Filter Forge 2 is a Photoshop plug-in that lets you access, at last count, more than 7,800 individual filters. In fact, the number of filters it offers is technically infinite, as it lets you create your own - either from scratch or by modifying the work of others.
There are two main categories of filter in Filter Forge 2: generative filters, for creating patterns and textures; and photo filters, for artistic effects. Install Filter Forge and you get around 50 filters straight off, ranging from organic textures to effects that fake shots taken on a Lomo camera. Each has a bunch of presets and many fine-tuning controls - including a redesigned lighting tab with useful 'grabbable' positioning of lights in filters where it matters.
Filter Forge's website is where you'll find all the other thousands of filters, and niftily you can install them directly into the tool if it's running. Many are user-generated, so not all are of the highest standard - but overall there's a wide range of useful and creative effects to play with.
Filter Forge lets you use a huge range of photo filters
Filter Forge 2: Standalone capabilities
Filter Forge 2 behaves like a standard plug-in, except that it can't be used as a Smart Filter. It can also be run as a standalone application. This makes sense for creating heavy-duty photorealistic textures that tap into Filter Forge 2's new HDR and ambient occlusion support, without the additional drain of running Photoshop. The app is therefore perfect for 3D artists, as well as for speeding up rendering a bit over the plug-in. Unfortunately the controls that deliver that speed boost by allowing you to adjust the quality are highly technical and hard to fathom.
Filter Forge 2 comes in three editions: Basic, for using existing filters; Standard, which lets you create and edit filters; and Professional, which adds support for larger files and output to floating-point formats such as OpenEXR - a must for 3D artists.
Creating your own filters is as simple or complex as you want. A flowchart building system lets you modify existing filters or string together a few nodes for a totally new effect - or you can create intricate webs involving serious maths.
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Filter Forge 2 is the most powerful Photoshop plug-in set on the planet - and great for 3D texture work to boot.