Getting Creative with Filter Forge 2

August 22, 2010 9:36 pm

Tags: 2D, Adobe, Corel, Corel Painter, CS5, Filter Forge, Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements

Product Review: Filter Forge 2.0

Filter Forge 2 sparks your creativity with an abundance of inspiration. It begs you to push the boundaries of your imagination. Filter Forge 2 engages both the left and right sides of your brain, with its library of thousands of free filters to download (with an infinite amount of variations within each filter), and the ability to create your own filters.


Why Filter Forge 2?

What sets Filter Forge apart from other filter generating software? For one, Filter Forge offers thousands of user-created filters as free downloads, through the Filter Forge site's Filter Library.

Filter Forge also allows you to create your own filters within their visual node-based editor. The best part: you don't have to have a prior knowledge of programming to create your new filters; just drag components from the provided menu onto the Filter Editing Workspace. Components can then be added, moved, attached, detached, or deleted until you find the perfect balance. The possibilities are infinite.

As a high-end plugin, Filter Forge 2 can be used within: Adobe Photoshop (6.0 - CS5); Adobe Photoshop Elements (2.0 - 8); Corel Painter (8, IX); Corel PHOTO-PAINT (10 - X4), Corel (and Jasc) Paint Shop Pro (8 – XI), and Ulead PhotoImpact (11, 12). In the unlikely event that you do not have any of these programs, you can still use Filter Forge 2 as a stand-alone program.


Although Filter Forge 2 is fully functional on computers with a 64-bit operating system, it cannot be used within a 64-bit program…such as Adobe Photoshop CS5 (64-bit). Again, this is where the stand-alone version comes into play. Apply your favorite filters to your images in the stand-alone version of Filter Forge 2, then save, and reopen your manipulated images in your preferred 64-bit art-oriented software program.

The filters created using Filter Forge 2 are adjustable, resolution-independent, and support real-world HDRI lighting; making Filter Forge 2 a powerful filter generating program. With its capability to automatically generate diffuse, specular, bump, and normal maps, and the ability to create both non-seamless (new to Filter Forge 2) and seamless tiles…Filter Forge 2 is a "must have" for all levels of 3D artists…novice to pro.

For this review, I used the powerhouse version: Filter Forge 2, Professional Edition, on a PC using a Windows 7, 64 Bit OS.


Taking Filter Forge 2 for a Drive

Filter Forge 2 is not just user-friendly, it's extremely user-friendly. Opening the program for the first time, I found the user interface instantly intuitive.

Filter used in above example: "Mixed-Media ILLustrator" created by Gene S Morgan

The pre-installed filters, and downloaded filters (the majority created by members of the Filter Forge community), are located in the Main Window. In the main workspace you can preview a filter using Filter Forge's built-in source image (a life buoy), or to your own image. You can also perform numerous other tasks from the Main Window: connect to the Filter Editor; save an image that you have applied a filter to; download and install filters from the Filter Library; submit filters that you have created to Filter Forge's online Filter Library.

Downloaded filters are stored in the Categories and Filters area, located in the upper corner of the Main Window. The filters are divided into three sections: Texture Filters (which generates textures without a source image); Effects Filters (which apply specific effects directly to a source image); and the Favorites, Search, and My Filters section (where you can add your favorite filters and/or store filters you have created, as well as search for a specific filter).

The Texture Filters and Effects Filter classes are further broken down into the following function categories:

  • Texture Filters: Building, Frames, Misc, Organic, Patterns, Stone, Techno.
  • Effects Filters: Creative, Distortions, Frames, Misc, Patterns, Photo, Snippets.

file_458059.jpgNext to each Filter Category is a listing of each of the filters within that category, and a sample image of the filter. If you have collected an abundance of filters (and currently there are over 7481 "free" user-created filters available to download), Filter Forge now includes an instant Filter Search (new to Filter Forge 2). All this organization not only makes creating and finding a specific filter easy, but also fun…Filter Forge is truly a user-friendly program.

If you prefer not to use Filter Forge's source image, or an image that is stored on your computer, it's easy to create a new image as a foundation to apply a filter. Clicking on the New Image link from the Main Window's menu initiates a pop-up dialog box, which allows you to set the width and height of your new image in pixels (3000 max height and width pixels in the Basic and Standard editions of Filter Forge, and 65536 pixels in the professional version). The dialog box also allows you to change the fill color, and supports transparency.


Additional options featured in the Main Window's menu: access to the HDRI Import menu (New to Filter Forge 2, you can now import HDRI images that can then be used within lighting environments), the Render Maps Menu (lets you render texture maps, which in turn can be used to create realistic materials for 3D programs), and the Anti-Aliasing Menu.

A link to download free filters from the Filter Forge, Filter Library, is located on the top of the Main Window, adjacent to the Categories and Filters area. This link takes you back to the Filter Forge site's Filter Library, where you can explore user-based filters by category, artist, popularity, recently uploaded, or featured filter. Once you find a filter that you like, it's simply a matter of clicking the download link, and the filter automatically installs within your personal Filter Forge 2 filter library on your computer.

Filter used in above example: "Mixed-Media ILLustrator" created by Gene S Morgan

Special Note: I use Firefox as my default Web Browser and initially ran into problems with the Filter Forge downloading process. This ended up being a quirk in Firefox rather than in Filter Forge.

Screenshot of Firefox Tools/Options to resolve Firefox/Filter Forge download problems

To solve the download problem: in Firefox go to Tools>Options>Applications. Under Content Type, scroll down to filterforge and make sure, that under "Action" the "Use Filter Forge (default)" is selected, if not, click the "options arrow" and select it.

When you open Filter Forge 2, by default the program's source image appears in the workspace. To change from the source image to your own image, go to File>Open Image and select the image you wish to work with. To apply a filter, select the filter, and select one of the presets, or adjust the settings, or the lighting (not all filters have the lighting option).

Filter used in above example: "Chain Mail" created by Constantin Malkov

The Filter Editor

The real "creativity with filters" begins when you open the Filter Editor. Within the Filter Editor you can study and edit the components of your downloaded filters, or create your own filters. Although applying installed filters to images is intuitive (and yes, fun), becoming proficient in editing and/or creating new filters within the Filter Editor takes an effort (and can be at times mildly frustrating).

The Filter Editor button is located on Filter Forge's Main Window

This is where the "right brain/left brain" of the program comes into play. As always, the Filter Forge program designers took your potential questions into consideration when developing Filter Forge 2; building several "help" links into the Filter Editor's Window.

Filter used in above example: "Mixed-Media ILLustrator" created by Gene S Morgan

If you are new to filter creation, the best way to understand how a specific filter works is to examine and deconstruct the components of your favorite "downloadable filters" in your Filter Forge Library. The next step is to take what you have learned and apply those techniques to your own filter creation. Filter Forge's visual node-based editor, along with a vast amount of preinstalled components, allows for even those artists with little or no programming experience to create amazing filters.

Editing an existing filter, or creating a new filter from scratch, is as easy as clicking the Component Button, and selecting a component from the Component Dropdown Menu. Then drag the selected component to the workspace. There you can arrange, rearrange, attach, detach, tweak, or delete to your desire, until you find the desired effect for your filter.

Creating filters, as with most things in life, requires rules. Filter Forge provides you with an abundance of easy-to-follow filter creation guides; from quick overviews to intensive step-by-steps instructions, to a Hotkeys guide.

Still not convinced that you can create a filter from scratch (or that you even want to try your hand at it)? Then, be sure to drop by the Filter Forge Community Forum. Within the forum you can get help with questions from expert Filter Forge creators, as well as marvel at the artwork resulting from the filters they have created.

"Dreamer" ©Dee Marie 2010
Image created from a photograph. Actual size is 8" x 10" ~ I used the following Filter Forge 2 filters:
"Mixed-Media ILLustrator" created by Gene S Morgan & "Severe Rust" by PixelSoup

In Conclusion

As a digital artist and a dabbler in filmmaking, I was very impressed with the Professional Edition of Filter Forge 2. If you are a CG artist, or into 3D modeling, Filter Forge 2 Professional Edition, with its additional advanced features geared toward CGI, is the edition for you.

However, if all you want in a filter plugin is a fun and easy way to spark your creativity, I would recommend you go for the Filter Forge 2 Standard Edition…especially if you want to delve into creating your own filters and saving them for future use...and trust me, once you have taken Filter Forge 2 for a test drive, you will want to create your own filters.

Still not sure of which version is best for you? Filter Forge offers a fully functional free 30-day download trial version of Filter Forge 2. If that's not enticing enough, the company also provides its filter creators the opportunity to earn rewards by submitting filters that they have created in Filter Forge. The rewards can then be applied toward percentages off Filter Forge products, a free copy of Filter Forge, and/or free lifetime upgrades.

Another item that makes Filter Forge 2 a "must have" for the digital artist's library, is the in-depth and easy to understand user manual. After reading the user-friendly help manual and exploring the online help forums, it is obvious that the brilliant minds behind Filter Forge are passionate about their program, and truly care about the artists who use it.

Filter Forge 2 is one of those rare programs that readily fits the needs of its user with equal amounts of simplicity and complexity. With Filter Forge 2, the creative possibilities are only limited to your imagination.

Supported Operating Systems

  • Microsoft Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 7
  • Mac OS X 10.4 and higher

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Article Comments

Lucie ( posted at 3:18PM Mon, 23 August 2010

Great article for a really useful program/plugin!

deemarie ( posted at 6:45PM Fri, 27 August 2010

Hey thanks for the comment Lucie, I encourage you to take Filter Forge 2 out for a test drive (if you don't own it already). I can't remember when I had so much fun with a new program :] Dee Marie