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Filter Forge

by Roberto Muscia


Review Date: July 27, 2009
Recommend? yes | Rating: 9 


Pros: Intuitive user interface, good help feature, large number of high quality filters
Cons: Filter rendering time, filters could be organized better, only one filter can be applied at a time, Random generator affects ALL sliders
Web site: http://www.filterforge.com/

The following review was written by Roberto Muscia, a first time user of Filter Forge, in July 2009:

The review is based on using FilterForge on a 32-bits single processor Microsoft Windows XP system.
However, FilterForge currently supports single, two and four processor systems and is available for Microsoft Windows (2000/ XP/ Vista) as well as (new!) Apple OS X operating systems.
The stand-alone even works under 64-bits operating systems (Win and Mac).

First it might be a good thing to start this review with briefly summarizing a few features of FilterForge so that you can get an overall impression of what it can do:

- Applying -resolution independent- graphical effect filters to 8-, 16*- and 32*-bits images by choosing from a categorized and thumbnailed, easily extendable menu of effect filters. (* FilterForge Trial and Professional licenses only)

- The program can be started up either as stand-alone or as an (Adobe Photoshop-compatible) plugin (in the last case 32-bits images might not be supported, depending on the image editor FilterForge is run from).

- The list of installed filters can easily be extended with a click of a button which gives the user access to an organized online library of thousands of free* and yet high quality filters, created by other FilterForge users. (* Depending on the FilterForge Edition there is an (un)limited number of downloads from the online Filter Library).

- New effect filters easily can either be created from scratch or existing filters can be modified through an intuitively layed-out graphical user interface which requires not even the slightest bit of programming skills. In the Filter Editor one simply can drag items from a large categorized toolbox of basic filtertools, connect the modules together with input- and outputlines and set certain options in the modules. All-in-all very intuitively and effective.

FilterForge currently is available in no less than six Editions each in a different price range, starting from symbolic prices upto just over $200. In the free one month Trial everything is fully functional as if it's a licensed Professional Edition. The number of functional features depend on the Edition you have a license code for.
Installation is straight forward: during setup you choose a location on your computer where you want FilterForge to be installed and in which installed (recognized) editors you want the FilterForge plugin (.8bf) additionally to be installed to.

When starting FilterForge for the very first time you will instantly notice that the layout of the dialog looks clear and intuitively. It is easy to figure out how everything works even without reading the well written help feature. The FilterForge plugin accessed through an image editor basically starts up the stand-alone (within a few seconds) with only one visible difference: the "Save image as" button is replaced by an "Apply" button.
In the main dialog you can browse through installed categorized filters, look at filter example thumbnails, select one, choose a preset and/ or set the available filter controls to your taste. The large preview updates instantly when changing anything.
Once a filtersetting is chosen you can apply it to the image (save image or return to image editor).
It doesn't matter how large your original image is; the effects are resolution independent and therefore always will produce high quality results. One sacrifice for that is that is rendering speed (the larger the image the longer it takes to render; particularly when complex filters are applied). Most major image editors nowadays support the use of "Adobe Photoshop-compatible" plugins. High quality is not what ordinary plugins always offer since they might be resolution dependent.

No problem, simply click on the "Filter Library" link and you will be brought to the online Filter Library. There you can browse through currently 6100+, but ever growing, free* and high quality filters, created by other FilterForge users. The filters are conveniently organized in different categories like textures, frames, photo, organic, techno, distortion, etc. If you found anything you like just click on the "Open in FilterForge" button. That's all what it takes to extend the menu of your installed filters in FilterForge. It's remarkable that the filter selection available in the online Filter Library are pretty much all of medium to high quality while they are totally free of charge: it depends on the FilterForge Edition you have, how many Filters you can retrieve from the Filter Library. With the FilterForge Basic Edition and up you can download as many as you want, whenever you want.


Screenshot of the node structure of a very complex filter

Entering the Filter Editor is just as simple: with a click of a button the Filter Editor dialog shows up and the currently active filter is shown in every seperate component of it: kind of a flowchart of the fundamental filter modules and connection lines are shown in a graphical way in the editor's workspace. Modiying existing filters is a good start to get the hang of it: dragging lines to other module inputs to see what happens. Open the "Components" column, drag a component into the workspace, add some connections between modules and play a bit around this way to get a feeling how it works. Tiny filter changes this way can produce totally different filters or improve them to what you had in mind. Or you can just add more control to existing filters by adding sliders. For more thorough understanding and flexibility it's wise at least to consult the Filter Editor section in FilterForge's help feature so you can get more understanding of what the individual tools are for. Then it doesn't need to take long until you are able to create your own filters which you never imagined being able to.
Eventually you might want to submit your own filters to the online Filter Library yourself, and if they get popular with the Filter Forge users, you can even earn rewards including a free copy of Filter Forge.
All installed and (sharable) custom filters are stored in a seperate folder in the FilterForge programfolder (comes to handy when backing up your collection of filters). There's a handy search tool in the "Filter" menu worth to know about: clicking on the "Locate Filter" option a Windows Explorer dialog pops up with instantly the currently active filter highlighted. This way one quickly can locate a certain filter on the computer, even when they have undescriptive names.

- The program can be run on many modern operating systems and take advantage of the available hardware performance.
- Intuitive user interface is logically set up and very practical to work with.
- FilterForge is a powerfull source to a large number of usefull and high quality filters for only a fraction of the costs compared with gathering Adobe Photoshop-compatible plugins: usefull plugins can be quite expensive, especially the very good ones.
- FilterForge is an ideal alternative to create new or modify existing graphical filters because there's no need to know anything about programming. Anybody can do it and it's an exiting process, too!
- FilterForge is available in a number of different Editions in different price ranges so there must be one Edition that suits someone's needs and affordability perfectly: actually ALL Editions are great value for the money. Besides, users can always upgrade anytime they like.
- The Help feature is thoroughly written in a clear, informative and convenient style.

- Filter rendering time can be significant, especially with large images or relatively complex filters.
- Menu of installed filters lacks of organizability: self-created and modified filters are added to the "My Filters" category and apart from that there's only one other ("favorites") menu category inwhich the user can affect its contents.
- Saving a result to jpg doesn't show any visually feedback when setting the jpg image quality.
- Additional Patterns and Textures for filter design cannot be imported; would be nice if other images for that purpose could be imported eventough that would affect resolution-independency.
- There can only one filter be applied at a time to an image; would be practical if filters could be applied one after the other without saving the image first or going back to the image editor and back.
- The Help-feature is not available in pdf.
- A version for Linux is not (yet?) available.
- The Random generator affects ALL sliders in a filter; would be usefull if one or more filtercontrols could be protected from being affected by the Random generator.

Personally I think the simpler FilterForge Editions are an amazing value for money for those who like to use a wide diversity of high quality effect filters in their workflow. And for people who are interested in creating their own filters, while not knowing anything about programming languages, the Standard and Pro Editions are an easy, fun, effective window to that goal. Actually I found once you get the hang of it, after messing around with FilterForge for an evening or so, it actionally starts to be addictive!

For those who got attracted to FilterForge after reading this review: have a great time playing with the demo! ;-P


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