Eye Candy 5: Textures
Photoshop Filters from Alien Skin
Copyright © 2004 by John Passarella
Alien Skin Software’s Eye Candy is evolving. Considering the whimsical name of the company, maybe mutating is a better word. Eye Candy 4000—the set of Photoshop-compatible plug-in filters—is becoming Eye Candy 5. And, aside from dropping the extraneous zeroes from the previous version number, Eye Candy 5 will come out in three flavors, with Textures leading the way. Eye Candy 5: Nature (simulating smoke, fire, etc.), and Eye Candy 5: Impact (featuring the classic graphic effects Alien Skin is best known for) are scheduled for separate release by the summer of 2005. Meanwhile, if you still need shadow and bevel effects, Eye Candy 4000 remains available. Each of the three Eye Candy 5 versions will have approximately ten base filters.
Depending on your personal preferences, this specialization and segregation of the Eye Candy filters may or may not be a welcome change. Some users may have appreciated the eclectic nature of previous Eye Candy iterations. The specialization, however, should allow Alien Skin to give focus and depth to each category without producing an unwieldy and expensive set of filters. One can’t help wondering though, if at some point in the future, Alien Skin will offer a “Best of Eye Candy 5” filter set for those who appreciated the variety.
Eye Candy 5 is plug-in software, which means you need to have one of the required host applications to take advantage of its effects. For Windows users, that means Photoshop 7, Photoshop Elements 2, Fireworks MX 2004, or Paint Shop Pro 8. (For more information, see “Host and System Requirements” at the end of this article.) Unfortunately, my versions of Photoshop and Fireworks lag behind the current releases, therefore I was limited to testing Eye Candy 5 with Paint Shop Pro 8.
The Filters and the Interface
This version of Eye Candy boasts four new effects and promises greater control over six returning effects, as well as enhancements to the user interface, including a “Show Original” button that lets you see your original image in the preview window (while you click-and-hold the “show original” button) without the effect applied.
The ten base filters in Textures are: Animal Fur, Brick Wall (new), Diamond Plate (new), Marble, Reptile Skin (new), Stone Wall (new), Swirl, Texture Noise, Weave, and Wood. Of course, with a dozen or more preset settings for each filter, and the ability for the user to create (or download) numerous variations on those themes, the effects possibilities are virtually, if not literally, limitless.
Ease of use (and seamlessness) always factors into the equation when discussing the merits of plug-in filters. I resist using some brands of Photoshop plug-in filters because they bring my system to its knees—I’m running Windows XP Home on a Pentium 4, 2GHz machine with 512MB of RAM and an 80GB hard drive. Another problem is when the user interface is so esoteric and artsy that it becomes an exercise in frustration to apply what would be impressive effects. Fortunately, I never have that problem with Alien Skin interfaces. Without drawing attention to themselves by their ‘power consumption’ or pretentious design, Alien Skin interfaces get out of the way and let their effects speak for themselves. Eye Candy 5 delivers a powerful yet unassuming (i.e., integrated into the look and feel of the host program) interface without confusion and frustration.
One of the more welcome improvements to an already simple interface is the relocation of the built-in settings (along with any user saved variations) from a drop-down menu to an interface window visible to the left of the image preview. That may not seem like a big change, but from my own experience, I know it will cut down significantly on the number of mouse clicks needed to settle on just the right filter setting.
As you can see from the screen capture, the Eye Candy 5 interface (which is not resizable, by the way) is divided, basically, into two sides. The right side displays a preview of your image with the filter applied—unless/until you click the ‘show original’ button located above the preview area. The left side, which has a variable number of tabs at the top, depending on the filter selection, is further divided into two sections, with the presets (factory settings) above and the user-saved variations listed below. This design lets you click on a factory setting (Diamond Plate, picture above, has over thirty initial variations) and scroll up or down through each choice while seeing (interactively) the changes to your image in the preview area. As I said, this improvement will save many mouse clicks when you are trying to decide on the right effect or starting point.
The other tabs above the left side of the interface give the user access to various sliders to make adjustments to height, depth, color variation, surface detail, lighting and so on. Note that you retain the ability to jump to a different filter in the set simply by clicking on the interface’s Filter menu. There’s no need to cancel out of one effect and load the interface all over again to switch from, for example, Animal Fur to Stone Wall to Wood.
Also, Seamless Tiling is available for all ten Texture filters, so you can create backgrounds for e-mail stationery or web pages with a few clicks.
As always with photo enhancement/manipulation filters, examples really tell the story.
Animal Fur (formerly Fur), features six simulations, but this filter can also derive fur colors from images, solid colors or color patterns.
Brick Wall (one of the four new filters) simulates various brick, tile and block textures using six traditional bricklaying modes. You can alter surface roughness, mortar shape and thickness tocreate photo realistic surfaces.
Diamond Plate (new) creates metallic text or embossed backgrounds.
The next example of Diamond Plate shows some of the preset effects that exhibit wear and tear, in the form of pitting on the metallic surface for that extra touch of realism.
Marble has three modes: veined, layered and fractured. As always, you can make adjustments to the effects, including feature sizing and vein thickness.
Stone Wall (new) simulates a variety of stonework types, including cinderblock, cobblestones, flagstone walks, granite walls—even stained glass.
Swirl adds spirals and whirlpools as curvilinear noise, and can create interesting backgrounds when applied to solid colors. Applied to photographic images, you can achieve the look of an impressionist painting.
Here’s a layered example of Swirled text on a solid background Swirling another way.
Next, I applied a variation of swirl on the cover of my forthcoming novel, WITHER’S LEGACY (OCT 2004), and the cover art—already a bit impressionistic with its vicious, inhuman maw lunging out of a raging snowstorm—achieves a new degree of impressionism.
Texture Noise (formerly HSB Noise) creates lighting, grain, static, and psychedelic effects on photos, text or backgrounds.
Weave has four basket patterns: plain, basket, satin, and twill. Large thread sizes simulate basket weaves, while tiny threads produce cloth swatches, such as denim.
As seen below, applying a “Plain, Solid Fill” Weave to my book cover yields unexpected results.
Wood creates realistic wood grains and planking in mahogany, pine, ebony, etc.
By splitting Eye Candy 5 into three (two forthcoming) plug-in filter sets, Alien Skin has removed the eclectic variety featured in previous Eye Candy incarnations. While you lose that variety, you gain some added depth (no pun intended) and range in the Textures department.
The downside here, if there is one, is that the effects in this collection are less suited to photo enhancement and manipulation than they are to creating realistic fills within selections, text or as seamless backgrounds. But that type of limitation goes hand in hand with specialization. And Alien Skin is delivering here exactly what it promises: a wide variety of realistic textures. The specialization tradeoff allows Eye Candy 5: Textures to be more suited for this particular task than the individual (and fewer) texture filters were as a subset of Eye Candy 4000. Until the other two Eye Candy 5 sets arrive, however, Eye Candy 4000 will remain an essential component in your image manipulation toolkit.
If you are looking to create realistic backgrounds in a variety of simulated organic and inorganic surfaces, or if you want to make your text jump off the page or screen as fur, wood, stone, steel or brick, you’ll find Eye Candy 5: Textures a powerful tool that’s a real pleasure to use.
Downloaders Take Note: If you are familiar with Alien Skin’s other plug-in packages, you know that the company provides additional filter settings for download to augment the numerous built-in presets. That is true with Eye Candy 5 as well. You are prompted to check this area of their site when you first run Eye Candy 5, and perhaps periodically (?) after that. Might be a good idea to bookmark the page and check back for new goodies from time to time.
Eye Candy 5: Textures has an estimated street price of US $99. Upgrades are $49 for registered users of previous versions of Eye Candy. Textures is available worldwide through stores, catalogs, and educational resellers. Online delivery is available via Alien Skin’s Web site at http://www.alienskin.com.
Host & System Requirements
Eye Candy 5: Textures is a plug-in; it must be used with a compatible host program.
Adobe Photoshop 7 or later
Adobe Photoshop 7 or later
1 GHz Pentium III processor
500 MHz PowerPC G3 processor