Adobe plugins are 3rd party extensions, in effect brand new commands, that
run in Adobe Photoshop and many other popular graphic editors like Corel PhotoPaint, PaintShop Pro and Paiter or Ulead's PHoto Impact, etc. Many plugins are sophisticated enough to work well within
the program they are running in. This means for example, they can restrict
their actions or effects to a specific layer and even the masked area on that
layer when called upon by the user. Other plugins by their very nature effect the
total canvas and all its layers.
There are two new categories of plugins to be added to the classic design and process types. A design plugin is like Flaming Pear's Swerve or
Xaos Paint Alchemy. Design plugins change the look and feel of the design of the image often by imitating natural media effects like Paint Alchemy's OilPaint or Color Sketch styles. Process plugins take a process like color correction as in the case of Nik's Color Efex and make it either easier to do or more effective in correcting common situations like underexposed shots or slightly out of focus images.
Two new categories are Adobe automation and advanced graphics plugins. Automation plugins only work in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements and appear as added commands in Photoshop's File | Automate menu. These plugins are primarily process plugins that take advantage of Automate's ability to pass multiple files to the plugin for batch processing. An example is Alien Skin's BlowUp plugin that allows bitmap images to be safely enlarged by 400% with minimized distortions, jaggies, and other artifacts. Finally, the advanced category sees 2D graphic plugins being applied in 3D, animation, and video programs. But the field is so specialized that these plugins now tend to work exclusively in their graphic program's specialty like video image enhancement or 2D image mapping to 3d surfaces, etc. However, the best way to describe plugins is to illustrate
some of them in use. Here are some plugins by category.
||The first group of plugins are typified by Extensis/onOne Intellihance (hover over the thumnail at left to see full screen shot). These are Process plugins
that go beyond the typical Photoshop commands to enhance its capabilities
- in this case some advanced and very quick color adjustments. Extensis/onOne
was an essential add-on to Photoshop until version 5 for doing precise
masking. Visual Infinity's Grain Surgery helps to remove noise in smart
ways which just
of the graphics editors could use. Like wise AlienSkin's Image Doctor does
the same for major scratch repairs. Eventually many of the graphic editors
catchup but for now Grain Surgery is a smart buy.
||The next set of design plugins might be called Inspired Distortions. Photoshop's
Liquify command is typical, Flaming Pear has a number including Swerve shown at the left, and Twist. These plugins distort selected portions or
the full image in clever ways. Swerve adds a comic flair to its distortions,
Human Software's Squizz allows user to control and enfold a mesh grid in
perverse ways. Some plugins even supply perspective and envelope constraints
to give a 3D feel to their image machinations.
||Texturizers are design plugins that add to part or the whole
image a new texture, finish, or styling like Flaming Pear's Blade Pro seen
at the left. Super Blade Pro almost has too many options. Other examples
are Alien Skins XenoFex 2 or Kai's Power Tool whole KPT line of plugins
like the devious Convoluter or Frax. What these Texturizers do
best is give images a 3D relief, like an impasto paint brush, mosaic tiling
or the rivules
seen in the example.
||The Painterly design plugins are like Microsoft's Image Composer,
Fo2Pix Buzz, Jasc's Virtual Painter, and Xaos Tools Paint Alchemy (seen
at left) - these are very clever 2D paint rendering engines. They analyze
an image for color and edges/lines and then apply user customized painterly
strokes to the areas - constrained by the color and edge forms found on
These plugins have at least a dozen or more paint styles, many user-selected
settings and the uncanny ability to make a soft or out-focus image suddenly
have intriquing style and visually compelling possibilities.
||The last group might be called the Seamless Tilers because
these plugins like Xaos Tool's Terrazzo add backround tiling to an image
or can be used to create astandalone, seamless tile. The Plugin Site Galaxy
Effects has a clever tiler tool. And with more Web sites going to the Blog
or Portal look - window panes of different styling, subtle repeating watermarks
(highly transparent, pastel tiles) are coming back into design vogue. But
an image enhaced with seamless tiles can be very innovative on its own.
Of course these five categories hardly encompass the full range of plugins
that are available. Today there can be found both free and commercial plugins for Photoshop (and
by extension many of the other major graphic editors like Corel PaintShop Pro
Macromedia Fireworks). Together these number in the hundreds and their popularity
has lead to plagarism - as previously noted, Video and animation vendors have started
to amass their own collections of plugins as well.
But being a plugin vendor is a hazrdous business. At any point in time, Adobe
or one of the other graphics software vendors could decide to match and/or
extend your plugins functionality This is what happened in the case of Photoshop's
Liquify command. And in fact the
allow more sophisticated control of brightness and color - these process type
plugins are already seeing their techniques being absorbed into Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro and other graphic editors. In sum look to the popular plugins to give you a strong
hint where 2D graphics editing is likely to go in the next 1-3 years.
See our updated Plugins Links/Reference page
for a list of major plugin vendors & info.