• Price When Reviewed: $179

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While many third-party plug-ins for Photoshop tend to be wacky or specialist, here’s one that just about everyone who works on digital photos will find immediately useful. Mystical Tint Tone and Color lets users enhance and manipulate images with little effort to create the right ‘feel’, no matter how plain the original might be. With a picture loaded into the program, we can apply one of the 38 effects from a pop-up list, then adjust it with appropriate slider controls. Each effect is applied in a similar fashion to Photoshop’s adjustment layers in that it exists in its own layer. This means that you can add further effects, then go back and fine tune each of them in turn by clicking on their name in a layer-list palette. The layers can be re-ordered to produce different results, and the opacity of each layer can be adjusted to lessen its strength. The effects are particular to photography, ranging from deliberate over/under-exposure and warm/cool filters to monochrome styles, tonal manipulation, and so on. For more precise application of the effects in the right areas, they can be brushed on manually with a paint tool or – no less interesting – brushed away from a global effect already applied (see Image Brush, below). The program also lets you paint mask layers that affect other layers depending upon their position in the layers list. Creating multiple mask layers lets you determine how multiple effects layers will turn out. Strictly speaking, there’s nothing in Mystical Tint Tone and Color that you can’t achieve using Photoshop alone, but it has serious productivity advantages. First, you don’t need Photoshop: it can run as a standalone program or as a plug-in within Corel Photo-Paint, Jasc Paint Shop Pro, or even a cheapo edition of Adobe PhotoDeluxe or Photoshop Elements. Second, it combines multiple adjustments into big, customizable steps that lead you to an identifiable result. A photographer will find it simpler to apply and manipulate Mystical Tint Tone and Color’s Vitality and Hand Tint effects, for example, than to work out what sequence of tasks would be required to achieve a similar result using the raw toolset of an image-editing package. Another nice feature, in common with all Auto FX’s other plug-ins, is its handling of undos and presets. You can temporarily specify up to eight non-consecutive undo states as you work via eight ‘memory dots’, and at any time save the current effect settings (or combination effect) as a preset. These presets can be shared with other Mystical Tint Tone and Color users on Mac and Windows. Since they work like adjustment layers, the effects can be applied at high speed to low-resolution comping images first, saved as presets, and then applied to their full-res versions later on. Presets are more flexible than Photoshop Actions in that you can save them as an afterthought, while they’re fully Actions-aware just the same. The most compelling aspect of this product, though, is its focus on your intended result rather than the steps in getting there. We found it very easy to take dull shots and inject a variety of visual moods into them. It isn’t just that it’s simple to do; we were blown away to find that we could do it at all. Professional photographers should love it.