Plugins for Photoshop, Elements, Lightroom, PSP & others



by Robert A F van de Voort & Roberto Muscia


Review Date: September 8, 2009 Recommend? yes | Rating: 8 

Pros: Unlimited mixing of image enhancements on new layers, many presets available and you can make your own layer presets, fast, simple interface, non destructive imaging, extensive brush shape collection
Cons: Progress indicator should be in colour – not easy to detect progress, very few effect masks in comparison, no possibility of creating and saving new presets of them
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by Robert A F van de Voort – Albany Studios 2009

Auto Fx launched an updated version of their well known Mystical Tint Tone and Color. Well known for their software to enhance images, this program is more Tone and Tint than Mystical; there is no ethereal mysticism in here, but an extensive arsenal to make your image look a great deal better.

The interface follows the well established layout of all their other programs, no surprises here, and it does not take long to get up to speed with the controls and buttons. If you are new to the Auto Fx programs – there are many illustrational videos on site to quickly grasp the essential moves.

Best to start with an image that is not what exactly what you wanted it to be, like you need it in muted colour, softer, or it has flat lighting, a too bright corner, because a perfect image does not need enhancing? Once you have discovered all the amazing effects the program offers - keep the image enhancement possibilities in mind to work with when you shoot new images.

A very cool feature of this program is the layer pre-sets. I would imagine this is where most people would start, the layer presets work with all the other filter settings. All brushstrokes can be individually adapted to lighter or darker softer or sharper, the brushes can be individually adjusted in size in if you like a special brush you can select from hundreds of different types of brushes. If you do not want to brush on your effect, you can select for a global setting and the setting applies to your whole image. Or elliptical or circular shapes can be defined with feathering with easy.

If you do want to delete a brush stroke there is a delete brush, but I would have preferred an undo button. Do not select a layer preset after applying previous adjustments because you loose all your actions and start from scratch again...
The extensive menu offers you a wide selection to tackle how you want to improve your image, all the effects are grouped in various categories, like colour, tint, tonal effects and possibly for most people the portrait section is quite enticing, and you have also a smoothing Department! Put those together and you have magic at your fingertips.

The endless fine tuning possibilities of this program are in the beginning making your final selection not that easy as you can almost modify anything everything and anywhere. You can clone effects, and if you apply the effect it will be automatically placed on top of the previous effect layer so if for some reason you made a mistake, it is easy to delete that layer. Each layer has its own opacity settings but there are no blending modes available.

You can apply effect masks, there is a choice of several kind of backgrounds, they work like a kind of distressing of your image. There are not that many of them, and I would have preferred to see a wider choice of these effect masks or the possibility of creating an effect mask and saving it as a preset.

The portrait section will be very much in demand, there are many options available to smooth the skin, change the colour of the skin, and you can enhance the eyes, hair, lips in many different ways. You can add colour to the hair, sharpen it or diffuse it, and the same with the eyes. And if the eye is a little small, there is a brush to actually change the shape of the eyes or lips , anything .

Another effect allows you to change the size of the object under your brush , you just adjust the size of the brush to change the area that you want made bigger or smaller. A little bit like to liquefy brush in photo shop. I used it as an excellent tool for a nose job, is a little bit of experience you can very professionally to a good retouching job on a portrait.

One of the last sections in the effect menu is the HDR filters, but I do find the effects very strong and it works very well if you are after a poster with strong colours, but it is a bit much in your face however some people might love it. The default settings and of course you can adjust settings to minimise the strong default effect settings. I have enclosed my photograph with the HDR colour pop. And it worked magnificently!

•Unlimited mixing of image enhancements on new layers
•Many presets available and you can make your own layer presets
•Fast, simple interface, non destructive imaging
•Extensive brush shape collection

•Progress indicator should be in colour – not easy to detect progress
•Very few effect masks in comparison, no possibility of creating and saving new presets of them

A very effective program for those who have not access to Adobe Photoshop or who do not want to spend lots of time in that Adobe Photoshop to achieve the multitude of effects that this program gives at the click of a mouse. This program is very versatile with many possibilities as I have not even explored the possibilities of photo layers, masking layers and the combination of various images on top of each other. Most users will not have to look for more tools for image editing. Although it is competing in a competitive market, the extensive manipulation possibilities put it at the top of the list.



Review Date: October 1, 2009 Recommend? yes | Rating: 9 

Pros: Very easy to use, many presets, layers, masking and selection tools, plugin version
Cons: No 48-bits image support, Manual not complete, results can only be saved as single layer, expensive


Review of Mystical Tint, Tone & Color 2 from Auto FX Software
by Roberto Muscia

With this review I will try to give you a good overview of what Mystical Tint, Tone & Color 2 is supposed to be used for, its strengths and its weaknesses. Enjoy reading...

Mystical Tint, Tone & Color is software for adding more life and dynamic to otherwise average or even boring photos and is available for both, Microsoft Windows and Macintosh operating systems. Everybody knows how impressive photos look in commercial publications like in magazines, books, newspapers, photo galleries, advertisements and brochures. Also in the private sector one regularly gets the impression of witnessing some outstanding photography in e.g. special occasion prints like family or wedding photo albums or even framed poster sized photo prints. The very majority of these photos have been retouched to glorify, exaggerate or even fraud the contents of the original photo.

For retouching photos one can either use generally available tools and a LOT of skills and patience, or one can take advantage of software that is designed for that purpose. Mystical Tint, Tone and Color 2 fits in the latter category. It offers a well equipped backpack of filters and masking flexibility for turning photos into pieces of art and worth publishing.

The collection of included filters covers a wide range of color, B/W, tinting, tonal, dark-room, softening and HDR effects as well as tools for adjusting skin smoothness, flesh tones, hair color, lip color, eye color and distortion filters for subtle local reshaping. So pretty much everything that is required for turning imperfect shots or models into ideal ones and for adding a subtle or intensive mood change. The quality of filters ranges from average to excellent but balancing way more to the latter. Special effect tools are NOT included, though. So you won't find anything particularly designed for lens artifact correction, lighting creativity, depth of field adjustments, sophisticated sharpening, advanced white-balancing or 3D effects, framing, etc.

For opening and saving files, the supported formats are single layer psd, bmp, tif, png and jpg images. In the stand-alone one image at a time can be opened and a result can be saved. When using the plugin the image from the host application can be edited and once you apply the effect in the plugin, the image or active layer in the host application will be replaced. Useful and quite unique is that in the plugin one can actually save (intermediate) results prior to actually applying the effect and going back to the host application. In popularity growing 48 bit images can be opened, although the 16 bits per channel images seem to be processed (and saved) as ordinary 8 bits per channel images. Saving results to jpg doesn't allow the user to set the compression level.

Mystical Tint, Tone and Color 2 can either be accessed as a stand-alone application or through the plugins menu in an image editor supporting Adobe Photoshop-compatible plugins. A number of keyboard shortcuts are identical to the ones used in Adobe Photoshop, including the taskbar to switch to Pan tool. The plugin can be used for batch processing. The good-looking, custom-colors, dialog has a very large preview area and is remarkably complete for an effect tool or plugin: one might think it is an image editor on its own, dedicated to photo retouching due to the large number and types of included filters, the powerful selection, brush and masking features and a mature layer style setup. It actually goes beyond that: per layer one can always change effect filter settings and mask settings later at-any-time! Unfortunately there's no histogram display option, which often is helpful in photo editing. One might appreciate the (eight) memory dots feature for temporary saving current and restoring previous results. However, memory dot settings are lost after closing the program.

At default the mouse-over-tool help feature is turned on: when placing the cursor over a tool a helpful text about the tool will pop up. This, while experimenting, probably is the best means of guidance you will get when learning to use the program since in the pdf-manual mainly the most obvious features are discussed quite plainly while it is lacking from explaining the use of more sophisticated features like masking.

Mystical Tint, Tone & Color 2 comes with far over 300 Layer Preset effects, ranging from good to excellent usability. The layout of the Layer Presets dialog is extremely convenient to use: all preset effects are organized in expandable/ collapsible subcategories and, once a subcategory is selected, very large (before + after effect!) thumbnail preset example images are shown. The thumbnail preview window is scrollable which makes it easy to visually browse through the hundreds of pre-created effects quickly and pick one that already is close to the result you had in mind. One can load presets to apply them to the original loaded photo or even "append" them on top of the current effect applied to your image in progress. Mystical Tint, Tone & Color 2 also allows one to save presets to the Layer Presets library.

The Effect Menu button in Mystical Tint, Tone & Color 2 is the access point to any of the built-in individual filters: no less than 60 individual filters are supplied (against 39 filters in version 1!). All effects have kind of descriptive names and they are conveniently arranged in categories so it's relatively easy to find what you're looking for. The effectivity of the filters generally is spot-on. No crap between them; only average, good and excellent filters. It's a large bucket of sixty filters so sometimes it still might be hard to navigate solely on filter names. However, it doesn't take a long time experimenting until one gets a good feeling of what to expect from which filter. The very most filters come with a variety of controls for adjusting the effect. A very neat and convenient detail is that after changing the setting of any control, the preview update is briefly paused: this allows one to change other controls as well without the need to wait until the preview is updated between changing other control settings. Same for the mouse-over help text: a short pause before popping up avoids annoyances when you are quickly working with controls you already know.

The Effect Menu contains some often used simple effect producing filters while most of them are actually pretty advanced and dedicated to the task. Therefore the use of time-consuming default tools in an (even advanced) image editor for retouching photos hardly can be considered as a reasonable alternative option, once Mystical Tint, Tone & Color is installed. Possibly counter-intuitive, but you won't find any basic image correction tools in the Effects Menu. For that purpose you need to add a "Correction Layer" on top of the current effect layer. Once a new filter is chosen, the Effect Panel in the left-hand-side of the dialog will show the effect-related controls for that filter and a new layer is added to the layer stack, just above the previous active layer.

Mystical Tint, Tone & Color 2 uses a layers approach although with extra flexibility: instead of the effect layers containing images, they rather hold the settings of a particular filter effect and apply them to the resulting effect of the layers below. This "non-destructive filtering" approach means that the originally loaded photo is kept untouched and that the stack of layers in fact is a stack of re-adjustable effects applied on top of each other, possibly with re-editable Masking Layers in between them.
The basic layers concept remains: a higher layer effect affects all layers below unless some areas of the images/ layers below are more or less protected from being affected by masks.
One can add new effects (as new layers), delete them, duplicate layers, add (movable and resizable) Photo Layers (= importing an external image and place it in the image you are working on), add Correction Layers (= allowing you to do basic image correction tasks like brightness and contrast) and add Masking Layers. External mask images also can be loaded as a layer. The opacity of each layer can be set individually but for some reason there are no opacity blending type options available.
Stacking layers on top of each other is an intuitive and flexible way of turning images into what was intended: especially when each effect or layer keeps maintaining its full ability of being re-edited.

The whole stack of layers is shown in the movable Layers Palette in where you can find several layer feature buttons (in the bottom of the palette) and a presets access menu (in the top-right of the palette). Layers can be moved up- and downwards in the layer stack. The Layers Palette also allows one to temporary disabling one or more layers by clicking on the green checkmark (changing into a red cross). Mouse-over any layer in the Layers Panel will show you a -quite large- thumbnail of the intermediate result of all effects applied (from bottom) up to that particular layer. When many layers had been added, the Layers Palette resize arrow button (in the very bottom-right of the palette) comes to handy: clicking on it, you can drag the palette vertically larger (or smaller). Layer names can be changed by double-clicking on a layer and changing the active layer is easily done by single-clicking on one; then the contents of the Effect Panel will be updated with the appropriate filter controls for that layer/ effect. Consequently, the user truly has a lot of flexibility with using layers.

By using Masking Layers one can either protect underlying layers from being affected by upper layer effects or let the effects of upper layer filters only apply to selected areas. In Effect Layers one can use local Selection tools to control which image areas are affected by the current effect (as if an invisible Masking Layer is embedded into the Effect Layer).

The quick local Selection tools in Effect Layers are the "Gradient Path" tool and the "Create Ellipses" tool; both are available in most filters. The Gradient Path tool lets you add one or more linear gradient transition masking areas in any direction and with any blending width. The Ellipse tools offer a simple and yet generally effective way of masking on its own already. Ellipses have an inner and outer radius (to feather the selection) and can be added, deleted, moved, reshaped, resized and rotated.

More flexibility with selections can be achieved by adding one or more Masking Layers. Basically, masks are greyscale images of simple selections or a (complex) group of selections -either feathered or unfeathered- and the greytone represents the amount of effect that is applied. For a more convenient use the display color (default is red) of the selections in a mask can be set to any semi-transparent color in Mystical Tint, Tone & Color since a greyscale one is often unpractical to use.

In Masking Layers several main selection tools are available like a Masking Marquee (rectangle), Lasso and Straight Edge lasso tool. Initially the use of all these tools is for adding a selection to the mask. But by holding down the Alt-key they also can be used for removing (parts of) selections. For fine-tuning selection edges in a Masking Layer the Mask Selection Brush, Mask Selection Eraser tool and the brush for locally enlarging or reducing selections can be of great help. Image analyzing selection tools are missing, though: for example, there is no Magic Wand or Select Color Range tool. The brush-related tools have custom brush size, opacity and feather options. The main selection tools are treated differently from the brushes: brush strokes can be erased or restored without affecting the main selections in that single mask (layer).

Apart from the selections in a Masking Layer to act straight-forward you have the additional option to invert the resulting selection in the layer.
Extra options allow the user to let a Masking Layer selection to behave totally independent from any lower layer masks or to combine with them. When the type of the loaded image supports transparency then the transparent area also is treated as a selection ("Original Mask"). All these advanced masking tools are not the easiest matter to get the hang of while it is hardly or not explained in the manual, but once you get a feeling of it, incredible powerful, really. The mouse-over tool tip feature is a valuable guide; to get started at least.

Instead of creating a selection in a Masking Layer manually, one also can load external (images to use as) masks (File - Load a mask) or select one of the built-in masks: in most filters the Effect Mask tool is available, which you can use to access the Effect Mask Catalog with over 40 ready-to-use masks. In the Effect Mask Catalog you can browse through common and less common mask images (thumbnails) and pick a mask that fits your goal.

These truly precious gems in Mystical Tint, Tone & Color 2 allow you to retouch images locally in a very controlled and intuitive way. Due to these powerful -in most filters available- Brush-On and Brush-Off tools, great retouching achievements can quickly be realized even without (!) the need of using any of the sophisticated masking tools available in Mystical Tint, Tone & Color 2.
In fact, these two brushes together with the loaded Effect Menu make the software already an easy to use dedicated retouching Diesel engine!
The brush size, opacity and feather of the brushes can be set individually in the movable Brush Palette. With adding brush strokes you basically locally paint with "filter effect ink" where you want it and how much of it (Brush On mode) or the filter effect is applied to the whole image and the brush is used to locally reduce filter effect (Global mode). One brush is used for increasing, the other for decreasing effect while both brushes act cumulative in opacity: two strokes over the same path increases "filter effect opacity".

Unfortunately currently Mystical Tint, Tone & Color 2 doesn't support pressure sensitive pens; you can use the pen but need to set brush options manually as if you're using a mouse. That doesn't take away using a pen is much more convenient for detailed retouching. For deleting all brush strokes at once the "Clear Brush strokes" button in the Brush Palette can come to handy. Masks and selections are dominant over brushes: when an area is already masked you cannot overrule protected areas with a brush.

- Convenient and clear dialog.
- Very easy to use, effective and intuitive tools for local and full image retouching.
- Large and divers set of well-targeted photo retouching filters.
- Many built-in time-saving effective instant solution presets, covering a competitive diversity of photo retouching tasks.
- Filter control settings in individual layers can be re-adjusted any time.
- High flexibility in combining effects and in applying them either to the image globally or locally.
- Thorough set of masking and selection tools.
- Mouse-over help texts are extended and educational.
- Supports several common photo file formats.
- Plugin version offers tight integration with Adobe Photoshop (-compatible plugins supporting image editors).
- Intermediate results can be saved in Plugin version.

- Pressure sensitive pens (pen-tablet) not supported.
- No true 48-bits image support.
- No image analyzing selection tools (e.g. Select Color Range, Magic Wand).
- Manual not complete; features that likely require guidance are not discussed while already obvious features are.
- The program has no multiple layers supporting native file format to save the project in; results can only be saved as single layer file formats. The only way to store a re-editable project is saving a Layers Preset and keep the original image with it.
- The price of $249 for this well performing photo retouching suite is a bargain for businesses but over the top for users who don't make money out of photo retouching. However, considering the number of included well performing filters, it would be more expensive to alternatively buy a bunch of affordable competitive single goal filters.

Without doubt, Mystical Tint, Tone & Color 2 is a well performing work-horse for photo retouching in production environments and for (semi-) professionals. It allows people to gain significant savings in retouching time and efforts without compromising on results. If you have serious interests in high level photo retouching I definitely would recommend at least to have a play with the demo for an evening or so. I'm pretty sure you love it and might eventually decide it is exactly what you want for retouching your photos !



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