Despite Photoshop CS4’s wealth of features, most designers, digital artists and photographers rely on a selection of plug-ins from third-party companies. While you can get by using built-in tools, investing in plug-ins will enable you to complete projects faster and create better designs and artworks.

Here we’ve looked at ten plug-ins that have recently been released or upgraded, to see which you should add to your creative weapons cache.

We’ve looked at a broad range of plug-ins here, from creative retouching tools to more practical enhancement tools. One type of plug-in we’ve avoided is the 3D plug-in, such as Daz 3D’s 3D Bridge for Photoshop, NewTek’s Rendition (which has still to be released in the UK), and Strata’s 3D[in], as we covered these in our feature on 3D tools for illustrators and digital artists.

With the huge number of filters built into the most recent versions of Photoshop, most plug-ins either offer better results than Photoshop’s built-in effects, or a more refined toolset for particular tasks, such as retouching.

In the former group includes Akvis’ Sketch and Digital Anarchy’s ToonIt, which offer pencil and cartoon effects that are professionally usable – and much better than the often-terrible tools found in Photoshop’s Artistic
and Sketch sub-menus. OnOne’s Genuine Fractals 6 lets you enlarge images with results way beyond what Photoshop’s Image Size function offers. Topaz Labs’ Adjust plug-in replicates many of Photoshop’s adjustments, but the results are better.

Alien Skin’s Bokeh and Nik’s Silver Efex Pro offer tailored versions of Photoshop’s Blur filter and Black & White adjustment, adding a wider toolset for each function that mimics the look of a real-world darkroom, with options to fake the look of various cameras, lenses and films.

Imagenomic’s Portraiture may be based on functions already within Photoshop – Colour Range and other masking tools, Blurs, and the Healing Brushes – but its retouching-focused automated workflow is what makes it unique.


The exceptions here are two generative plug-ins, and Filter Forge. The former group – which include Auto FX’s Photo/Graphic Edges and Luxology’s ImageSynth – add ways of creating elements that Photoshop can’t (in these cases, borders and seamless textures). Filter Forge provides a visual, node-based way to build filters, and is quite unlike anything Photoshop has to offer.

Alongside the quality of a plug-in’s toolset and its value for money, there are practical issues to consider when deciding whether a plug-in is right for you. The first only affects illustrators and designs outputting their work for printing on commercial presses: does the plug-in support CMYK? If your work will be output digitally, or on an ‘RGB’ printer, such as a photo inkjet, this won’t affect you.