• Price: £150 plus VAT; upgrade £50 plus VAT

  • Company: Alien Skin Software

  • Pros: Fast; some realistic effects

  • Cons: Some tired effects; expensive

  • Our Rating: We rate this 7 out of 10 We rate this 7 out of 10

Famous for producing metal, fire, alien and reptile skin, and smoke effects, Eye Candy has been a staple Photoshop plug-in for more than a decade. During this time, however, visual effects have become increasingly sophisticated: drop shadows and fake fire effects no longer cut the mustard. So, with the introduction of version 6, what has Alien Skin done to bring its Eye Candy suite of filters up to date?

The suite provides two main categories of effects: Text & Selection and Textures. Both contain a wide range of filters that produce effects such as dripping wax, animal fur, ice, rust and chrome – the latter being particularly effective.

Each filter has a large dialog box that offers a number of configurable options to fine-tune the effect produced. The number of settings you can tweak varies widely and depends on your choice of filter.

Flying solo
Alien Skin has included reflection channels and presets, making the whole suite a creative tool in itself; a few filters require source material to work on, but otherwise Eye Candy will generate textures from nothing.

When you’re working with existing selections and text, the filter helpfully produces a new layer composite of your source layer merged with the effect applied – although you have to rasterise text before you can apply effects, which is a pain.

There’s new support for CMYK and 16-bit images. The effects produced by Eye Candy now scale, allowing different-sized selections to have effects at different magnifications. The effect rendering time has been dramatically improved, and the filters now take advantage of your multi-core processor.

Also new, if you’re using Photoshop CS4 as the host application, are two integrated panels. The first of these provides quick access to the filter sets and offers a nice visual cue to what each filter does. The second is a button maker panel that allows you to create button shapes from selected layers.

This functionality is severely limited and produces effects that aren’t up to the same high standard as the rest of the suite – so you’re unlikely to use it much.

Eye Candy 6 is a real workhorse plug-in; graphic designers and 3D artists will be able to use it again and again to add realistic textures and effects to their work. It’s a little pricey, and using the default options can produce tired, predictable results, but careful adjustment of the settings achieves results that make this worth the price many times over.