How to Get Started with Google’s Free Nik Plugins for Photography
Google made its Nik Collection plug-ins completely free. The plugins work with photo editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, Affinity Photo, and GIMP 2 on platforms as diverse as Windows and OS X (and Linux with WINE ). This article covers the basics of the Nik plug-ins, and some configuration tips for GIMP.
Where are the Nik Plugins?
Nik Software developed the plugins for professional photographers – it originally cost over $500. Google purchased Nik Software and dropped the price to $150. Then – in a surprise move — it made the plugins completely free. Installation won’t take much time or effort for most photo editors (GIMP is another matter).
Installing the Google Nik Plugins
There are two ways to use the Nik plugins: as standalone executables, or as plugins. The standalone executables do not require an external image editor, although they do require installation on the host system. When used as a plugin, the plugins require an external image editor, like Photoshop, Lightroom or GIMP.
For most photo-editing software, installing the Nik plugins requires little effort. The installer automatically detects most commercial photo-editors, so installation requires clicking through a few menus. Like all plugins, users can then access the filters through their photo editing program. The plug-ins are located wherever your software stores filters and other effects. Unfortunately, the configuration for GIMP 2 requires more effort.
In Lightroom and Photoshop the process is dead simple: First, Just download the plugin (available for Mac and Windows) and run the installer. It will prompt users for their language. After clicking through a few menus, the installer prompts users to select their photo editor.
The installer should automatically detect any pre-installed photo editors. Choose the one you need. After installation, the plugins show up as filters in your editor. In Lightroom, here’s how it looks:
Warning: If you use the plug-in as a standalone, it overwrites the original photo. Before using the plug-ins, make a copy of all images.
After downloading and installing the Nik Collection, users only need to drag-and-drop images onto the executable in a file manager to get them working. Navigate to the folder where the NIK plugins are located. Normally this is C:\Programs\Google\Nikcollection.
Using your file manager, open the NikCollection folder. Then, in a separate window, drag and drop a copy of the photo onto a plug-in. If you own a 32-bit computer, use the 32-bit plug-ins. This will launch the program. For example, the HDR Efex Pro plugin interface looks like this:
Install Google Nik Plugins in GIMP 2
GIMP doesn’t fully work with the Nik plugins. Only three of the 32-bit (the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit ) plugins work. But they don’t work by default. Users need to install two other plugins to get them functioning: ShellOut and Photoshop Plug-in (PSPI). Download them both and unzip them (how to unzip an archive ).
You will need to edit the ShellOut.py file to include the following lines of code, just after the entry for “programlist = [“:
["DFine 2", "\"C:\\Program Files\\Google\\Nik Collection\\Dfine 2\\Dfine 2 (64-Bit)\\Dfine2.exe\"", "png"],
["Sharpener Pro 3", "\"C:\\Program Files\\Google\\Nik Collection\\Sharpener Pro 3\\Sharpener Pro 3 (64-Bit)\\SHP3OS.exe\"", "png"],
["Viveza 2", "\"C:\\Program Files\\Google\\Nik Collection\\Viveza 2\\Viveza 2 (64-Bit)\\Viveza 2.exe\"", "png"],
["Color Efex Pro 4", "\"C:\\Program Files\\Google\\Nik Collection\\Color Efex Pro 4\\Color Efex Pro 4 (64-Bit)\\Color Efex Pro 4.exe\"", "jpg"],
["Analog Efex Pro 2", "\"C:\\Program Files\\Google\\Nik Collection\\Analog Efex Pro 2\\Analog Efex Pro 2 (64-Bit)\\Analog Efex Pro 2.exe\"", "jpg"],
["HDR Efex Pro 2", "\"C:\\Program Files\\Google\\Nik Collection\\HDR Efex Pro 2\\HDR Efex Pro 2 (64-Bit)\\HDR Efex Pro 2.exe\"", "jpg"],
["Silver Efex Pro 2", "\"C:\\Program Files\\Google\\Nik Collection\\Silver Efex Pro 2\\Silver Efex Pro 2 (64-Bit)\\Silver Efex Pro 2.exe\"", "jpg"]
Any text editor can modify these files, but I recommend using Note++ (it’s easy to use ). Along with Sublime Text (Sublime text is cross-platform ), Note++ significantly improves on the default text editor in OS X and Windows. Remember to save the file before closing it. The final edited file will look something like this:
You can install both plugins by copying them into GIMP’s plugins directory. GIMP’s plug-ins folder is normally located under C:\Programs\GIMP 2\lib\gimp\2.0\plugins. Copy both ShellOut.py and PSPI.py into that directory.
Once you’re finished, after launching GIMP, you should receive access to at least three of the seven plugins (or perhaps more). Technically, you only need the PSPI.py plugin, but after some trial and error, I found everything worked best when ShellOut.py was used alongside PSPI.
The Google Nik Plugins
The Nik plugins include seven filter categories:
Analog Efex Pro 2: The Analog Efex Pro filters simulate different kinds of lenses and camera types.
Color Efex Pro 4: The Color Efex pro filters offer excellent options for retouching photos. In particular, its contrast filters provide a means of taking underexposed or overexposed photos to the next level.
Silver Efex Pro 2: If you enjoy black-and-white pictures, the Silver Efex Pro filters are for you. The Silver Efex Pro filters can increase the perceived depth of your photos.
Viveza 2: The Viveza plugin can target specific areas within a photograph for layer masks. The filters can adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, and other elements. In particular, the Viveza filters can help a lot of textures stand out, similar to Adobe’s AltaLux filter.
HDR Efex Pro 2: HDF Efex Pro can improve contrast and other elements that are normally not particularly visible in the original picture. It specializes in HDR photos, although it works on other kinds of photos as well.
Sharpener Pro 3: This plugin can improve otherwise unobserved details in photos. It compares favorably to the AltaLux plugin (which is really good).
Dfine: I use this plugin for reducing the presence of noise in underexposed photos or when the ISO setting falls too low. There are other plugins with similar functionality, but out of all the ones I’ve tried, Dfine offers the best results.
Should You Install the Nik Collection Plugins?
All of the filters are good, but both Dfine and Color Efex Pro are top-tier plugins — for Adobe users. For GIMP users, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. I recommend using plugins designed for GIMP , which offer similar functionality, with no installation issues.
Has anyone tried out the Nik Collection plug-ins? What were your experiences?