Russian developer Filter Forge has released a freely downloadable beta version of its eponymous Photoshop plug-in. Both versions 1.0 and 2.0 have received Editor's Choice awards from Digital Arts, and the new version adds some great-looking features.

Filter Forge is unlike most Photoshop plug-ins in that it's capable of huge range of effects -- and it allows creatives to modify and develop their own effects using a flowchart interface. You can read a review of the current version, Filter Forge 2.0, here.

In Filter Forge 1.0 and 2.0, you could only use a single source image or a Photoshop layer at a time. With version 3.0, Filter Forge allows you to use multiple source images simultaneously. This is implemented by allowing you to load images into Color Controls and the newly introduced Grayscale Controls via the filter interface.

Progressive Previews give you a rough, low-resolution preview of the rendered image as fast as possible, then gradually refine it in subsequent rendering passes until the image reaches the final level of quality. Filter Forge says that ny default, the first rendering pass of the progressive preview is up to 16 times faster than the original preview method.

The company has also given you the chance to change the default lifesaver image that Filter Forge uses to preview rendered results. Filter Forge 3.0 comes with six new preview images so you can choose the one that you like best. Each of these images comes with an alpha channel allowing you to preview your filters on images with transparent areas.

Filter Forge 3.0 includes several other improvements, which include hexadecimal color values in the Color Picker, HDR and alpha channel support for filter controls, high-precision Color Inspector, the ability to load recently-used images, a unified Bomber component and more.

The beta version can be downloaded here, and will run normally for current owners of Filter Forge, or as a 30-day trial for others.