You would think that Photoshop wouldn’t need any extra help, like plugins. But heck, there’s a whole industry out there doing just that – developing plugins to enhance your photo editing jobs.
We know that if you have the patience, the creativity, and the skill, Photoshop can do just about everything. Even then there are gaps in graphic designing tasks which are filled up by plugins specialized for those needs.
Photoshop plugins come in variety of packages. Photoshop comes with a few default ones. Then there are some which are just sets of filters, some deal with photo-corrections, others with photo-manipulation, and some make a process better. Then there are Photoshop plugins which are expensive, and thankfully a few which are totally free. So, let’s look at the seven best Photoshop plugins that enhance your photo editing skills.
Nothing irks me more than an unwanted overhead electrical wire spoiling a nicely framed shot. I usually turn to the healing brush tool to clean up the photo. But the Wire Worm plug-in has some features that help to speed up my photo editing. For instance, the clone stamp tool or the spot healing brush don’t allow me to fine-tune the selected areas. Wire Worm can position the removal patches precisely either with the arrow keys or with an automatic snap function. You can also color match and adjust the patches so that color bleeding is not apparent.
Virtual Photographer is a very popular free Photoshop plugin. With just a click you can apply photographic styles like soft focus, high contrast, gradients, polarization, and more to your digital image. The plugin is a small download, but on install the GUI resembles a stand-alone graphics editor with a tabbed face and large preview screen (use the split screen for better results). The Main tab has a range of user presets with interesting effects under the dropdown.
With a bit of tweaking here and there, I don’t think you would look at Instagram anymore. You can even save these tweaks as your own customizations (using the Film and Style tabs). Then there is the Batch mode if you want to rifle through more than one image.
240 MB for a filter package might be an overkill for anyone but a professional graphic artist. So, I leave the choice to you. But the 25 free filters should be worth your while if you really love dressing up photos with photo effects. The plugin works with Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, and Aperture. I didn’t download the plugin for the present article, so I will direct you to the Features page where you can check out the lineup of great things on offer. I especially liked the feature which allows you to create effects by combining more than one effect. Plus, you can work with multi-layered files. You can also apply masking to selectively apply effects. Manual fine-tuning is lacking in the free version.
Harry’s Filters is a set of 69 photo-effect filters and an animation feature. It can not only be used in Photoshop but also in Photoshop Elements, Paint Shop Pro, Corel Photo-Paint, IrfanView, and more. The filters are arranged in groups (9 effect categories) like Colors, Artistic, Gradients, and Patterns etc. Along with the color mode sliders, you can combine and create interesting photo effects. The “Jump” button selects and applies a random effect. You can save the applied effects and reuse them later on.
Filter Forge originally is an editor that allows graphic artists to create effects filters. It is a paid product, but the Filter Forge website has quite a few free Photoshop plugins based on the Filter Forge process. The freepacks are based on themes. So, you can download freepacks that create photorealistic metal textures and effects or a freepack that applies frames to your photos. Currently there are 6 freepacks available with the seventh expected soon. The only slight handicap is that the presets don’t work on images larger than 3000 pixels. Filter Forge freepacks are available for both Mac and Windows.
HotPixel is a photo-saving Photoshop plugin for us amateur photographers. My Nikon isn’t so capable when it comes to low light conditions, thus leading to “noisy” photographs. Setting a lower ISO value also doesn’t help. That’s the bane of digital compacts. HotPixel is a plug-in that automatically detects and lessens these noisy pixels without degrading the photo. Photoshop’s own Reduce Noise filter isn’t bad, but even then you can try the third-party one out and compare the difference if any. The free noise removal tool works on all but the noisiest of images. There are a few more free plugins here that you can try out.
As your plugin count build up, it could get quite unwieldy. Though, Photoshop has a dedicated plugins folder, you have to drill down to it via Explorer. Plug-in Switch is a plugin manager which helps you organize all your plugins neatly. Okay, it will not enhance your photo-editing skills but it sure will improve your workflow. With the switch you can disable Photoshop filters on a temporary basis and re-enable them again when needed, without having to completely remove the plug-ins each time. It also sits outside Photoshop, so you can really say that it is a separate program altogether. It comes from the same developers who also give you the free Fotomatic plugin which is also a photo-effects tool.
As with all lists that take-off with the word “best” in them, this one too is colored by personal preference and usage. These are just a few of the free Photoshop plugins out there, but they can hold their own. Even then I expect you to tell me if I missed a blinder…a plugin that you regularly use in your Photoshop projects that outshines these seven. Also, let us know if you work without the help of these third-party tools.