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Flaming Pear Essentials is clear in its agenda: to be the best collection of Adobe Photoshop compatible plug-ins available. And for the large part, it succeeds, bringing together an almost deliberately ad hoc, irreverent combo of filters that somehow gel to become the true hammer and chisel of any self-respecting filter-fanatic’s toolbox. Previously available as standalone shareware plug-ins, the Essentials collection, as well as sounding like a dance remix album, offers up a diverse collection of nine filters, including the cult classic BladePro. The filters all have a pleasing interface that’s neatly uncluttered, lacking the garish widgets and gizmos that decorate other plug-in collections. A respectable preview area with zoom controls gives a taster of the effect, although the inability to resize the preview area sees the collection notch up one of its few black marks. Sliders and pop-up menus are the order of the day, although you can enter numeric values for precise control. A more experimental aspect in the shape of a set of dice features, letting you quickly spawn a set of randomly generated images and filter effects. A Glue feature determines how the effect will interact with the image, such as dissolve or overlay modes. The handy ability to save and load preset effects rounds off a well-conceived interface. Much thought has gone into the presentation of Essentials – more so than the usual pumped-up shareware collection aiming to hit the big time. Not only is each filter lovingly detailed, but a bunch of tutorials is included, so you can quickly enter the mindset of the filter and create some compelling effects with ease. A total of three, full-colour manuals ship with the dual-format CD. Best of the bunch is the much-loved BladePro – already a must-have in the shareware world. It gives graphics a 3D look by creating bevelled edges and surface textures. By adjusting values such as bevel shape, texture, reflection, light positioning, glare and height, effects such as tarnished copper, glass orbs, and rough stone hewn with your logo or design is a fairly quick-&-simple affair. Half of the filter set serve immediate, straight-forward uses as well. Filters such as Glare let you flood your image with eye-wateringly bright light, while Aetherize injects a dreamy, blurred feel to the image – or you can boost the settings to drench in in acid tones. Other filters work well with marquee selections. Silver, for example, can create a metallic sheen or woodgrain stripes to lettering, while Lacquer builds a 3D surface from the brightness of the image and then lights the surface, creating shrinkwrap, embossed or metal-coated effects. Other features include India Ink, which dumps the colour from the image and recreates it as if it was etched with pen and ink, while Solar Cell creates awesome supernova that radiate light across an image. Finally, Twist and Swerve are two filters in the time-honoured warping tradition. To be fair, you’ll either find this collection has exactly the filters you need – in which case you’ll love it – or it contains a set of irrelevant plug-ins that just waste time. If it’s the former, then this is truly a decent, well-tuned collection that will add depth to your art and shave time off your work.