Filter Forge is a software program which adds layers of effects to your pictures. Used either as a stand alone or plug-in, there are three tiers to Filter Forge and with each upgraded level, the amount of features increase.
Starting at $149 for the Basic edition you get unlimited downloads of filters, free access to an online filter library, resolution independence, seamless tiling, HDRI lighting, smart anti-aliasing, command line renderer, the ability to use filters that aren't out of the library and the ability to select them as favourites. Should you choose the Standard edition instead, it'll cost you $249 and will allow you to modify existing filters and create your own. The top of the range Professional edition costs $399 and on top of the aforementioned features, you can benefit from high precision file formats, it will support 16 and 32bit image modes, you can use an unlimited number of CPUs and it takes bitmaps larger than 3000 x 3000 pixels.
For the purposes of the review we had access to the Professional edition to explore all the features available from the Filter Forge labs. Some of the features in the program that we will touch on include the massive gallery of preset filters as well as the online library. There's also some interesting technology in the program such as floating-point file formats which lets you save in less traditional JPEG or Bitmap. There's also Dual-Core CPU support, Smart Anti-Aliasing and it can support pictures with incredible resolutions of up to 65,536 pixels.
We downloaded the program from the Filter Forge website which took less than 5 minutes while sat on a laptop with half meg broadband speed. Installing took around the same amount of time.
To use the program, you must first have an image open in Photoshop (if you're using it as a plug in like we did). First, you need to duplicate the layer so that the filter you apply will be placed over the original. Then go to Filter and choose Filter Forge from the drop down list.
Launching Filter Forge
The main window appears as a separate tile on the task bar and you can flick over to Photoshop if you like but you can't do anything while Filter Forge is running. They've even gone to the extent of placing a little box with a link to click which sends you back to the Filter Forge window.
The main window fills the screen and is divided into just two segments. With the filters on the left and the chosen filter on the right taking up around 60% of the window. There's a bit here which we found annoying. A small note at the foot of the picture says that the image has been shrunk in preview to speed up processing. This is certainly a good idea, so why does the picture still go below the bottom of the window so that we have to scroll down? The window can't be resized and it's slightly too big for a laptop screen. The filters are divided into 12 main sections and while any of the filters could be used in photography, we'll concentrate on the photography section titled Photo.
Clicking on the Photo tab will bring up 8 more tabs to the right. Below the tabs are an example of the filter over a picture of a random life belt. The default filter will be highlighted with a blue outline and clicking on any other preset will place that filter over your image in the window to the right.
Applying a Filter
As with most filter programs at the moment, the developers know that old fashioned film and retro vintage looks are very now so these are heavily used. Out of the 8 sections in the Photo tab, 5 of them simulate old photographs. The 8 are colorizer, dreamy, grunge, lomo, old photo, real contrast, sepia and vibrance. Within each of these main sections is a sub-section that holds variations of the main section you've chosen. Each one has a default setting and this will be automatically selected. Simply clicking on any of the life ring icons will select that filter and apply it to the picture.