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Plugs ’N Pixels looks at the Alien Skin Photo Bundle + Eye Candy

Screenshot of the Alien Skin Photo Bundle showing the results of a preset applied to an Egyptian temple

  I first heard of Alien Skin back around 1993 when I used their “Black Box” plug-ins in Photoshop to create drop shadows (!). Almost a decade later I met the freaks who will never wear suits at Photoshop World LA in 2001.

  Over the years Alien Skin created some very wild and crazy functionality for Photoshop (lightning bolts, lizard skin and animal furs, melting metal, etc). Fast forward to today and Alien Skin is still there, creating some of the most fun, beautiful and also practical plug-ins out there.

Let’s take a look at what comprises their current offerings.

Screenshot of the Alien Skin Photo Bundle showing the results of a preset applied to a cat

The Alien Skin Photo Bundle of 3 plug-ins/apps can be broken down in functionality as follows:

 

•Exposure X: Traditional film effects such as bokeh and film stock presets and textures

•Snap Art: Human-touch inspired emulation of traditional artistic techniques

•Blow Up: Enlarge images to poster size without common artifacts found in the usual image host bicubic method

 

Also available is the venerable Eye Candy which renders realistic effects such as lightning, fire, chrome, fur, reptile skin, electricity, glass, stone and more

 

Alien Skin has always been a leader in offering a clean, streamlined interface with factory presets at left, a preview of the effects as applied to your image at center, and the various sliders for fine-tuning each setting along with small pop-up galleries previewing border, light and texture effects at right.

 

We’ll look at each of these plug-ins in the order listed above. The brand-new Exposure X is featured in the screenshot at top.

 

If you love film effects, you can spend all day exploring what Exposure has to offer under its various color, black and white and alternative process presets, not to mention focus effects (bokeh).

 

When you are ready to get started, Exposure offers an incredibly handy image browser, built right in (see below), where you can quickly navigate your hard drive and immediately begin seeing the provided preset effects as they apply to a any selected image:

Screenshot of the Alien Skin Photo Bundle showing the image browser

Once you’ve decided on a specific image to work on, simply double-click it and you can enable a large preview of it in the center of the workspace. This is where the fun begins! At left there is a long list of preset categories covering both black and white and color effects, along with bokeh and alternative process presets.

 

In the screenshot below I am working in the “Color Films - Vintage” category (Autochrome preset), which provided the base effect plus soft frame. At the right of the interface you can perform additional edits to the preset, such as Basic (color and exposure alterations), Detail (sharpening and noise control), Color (filters and saturation), Tone Curve (including split toning), Vignette, Overlays (borders, light effects and textures, as shown below), Focus (sharpen and blur), Grain (amount, type and size), IR (infrared), Bokeh (with easy to use draggable controls and other settings) and even metadata access. In other words, an entire retro film darkroom on your computer.

Screenshot of the Alien Skin Photo Bundle showing the results of a preset applied to a sign with letters and numbers

Here are four examples of a single image and the wide range of effects possible with Exposure X. I worked with the standalone version and exported the finished images to a folder separate from the original.

Automotive service sign treated with the Alien Skin Photo Bundle, example 1
Automotive service sign treated with the Alien Skin Photo Bundle, example 2
Automotive service sign treated with the Alien Skin Photo Bundle, example 3
Automotive service sign treated with the Alien Skin Photo Bundle, example 4

Now that we’re in an artsy mood, let’s look at Alien Skin’s Snap Art 4. Here your images can be treated to a number of traditional art effects such as oil painting, pencil sketch, crayon and watercolor. As seen below, the interface follows the standard layout of presets on the left, preview at center and adjustment tools at right. While there is not a handly image browser included, there is a pane that can be expanded at the bottom showing recently accessed images.

Screenshot of the Alien Skin Photo Bundle showing the results of a preset applied to a purple flower

The included preset categories cover pretty much the whole range of traditional art effects: Color Pencil, Comics, Crayon, Impasto, Oil Paint, Pastel, Pen & Ink, Pencil Sketch, Pointillism, Stylize and Watercolor. Each preset can be customized with manual settings for brush and stroke size (inlcuding level of realism), maskable areas, color adjustments, canvas type, color, thickness, lighting and vignette.

 

Here are some examples from various of the preset categories:

Results of a preset in the Alien Skin Photo Bundle when applied to a harbor scene
Results of a preset in the Alien Skin Photo Bundle when applied to a fancy chandelier
Results of a preset in the Alien Skin Photo Bundle when applied to a girl with a guitar portrait

Well, now that we’ve had our fun, we have to get to back work on a common problem with digital images: You have a meatball and you have to make a meatloaf out of it (ie, the digital image the client sent is too small for the poster he wants printed!). That’s where Alien Skin’s Blow Up 3 comes in very handy.

 

It might be a little hard to see in the screenshot below because of the reduced size, but I’m enlarging a 1-megapixel image 1172% so it can be printed at 40x60 @ 300ppi! The side-by-side preview in Blow Up’s interface (of just a tiny section of the original image) shows me that the rough pixelation of the lo-res source is being smoothed out considerably, with an almost vector-like quality:

Screenshot of the Alien Skin Photo Bundle showing the results of image reinterpolation and smoothing

Here are a couple of closer before-and-after views of this process in action, from the same image at the same extreme settings:

Before and after results of image reinterpolation and smoothing using the Alien Skin Photo Bundle 1
Before and after results of image reinterpolation and smoothing using the Alien Skin Photo Bundle 2

I mentioned reptile skin and other exotic and unusual textures earlier. Let’s explore Alien Skin’s Eye Candy 7, the plug-in for which the company has long been known. In the screenshot below I opened a random image, knowing it would be entirely replaced by the texture (or you can start with a blank image).

 

Note the Shape and Texture preset choices (with Reptile Skin>Actual Reptiles>Iguana already chosen). Shapes are mainly for adding elements via selections to a photo in which you wish to preserve but enhance the original subject matter, while Textures replace the image entirely (or can be applied to a selection).

Screenshot of the Alien Skin Photo Bundle showing the results of a lizard skin preset applied to a blank image

So what does it look like when you apply multiple Eye Candy effects to a single image? Things can get weird really fast! The original image (before cropping and skewing as needed) is at left, and the final Eye Candy version is obviously at right (you can’t fail to recognize it, there is nothing else like this).

Original lamp and office building image before treatment with the Alien Skin Photo Bundle
Lamp and office building image after treatment with fire, cloud, lightning and smoke effects using the Alien Skin Photo Bundle

Text effects are incredibly also easy to do (type something, rasterize it, click some Eye Candy presets). Repeat on duplicate layers to add effects. So is creating a scene entirely out of Eye Candy effects, as shown at right.

Plugs 'N Pixels logo treated with effects from the Alien Skin Photo Bundle
Text treated with various effects from the Alien Skin Photo Bundle
A representation of bad weather created with various effects in the Alien Skin Photo Bundle

As you can see, the Alien Skin Photo Bundle along with Eye Candy can produce some fantastic effects and image enhancements. Have fun using it!