Photoshop Filters from Alien Skin
Copyright © 2002 by John Passarella
[This article was originally published in 2002.
Please check AlienSkin.com for current pricing info.]
Alien Skin Software touts SPLAT! as a user-requested set of graphic plug-in filters for PhotoShop, Fireworks and Paint Shop Pro (see software version requirements below). After spending some time applying SPLAT! effects, that makes a lot of sense to me. During my previous WindoWatch reviews of Alien Skin Software — Eye Candy 3, Eye Candy 4000 and Xenofex — I’ve always had an early “wow/cool/weird” moment of stunned appreciation for what the wizards of Alien Skin have wrought, whether it was a filter for fire, lightning, smoke, fur or electricity — whatever. I would soon find something original or exciting or out of left field, some out-of-the-box-thinking to put a silly grin of admiration on my face. That’s not to imply SPLAT! offers anything less impressive, amazing or professional in design. It’s just a matter of perspective. Whereas previous Alien Skin filters gave us lots of effects we never suspected we needed but loved to have all the same, SPLAT! gives us a handful of filters (with hundreds of variations, I might add) we probably always wished we had. Hence my earlier comment about the user-requested aspect making a lot of sense. If you’ve invested serious time and money in PhotoShop, Fireworks or Paint Shop Pro, SPLAT! provides a lot of ‘meat and potato’ filters you’ll be glad to have at your disposal. SPLAT! fills a significant role in the Alien Skin line of plug-in filters.
Installation is a breeze, but you might have to do it more than once. SPLAT! detects if you have PhotoShop, Fireworks or Paint Shop Pro installed and, if you do, offers to install itself into the add-in folders of those programs. However, if you own more than one of these graphics programs, the installation routine advises that you’ll need to run setup separately for each one. SPLAT! consumes from 50MB to 300MB (full install) of hard drive space. The on-screen instructions were unclear if each installation would require a multiple of that hard disk requirement. However, Paint Shop Pro’s “File Locations” setting lets you specify up to three folders paths for plug-ins. I leave one pointing to PSP’s own plug-in area, and point the second to PhotoShop’s plug in folder. Paint Shop Pro then ‘sees’ all the plug-ins installed for PhotoShop as well as for itself. If you happen to have both PhotoShop and Paint Shop Pro, it’s a quick way to avoid an extra installation of SPLAT!
In a review of a product such as SPLAT! screen-shots are de rigueur. However, before I show some examples of SPLAT! filters in action, I’ll list what filters are available. You’ll find six categories: Frame, Resurface, Edges, Fill Stamp, Border Stamp, and Patchwork. Some of these categories overlap. For instance, the stamp images you use with the Fill Stamp filter are the same ones you choose from to apply a Border Stamp. Border Stamp, as the name implies, applies the stamp around the edges of your image. Fill Stamp, naturally, fills the image or a selection with the stamp shapes. Also, there is much about Frames and Edges that fall under a ‘border’ heading as well. In effect, three of the filters (Frame, Edges, Border Stamp) concern the borders of your images, while the other three (Resurface, Fill Stamp and Patchwork) address the interior. [Editor's note: For those familiar with Paint Shop Pro’s picture tubes, SPLAT! stamps will seem familiar; even the TUB filename extension seems significant.]
To give you an example of the breath of variations in a single filter, in just the Frame filter category, you’ll find over 150 selections, including Wood (27), Mattes (50), Art Nouveau (54), Geometric (27), and Novelty (7), which includes movie film, grommets and leopard skin.
So, without further ado, here are samples of some of the SPLAT! filters, starting with Frames…
Figure 1 - Wood Frame applied to Matt, Luke and Emma on Easter
Figure 2 - Luke ought to be in pictures with a Film Frame
Resurface promises over 100 high-resolution surface textures. The categories are extensive: Carpet, Concrete, Dirt, Feathers, Food, Fur, Grass, Leather, Masonry, Metal, Oddities, Paper, Rock, Skin, Tile, Wicker and Wood. And each category offers numerous choices. Just under Masonry alone, you’ll find: Brick Patio, Cinder Block, Inside Brick, New Brick, Older Brick, Peeling Painted Blocks, Quarry Stone, Rough Stone Wall.
Figure 3 - Multiple "Resurfaces": Canvas, Metal Plate, Quarry Stone, and Wicker
Figure 4 - How the cover of my co-authored first novel,
WITHER might look painted on wooden planks
For use with Fill Stamp or Border Stamp, SPLAT! provides over 100 stamp images of everyday (and some out of the ordinary) images, including Leaves, Buttons, Coins (US and international), Food, Flowers (and rose petals), Pebbles, Seashells, Playing Cards and Candy. Have some digital stills from your company picnic? Why not add a column of marching ants around the edges.
Figure 5 - The Easter kids again, with a Jelly Bean Border
Figure 6 - US Coins (Stamp Fill) under Sheet Metal (Resurface) text
Figure 7 - Another combined effect: atop Quarry Stone (Resurface),
Ants (Stamp Fill) make a publication announcement
And SPLAT! just wouldn’t be from Alien Skin Software if it didn’t offer a little whimsy…
Figure 8 - The next "B" movie:
Little Rubber Aliens Need Hula Dancers
(a combined Stamp Fill)
Edges offers only six filter options — Dot Edge, Ink Spill, Pixilated, Small Tears, and Thick Lines — and because of that, in comparison with the other bountiful filters, Edges comes across as a bit anemic. Edges is, however, the only filter in the set that won’t send you excavating for more filter choices via the Browse button and the SPLAT! thumbnail filter preview. An obvious upgrade item for the next version of SPLAT! would be more choices for the Edges filter.
Figure 9 - A "Dot Edge" from EDGES
Figure 10 - "Small Tears" from EDGES, a weathered look
Patchwork comes closest to Edges in limiting your options. While there is a Browse button, clicking it reveals only ten sub-filters, and some of those are very similar to each other (as are two cross stitch patterns). The other choices are: ASCII art 1 and ASCII art 2 (the first is black and white (same as the default choice), the second is glowing green monochrome), Light Peg 1 and Light Peg 2, two (mosaic) Tile options and a sub-filter called Mod, which produces a strange, crystallized black and white effect.
Figure 11 - Luke in ASCII (Patchwork);
here smaller element size increases “resolution”
Figure 12 - Three filters in action: Resurface, Frame and Patchwork
Of course, the variations don’t end with the six main filters and their collective hundreds of sub-filters. Each filter also has controls for settings such as “Fill With Solid Color”, “Colorize” “Random Seed” and sliders for “Size”, “Margin”, “Density”, “Height Scale”, “Light Boost”, and “Distortion”. A separate Shadow tab has controls for “Distance”, “Opacity”, and “Blur”.
Figure 13 - A Fill Stamp with "Colorize" turned on;
Stamp assumes image’s color
While experimenting with the filters, I found several of these controls invaluable, including the ability to decrease the size of the image stamps to fit them into smaller selections. In some cases you must reduce the stamp size or the selection/image can’t be filled at all. I also moved image density up and down the scale, ranging from scattered stamped elements to claustrophobic compression. With density set too high, the images seem to blur together, a solid, indistinguishable mass of shapes. (Not that the individual images are blurry, it’s just the overall visual effect.) Another control I adjusted often was the margin setting, which let you control the width of frames. The default setting on one frame nearly hid my entire picture. By decreasing the margin — thus narrowing the frame — I was able to reveal as much of the image as I wanted. This would be even more useful when layering borders, for example a matte underneath (within) a wooden frame. And with the discussion of tweaking settings, it seems we’ve moved on to a discussion of the SPLAT! interface…
I mentioned back in my review of Eye Candy 4000, I believe, that Alien Skin had left behind the iconoclastic, ‘hey, look at me’, artsy interface of Eye Candy 3 to assume a near seamless (and more businesslike) union with the host graphics program. In other words, standard dialog boxes, buttons and menus. There’s self-confidence and maturity in that, because in the end, it’s what’s under the hood that really counts. And, as with the other Alien Skin plug-in filters, SPLAT! delivers.
SPLAT! retains much of Eye Candy 4000’s look and feel, along with some minor improvements. Users of EC4000 will feel right at home. The preview window is large, marginally if not excessively larger than EC4000’s. Also, more importantly, you are still able to pull down a list of all the set’s filters from within each filter’s preview/apply dialogue box via the Filter menu item. This enables you to hop between filters mid-stream, in preview mode, without mousing down the parent program’s menu trails to get back to the SPLAT! filter set itself. (I look for any advantage to hold those repetitive stress injuries at bay!)
Figure 14 - Main Interface with Large Preview.
Note FILTER menu item and BROWSE button
A noticeable difference, and one I feel needs some future tweaking, is the Browse function. EC4000’s sub-filters were all available from the Settings menu option. Because SPLAT! gives the user an embarrassment of riches (over fifty choices for some filters), the Settings menu now only lists a select sampling of the many available choices. The majority of choices are available by clicking the Browse button, something that might not be immediately obvious to EC4000 users. Clicking on a name (sometimes a less than informative name, such as “wood 021”) reveals a thumbnail sample of that filter in the bottom left corner of the Browse dialog box.
Figure 15 - "Not my alien!" When you Browse “thumbnails”,
you can't Preview your image with the filter applied
While this thumbnail shows a representative sample of the filter itself, it is not a preview of how that filter will appear on/around your image. In other words, it’s not interactive in the manner of the large preview pane. The problem is that if you want to see how each of the twenty-something wooden frames look on your image, you have to repeatedly call up the Browse dialog box, click on a selection, then Open that filter to see it in the large preview pane. Better, I think, would be a scrollable list box right in the preview dialog box, with all the sub-filter choices; click on one to highlight the list box, then arrow-scroll to each option and see an interactive preview of that filter in action. Alien Skin filters always cry out for experimentation and any interface option that will facilitate experimentation is a welcome one. This is a small gripe, and one that arises only because SPLAT! offers so many choices.
As always, an Alien Skin Software manual is concise, i.e., thin, and almost (thankfully) superfluous. Alien Skin filters are easy to use and apply at their basic level. The manual does, however, provide some general tips to get best results. I was pleasantly surprised to find full color images in the appendix of all the wood frames, and all the stamp images: a handy reference to keep close to your desk.
Free Resources Online
Need more stamp images and frames than the hundreds that come inside the box? Alien Skin offers free downloads, updated “every month or so”, along with links to third-party images and tutorials at http://www.alienskin.com/splat/splat_downloads.html. Bookmark this area and your investment in SPLAT! will continue to reap “freebie” dividends.
SPLAT! fills an important role in Alien Skin’s own line of plug-in filters, providing a generous variety of realistic stamp images for fills or artistic borders, numerous frames and matte options, along with dozens of natural and manmade textures ranging from dirt and grass to food and leather, from wicker and wooden planks to quarry stone and metal plate.
This is SPLAT! Version 1.0. As you might expect with most “version one” software, SPLAT! has a few areas that will no doubt improve with a subsequent release. Compared to the other filters in the SPLAT! set, Edges and Patchwork both have limited sub-filter choices. And those filters with many choices require repeated flipping back and forth between the Browse dialog box and Preview window. Browse dialog box thumbnail images provide a clue to the look of the filter, but don’t give the full ‘Preview Pane’ effect of applying a filter to your own image.
Absent the many ‘sizzle and dazzle’ filters found in Eye Candy 4000 or Xenofex, SPLAT! nonetheless offers solid value, while managing to toss in a fair bit of “hula dancer” and “little rubber alien” whimsy of its own. What SPLAT! lacks in Xenofex exoticism, it more than makes up for with important real world textures and realistic images. For serious PhotoShop, Fireworks or Paint Shop Pro users, SPLAT! is the perfect companion piece to Eye Candy 4000. If you’re already an Alien Skin devotee, you’ll definitely want SPLAT! in your plug-in filter arsenal. And if you haven’t tried any of Alien Skin’s offerings yet, SPLAT! is a good place to start — although Eye Candy 4000, arguable, has a slight edge in requisite filters.
SPLAT! Software Requirements:
SPLAT! is a filter effects plug-in/add-in, not a standalone software product. You’ll need one of the following graphics programs to take advantage of it: Adobe PhotoShop 5.0 and above; Macromedia Fireworks 3 and above; or Jasc Paint Shop Pro 5 and above.
$99.00 for first-time “Aliens”, although Alien Skin offers a $69.00 “sidegrade” price if you’re a registered user of Eye Candy 4000, Xenofex or Eye Candy for After Effects.
SPLAT! Windows System Requirements:
SPLAT! Macintosh System Requirements:
• At least a Pentium II-class processor
• PowerPC Processor