November 01, 2010 — Alien Skin is best known to photographers for its Exposure, Blow Up, Bokeh and Image Doctor software. But Eye Candy 6, its latest release of software that is more targeted to designers, should also be of interest to many portrait, wedding, high school senior and fine art photographers.
As with other Alien Skin products, Eye Candy 6 is a Photoshop plug-in. At the time of this writing it supports 64-bit Photoshop on Windows computers, but only 32-bit versions of Photoshop on Macs. (A Mac update is in the works.)
Eye Candy 5 split the collection of filters into three separate products. Eye Candy 6 (EC6) has gathered the filters back into one collection of 30 filters. While there are 30 filters, the amount of possible effects is astronomically greater. Each filter has a factory default setting that operates on your image when you select the filter and the image opens in the Eye Candy window. But each of the 30 filters has a myriad of possible pre-built effects, and each of these effects can be adjusted over a wide range. While none of these filters are new, the EC6 version brings greater ease-of-use and speedier operation, thanks to improved multi-processor support and a slicker interface. The filters now have simple, understandable names and are grouped into logical categories.
The filters are found in two groups in Photoshop’s Filter menu. In 64-bit Windows Photoshop CS4 and CS5, you can also access it through the Window>Extensions drop-down. With this method you open a floating window containing the Eye Candy panel that you can dock anywhere in your interface. The two groups of EC6 filters are called Text & Selection and Textures. Each group contains 15 filters.
By default, EC6 filters will act non-destructively on your image by applying the result to a new layer above the layer on which you are applying the filter. This also gives you the ability to dial down the opacity of the effect. EC6 will also act as a Smart Filter, allowing you to adjust the effect at a later time if you apply the filter to a Smart Object.
But why would a photographer need a set of plug-ins that is primarily marketed to designers? Because we are now faced with many of the design tasks once done by designers. We are designing wedding albums from front cover to back, creating backgrounds and buttons for Web pages, adding type to high school senior and event photos as well as our own prints, producing audio-visual presentations and creating art photos for sale online or in our studios. EC6 has filters that speed portions of the workflow for all of these tasks.
Amazingly, with all of the effects possible in EC6, it’s one of the easiest plug-ins to learn and use. Selecting one of the 30 filters opens your selection, type or background layer in a separate window with a default filter applied. You can even set the default filter to a different preset or your own custom look.
From there, you begin narrowing down your choices. A Setting Tour folder allows you to preview the general effects available. Once you find something you like, you open another folder with specific presets. After selecting one of these additional options, they are available to customize the look for the image you are working on. EC6 is so easy and the previews so fast that the biggest problem is getting so caught up in the possible options you spend valuable time looking at options just to see what they would do—even though they weren’t what you thought you were looking for.
The Text and Selection set of filters is the more interesting of the two for most photographers. Here you’ll find the famous Chrome filter, the best filter ever created for metal effects of all types, from chrome to silver to brass, to distressed/pitted/burnished surfaces with about 50 possible Reflection Maps to reflect into the metal. You can easily get lost in this one filter for an hour.
The other filter categories in the Text and Selection set are backlight, bevel, corona, drip, extrude, fire, glass gradient glow, icicles, motion trail, perspective shadow, rust, smoke and snow drift. I particularly like perspective shadow, which I use to automate the task of adding a shadow of a product I have outlined against a surface. EC6 isn’t just about effects to use on type. Anything that you can select is fair game for an EC6 Text and Selection effect filter.
The Texture set of filters is designed more for application to an entire image, or to create a background, but they can be applied to a selection also. My favorite is the Swirl filter, which opens up many interesting possibilities for creating abstract backgrounds for wedding albums, Web pages or for creating artistic renditions of photos. The 14 other Texture filter categories are animal fur, brick wall, brushed metal, diamond plate, marble, reptile skin, ripples, squint, stone wall, super star, texture noise, water drops, weave, and wood.
Besides the danger of spending too much time testing different effects on your image, the other danger is overdoing the effect. I confess to doing this when I first started working with EC6 and still have to keep it in mind every time I open the plug-in. It’s easily possible to create high-quality garish effects with EC6.
Not being a graphic designer, or trained as one, there is probably a lot I missed in Eye Candy 6. Although I found the interface easy to use and well thought out, I wish it worked more like Photoshop’s Filter Gallery. In EC6, if you select the Chrome filter for example, then decide that the Extrude filter is really what you want, you must cancel out of Chrome, which puts you back in Photoshop, then start over with Filter>Alien Skin Text & Selection>Extrude to work with the Extrude settings. I found this inefficient compared to Photoshop’s Filter Gallery.
Likewise, if you want to apply several effects to the image, even to the same text, you must apply one and then start over with the next. I wish there were a more efficient way to apply multiple effects.
I also wish there were a “restore defaults” button in the option windows. After moving sliders I decided that I preferred the default settings, but had no idea what they were, and had no way to restore them.
And while it hasn’t been an issue with me, my Web designer, who uses EC6, complained that she has to rasterize text and vector shapes before applying effects. This means that the text and its attributes are no longer editable, although the effect itself, if done as a Smart Filter, still is.
Eye Candy 6 is available from Alien Skin’s Web site (alienskin.com) for $249 for new users, or $99 as an upgrade from Eye Candy 3, Eye Candy 4000, or any of the Eye Candy 5 products. A trial version is also available from the Alien Skin Web site, along with tutorials and examples of the effects.
As photographers are forced to take on more design responsibilities for themselves, tools such as Eye Candy 6 that are easy to use and capable of speeding our workflow, become very valuable tools to own.
Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, CA, specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book, Professional Filter Techniques for Digital Photographers, covering both on-camera analog and post-production digital filters is published by Amherst Media.