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Photoshop Plug-in Packages

At a Glance
  • Extensis PhotoTools 3.0

  • Alien Skin Software Xenofex

You need nimble feet to develop plug-ins for Adobe Photoshop. Create a hot new productivity tool or special-effects filter, and something similar is likely to appear in the host program. Nevertheless, there's always room for add-ons, as we see in the latest plug-ins from Extensis and Alien Skin Software.

The big selling point in Extensis's previous version of PhotoTools was the PhotoText utility, which vastly improved on Photoshop 4.0's text function. But with the upgrade of the Text tool in Photoshop 5.0, Extensis dropped the plug-in, replacing it with new modules that let you create seamless tiles and custom bevel shapes. Meanwhile, Alien Skin has responded to Photoshop 5.0 with a new set of filters that let you add a variety of special effects to your images.


While it remains a good productivity tool for almost any Photoshop user, PhotoTools 3.0 has a definite Web-centric flavor. One major addition, PhotoTexture, lets you create seamless tiles for Web-site backgrounds. You can import and combine existing textures or create them from scratch, using a basic set of painting tools and filters. As you paint over the tile's edge, the stroke automatically continues on the opposite side of the frame, making it easy to create seamless textures, which otherwise require some fancy Photoshop footwork. However, the built-in texture-generating tools are rather weak. Don't expect to create the kinds of natural, photo-realistic effects you can produce in Bryce 3D and Kai's Power Tools (both from MetaCreations).

PhotoGroove, the other major addition, lets you transform Photoshop selections into frames with custom-beveled edges. You control the bevel shape by dragging control points on a curve. You can make the frame interior appear as metal, plastic, or chrome, or let the underlying image show through.

PhotoTools 3.0 also includes upgraded versions of older plug-ins. PhotoCastShadow, a handy drop-shadow generator, can now create multiple shadows from a single selection. You can set each shadow's light source, offset, color, softness, noise, and opacity. PhotoButton, which generates beveled buttons for Web sites, now lets you add custom bevels, textures, and bump maps.

The other modules are largely unchanged: PhotoBars lets you set up custom tool bars, PhotoGlow produces halos around a selection, PhotoBevel applies inner and outer bevels, and PhotoEmboss creates embossing and cutout effects. The package also includes PhotoAnimator, a GIF-animation utility that Extensis formerly offered as a $99 stand-alone product.


If PhotoTools aims at the Web designer, Xenofex targets the special-effects wizard. Developed as a complement to the company's popular Eye Candy Photoshop-filter package, Xenofex features 16 new effects plug-ins. Among our favorites, Flag ripples your selection; Crumple wrinkles it; Origami makes it appear as folded paper; Baked Earth places it on a rough, cracked surface; and Television adds static. Others include Stain, which creates coffee-stain effects, and Stamper, which fills the selection with copies of any TIFF image. Two other plug-ins produce electrical effects: Electrify causes glowing arcs to radiate from your selection, and Lightning generates electrical bolts inside the selected area.

Most of the plug-ins give you lots of options for customizing the effects. For example, Electrify lets you choose the arc lengths, amount of branching, and size and color of the glow, and Flag lets you choose the depth and strength of the ripples. These options help you avoid creating artwork with exactly the same effects that appear in someone else's pieces.

The colorful Xenofex interface resembles Eye Candy's, offering slider controls for most functions and small preview windows. PhotoTools uses a more conventional Mac-like interface, with tabbed palettes, pop-up menus, and a preview window that consumes nearly half the screen. With both programs, you'll want a G3 Power Mac for optimal performance. Most of the filters ran fine on a 180MHz 603e system, but some–especially the Twirl filter in PhotoTexture–were sluggish.

February 1999 page: 38

At a Glance
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