (because of Apple's frequent change of programming platforms),
so a 64-bit Mac version of Photoshop became available later with
Photoshop 64-bit is not able to run 32-bit plugins.
It can only run 64-bit plugins. 32-bit plugins need to be executed
in Photoshop 32-bit or other 32-bit application that supports Photoshop
But there is a workaround: A tool called LaunchBox
lets you run 32-bit plugins from within Photoshop 64-bit. Launchbox
makes it work by installing a 64-bit bridge plugin, which launches
a 32-bit program that executes the 32-bit plugins and passes the
processed image back to Photoshop.
64-bit Photoshop plugins do not run on 32-bit
operating systems. 64-bit plugins can only be used in Photoshop
and in Photoline so far. Applications like Photoshop Elements, Paint
Shop Pro, Photo-Paint and Fireworks are still 32-bit programs, so
they cannot use 64-bit plugins even if they run on a 64-bit operating
64-bit Photoshop plugins can access more than
3 or 4 GB of RAM, which means that they are able to process much
larger images. For a filter plugin to need more than 4 GB of RAM
either the image needs to be huge (e.g. 100 Megapixel and above),
there need to be a lot of layers or the plugin's image algorithm
needs to work on a lot of copies of the image in memory. Most people
do not need more than 4 GB RAM for processing images.
If RAM is a critical factor, 64-bit plugins
may render up to two (or even three) times faster than 32-bit plugins.
Under normal circumstances 64-bit plugins are only up to 30% faster.
Still, this speed increase can mean a real advantage for Photoshop
professionals with a deadline in their back.
12. Using 32-bit Photoshop
Plugins on 64-bit Operating Systems
Running Photoshop 32-bit (or other 32-bit applications
that support Photoshop plugins) under a 64-bit Windows operating
system has some advantages. On a 32-bit system Photoshop and Photoshop
plugins can only access up to 3 GB of RAM. When running under 64-bit
Windows, 32-bit Photoshop plugins and Photoshop 32-bit have access
to 4 GB of RAM, provided that the computer has that much RAM. At
least 6 GB of RAM is recommended, because the operating system also
needs some of it.
There is another advantage of running 32-bit
Photoshop under an 64-bit operating system (MacOS X as well as Windows).
Photoshop can use the memory above 4 GB as a scratch disk. This
improves performance when working with a lot of layer or history/undo
steps, because memory is much faster than any hard drive.
However, Photoshop CS5 32-bit for MacOS X only
uses 2 GB of RAM and does not use memory above 4 GB as a scratch
disk. Photoshop CS4 for Mac accesses 3 GB RAM and uses memory above
4 GB as a scratch disk. So it is better to use Photoshop CS5 64-bit
or Photoshop CS3/CS4 for MacOS X if you work with huge images. Since
CS6 all Photoshop for Mac versions are 64-bit only anyway.
Since Photoshop Elements 12 for Mac and Photoshop
Elements 13 for Windows you can only install the 64-bit version
of Photoshop Elements on a 64-bit system. There is no way to install
both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Photoshop Elements anymore.
So to use 32-bit plugins with Photoshop Elements you have to keep
older 32-bit-only versions of Photoshop Elements installed. With
Photoshop Elements 15 the 32-bit version was dropped, so that Photoshop
Elements 15 and higher can only be used with a 64-bit version of
13. Using Photoshop Plugins
with Adobe Lightroom
Adobe Lightroom does not support Photoshop plugins
directly, but offers an external editing feature. It works this
way: In Lightroom you select the images that you want to process
and use the Photo > Edit In menu to run Photoshop or another
application. In Photoshop you apply the plugins as you normally
do and save the processed images before you return to Lightroom.
Some companies offer Lightroom versions (external
editors) of their Photoshop plugins, which start up faster, because
they avoid loading Photoshop, and require less clicks to process
Lightroom images. There is also a tool called LaunchBox,
which works as an external editor in Lightroom and runs Photoshop
plugins itself. It is a nice way to use Photoshop Plugins from Lightroom
without using Photoshop or another host application.
Lightroom does not support real plugins like
Photoshop does, so external editing is the only solution for applying
other image processing algorithms. Unfortunately it is a bit inconvenient,
because Lightroom creates TIFF duplicates of RAW files, which are
passed to the external editor (e.g. Photoshop or the Lightroom version
of a Photoshop plugin). This conversions step requires additional
time, which can be quite long if you selected numerous image files.
JPEG and TIFF files can be processed directly, but it is recommended
to work with quickly created duplicates, otherwise the original
JPEG and TIFF image files will be overwritten. As a result the original
file and the processed file appear side by side in Lightroom. Without
external editing you deal with only one copy of an image instead
14. Running Plugins
Filter plugins are usually displayed on a menu
called Filter or Effects in Photoshop or other applications. Each
plugin collection is displayed as a sub menu on this menu. Native
plugins that are installed with an image application itself are
usually placed more at the top of this menu while third party plugins
from various companies are placed more at the bottom. If you have
hundreds of third party plugins installed, you need to scroll down
the menu in some applications to access certain plugins.
Photoshop 5 and earlier versions used to move
the remaining plugins into the Other sub menu if the number of plugin
sub menus exceeded 21 or 22. This made the situation even worse,
because the Other sub menu became totally overcrowded. Other applications
use some tricks, e.g. by repeating the menu over the screen or by
creating sub menus within sub menus to avoid scrolling.
The Photoshop Filter menu with
native filters at the top and third party filters at the bottom
If you want to avoid hunting down the menus
and access your filters with a double click, you should have a look
FilterHub is a panel that displays all filters and automation plugins
in a tree list and lets you create a Favorites list with your most
needed filters for quick access.
Automation plugins, which only work in Photoshop
and Photoshop Elements, can be executed from the Automate or Automation
Tools sub menu of the File menu. Photoshop extensions (supported
by Photoshop CS4 and higher) are accessible from the Extensions
sub menu of the Window menu.
The Mac version of Photoshop also lets you specify
the additional plugin folder at Startup. If you hold down the Command
and Option keys right after double clicking the Photoshop icon,
a folder selection dialog will appear. That way you don't need to
end and restart Photoshop when changing the additional plugin folder.
However, this doesn't work with the Windows version. Applications
like Paint Shop Pro or Photo-Paint, which don't force you to restart
before plugins from newly defined plugin folders are accessible,
make it quite easy to add or remove plugins while working on an
Running a plugin with a key shortcut is quite
helpful if you want to execute certain plugins more than one time
and don't want to hunt down a large menu every time. Unfortunately
most image application don't lets you assign key shortcuts to certain
plugins with the exception of Photoshop starting with version CS2
(Edit menu > Keyboard Shortcuts). There is a workaround for Photoshop
versions prior to CS2. You can create an Action that includes the
plugin, toggle the plugin dialog on in the Action palette if necessary
and assign a key from F2 to F12 to the action. Pressing the appropriate
F-key will now immediately execute the assigned plugin.
15. Image Modes and 16-bit
Beside the regular RGB image mode, applications
like Photoshop and Photo-Paint also offer several other image modes,
e.g. CMYK, Bitmap, Grayscale, Indexed, Duotone and Lab. However,
most plugins only support RGB mode and no plugin at all supports
Bitmap and Indexed image mode.
So if you have opened a grayscale image in your
graphics application, you will notice that some of your plugins
are grayed out on the menu. That means that these plugins don't
support the current image mode. To use these plugins you need to
convert the image to RGB (or another mode that is supported by the
plugin) at first. This is done differently in various applications,
so please consult your application's manual. In Photoshop, for example,
you can swap image modes with the Image > Mode menu. After you
applied the plugin, you can convert the image back to its original
By default, plugins support images with 8-bit
per channel (24-bit images). Lately more and more plugins, especially
those for photo correction, support 16-bit per channel (48-bit images).
Still many plugins only work on 8-bit images. So these plugins are
grayed out on the menu if you have a 16-bit image opened.
If you shoot RAW files with your digital camera
or use a film scanner and want to keep your photos at 16-bit precision,
you have to use plugins that support 16-bit images. Otherwise you'll
have to convert them to 8-bit and converting them back to 16-bit
does not bring back the lost bits. Currently only Photoshop, Photoshop
Elements (Version 4 and higher), Photoline and Sagelight support
processing 16-bit images with Photoshop plugins.
Corel Paintshop Pro X3 (with Service Pack 3)
also lets you process 16-bit images with Photoshop plugins, but
there is an implementation mistake that produces image artifacts
under certain circumstances, which depend on the plugin effect and
the white point of the images. This was fixed in newer versions
of Paintshop Pro. PhotoImpact and older versions of Corel Photo-Paint
support 16-bit images and let you apply their native filters to
them, but they don't allow you to apply Photoshop plugins on 16-bit
16. Non-Destructive Filtering
The first application to allow applying Photoshop
plugins in a non-destructive way was Macromedia Fireworks MX. Non-destructive
means that you can change the effect of the plugins any time without
the need to undo the effect. Only Photoshop plugins that are scriptable
(which means that they pass their filters parameters when recording
an action or macro) can be used that way in Fireworks.
After Adobe merged with Macromedia, we now see
non-destructive filtering in Photoshop CS3 and higher, too. Unfortunately
this so called Smart Filtering is a bit more limited in Photoshop
when compared to Fireworks. First of all, you can only apply plugins
non-destructively to smart objects in Photoshop, which involves
an extra step and limits the plugin effect to the smart object layer.
Unlike adjustment layer effects a "smart filter" does not affect
any layers below it. The main reason for this limited implementation
of non-destruction filtering was speed gain.
By default Photoshop CS3 and newer versions
only allow those Photoshop plugins to be used as smart filters that
were updated to support it. However, there is a workaround for this
limitation, which lets you use all filter plugins as smart filters.
To enable it in Photoshop you need to choose File > Scripts
sub folder of the Photoshop folder (which is usually at C:\Program
and load the file EnableAllPluginsForSmartFilters.jsx. When
you are asked if you want to enable all filters as smart filter,
Now you will be able to use all filter plugins as smart filters
on smart objects in Photoshop. However, non-scriptable plugins will
not store their filter settings in the smart object. So once you
apply the same non-scriptable plugin with other settings to another
image or layer, the filter settings that were applied to the smart
object will be lost when edit the smart filter again. The same will
be the case if you exit and restart Photoshop and the plugins does
not store the last settings itself. So non-scriptable filters will
usually be useful as smart filters only within one editing session,
but that is still better than nothing. On the other hand plugins
that support scripting will not loose their settings even if you
exit and restart Photoshop.
17. Batch Processing with
Several applications let you use plugins for
batch processing images. In Photoshop, for example, you need to
create an action with the plugin(s) at first. After that you need
to go to File > Automate > Batch and choose the previously
recorded action. This allows you to process an whole folder of images
with the action. It works very similar in Paint Shop Pro (Version
8 and higher). You need to record a script, which includes the plugin,
at first. Then you can use the File > Batch > Process command.
Another sophisticated application for batch processing images with
plugins is Debabelizer Pro. Plugin Commander Pro also lets you batch
process images, but in the current version, you can only use FilterFactory
plugins for that purpose.
During batch processing there is no plugin dialog
displayed and instead the plugin is immediately applied with the
recorded parameters. Some plugin, however, don't support scripting
and display the dialog for each image, which forces the user to
hit OK for every image. Usually FilterFactory, FilterFormula and
FilterMeister plugins react that way.
To avoid that in the case of FilterFactory plugins,
you can use Plugin
Commander Pro to convert them to plugins that apply their effect
without displaying a dialog or you can use Plugin Commander Pro
for batch processing. Otherwise it may help to hold down the Enter
key (or place the top left corner of a heavy book on the Enter key)
until all images are processed.
18. Managing your Plugins
With hundreds of plugins installed the filter
menus of most graphics applications get quite crowded and some applications
don't even display all plugins anymore. Secondly with hundreds or
even thousands of plugins installed one can hardly remember what
effect is produced by which plugin.
The Browser dialog of Plugin
Commander Pro displaying plugin effects
For this purpose The Plugin Site offers a tool
Commander. It lets you disable rarely used plugins to prevent
them from showing up in your application and overcrowding the Filter/Effects
menu. It also lets you change the sub menu names (also called categories)
and move plugins from one sub menu to another giving you the chance
of having the plugins displayed in the Filter/Effects menu in a
more ordered way. In addition to many other features it also lets
you preview plugin effects applied to a preview image and view them
side-by-side in a thumbnail browser to obtain a quick overview.
Plugin Commander doesn't care where you have your plugin installed,
so you hunt them down everywhere on your hard drive(s) and apply
them to images of your choice.
19. Creating your Own Plugins
If you have a few programming skills and knowledge
about image processing, you may be interested in creating your own
Photoshop-compatible plugins. As already mentioned above, the Filter
Factory, Filter Formula, Filter Foundry and FilterMeister tools
let you do that relatively easily. All of them are plugins themselves,
which has the advantage that you can develop the plugins right inside
a graphics application.
If you like it more flexible, have more time
to invest and a good C programming knowledge, you should consider
using the Photoshop
SDK from Adobe with Visual Studio or XCode. Delphi programmers
were able to use the Photoshop SDK for Delphi from Centaurix to
create Photoshop plugins, but unfortunately the company is out of
For a more detailed description of these tools
please refer to the Plugin Creation
Tools at The Plugin Site.
The colorful world of Photoshop-compatible plugins
can really turn someone into an addictive plugin collector. But
in general most people only keep or continually use a small percentage
of the offered plugins. Many plugins are probably only used once
and forgotten or removed. It really depends on what type of graphics
or image processing someone regularly does. Digital artists and
people who like to experiment with image effects will find many
filter plugins attractive whereas people who only want to correct
their photos with the computer will mostly limit themselves to only
a few plugins.
All in all, the world of image editing would
be less interesting without Photoshop plugins. The plugin scene
can be considered as an innovative and inspiring field where new
ideas for image processing are tested and special solution for important
problems are offered. Several good ideas were at first only available
as plugins and were later built into graphics applications. Many
cool effects and time-saving tools are still only available as plugins
and probably would never have become available otherwise.
If you don't understand something mentioned
in this text or think that some information is missing, please contact