If you’re a photographer or digital artist and you haven’t yet tried Filter Forge, you’re missing out on a whole lot of fun. But don’t feel like you’ve been left behind. With even more improvements lined up for the Filter Forge 5.0 release, this creative toolbox just gets better and better, making this the perfect time to jump on board.
What is Filter Forge and What Software is Required for Use?
Filter Forge is described in by the creators as an advanced Photoshop plugin allowing you to build your own filters. Now, I know many of you do use and love Photoshop, but if you don’t, stay with me here. I’m about to share a secret that’s a little too well-kept for my liking: you don’t need Photoshop to use Filter Forge. It can be installed and used as a stand-alone application with ease.
I’m an enthusiastic user of GIMP myself, and was excited to discover I could still use Filter Forge on my PC (there’s a Mac version too). I have nothing whatsoever against Photoshop, but it isn’t cheap and alternatives such as GIMP are genuinely free to download and use. Since I’ve always aimed this site at folks on a budget, as many of us are when staring out with a new hobby such as 3D art or DSLR photography, I will always recommend low-cost and free software to begin with.
Speaking of cost, Filter Forge is at the more affordable end of the the market, thanks to frequent and generous discounting. I know many regular readers of IndigoJanson.com are DAZ 3D customers, and you may be aware you can buy Filter Forge Professional via the DAZ store. This means you can also apply coupons or wait for one of the frequent promotions if the full in-store price is a little too steep. I think though that whether you catch it on sale or not, you’ll soon find this amazing piece of software pays for itself in usefulness.
Texture Creating or Postwork: Choose How You Use It
So, what can you do with Filter Forge? Well, there are a couple of routes you can take. While getting used to the interface, I recommend you begin by trying out the existing filters. There are over 11,000 of them, but only a selection are included in your initial install, leaving you free to download and add the ones that interest you. You just click on a filter on the website to download and trial it in Filter Forge (which needs to be open). If you like the result, it’s now installed for future use. If it wasn’t what you expected, I’d recommend you delete it to keep your library manageable. You can always download it again if you change your mind. Here are some of those I’ve enjoyed trying out:
The filters are divided into a number of categories which are themselves split between Texture (e.g. for tiling on 3D objects or 2D backgrounds) and Effect filters (for post-processing of your photos and digital artwork). Within these, you’ll find subsets with things such as frames, Not everyone will find filters from different categories equally useful, so the ability to build a custom filter library is a really good feature.
Over the last few days I’ve spent most of my time working with effects. There are infinite possibilities here, with so many creative surprises in store that you’ll be inspired to create even more art just so you can experiment with it. Many filters have a number of presets and can be tweaked in different ways. Expect time to disappear as you play with sliders and admire the changing effects.
I’m looking forward to exploring Filter Forge as a way of generating unique textures for my 3D models, and here again there are many choices for ready-made tiling textures to get started with while you learn how to create your own.
Learning to Create Filters with Filter Forge
The one area where Filter Forge could be improved for beginners is in making filter creation simpler to learn. Various links to videos and wikis can be found on the site but not all are equally useful or clear for a novice. Some of the best for learning to use the filter editor are those from Vladimir Chopine at GeekatPlay, whose educational videos I’ve recommended in the past for learning Hexagon 2.5.
Having followed along with a couple of these GeekatPlay videos to recreate one or two of Vladimir’s filters, I’ve now created my first filter on my own. I can see many options I’m yet to explore or understand in the filter editor components list (will I ever get to grips with RGB Math?) and this feels daunting. Without the GeekatPlay guides I’d be feeling a whole lot more hesitant.
You could simply take a filter and view it in the editor to decipher how it was put together, but as a raw beginner I found that a less than helpful method. Once you know what you are doing, it will no doubt be more informative.
As an incentive to play around and figure out what to plug in where to create something wonderful of your own, Filter Forge offers rewards to filter creators. For instance, 3 popular filters will earn you a free copy of the software. This is worth knowing if you don’t have the funds right now, although with such a vast library already in existence you’ll need to get pretty good at filter creation to create something that becomes highly used. If you can stretch to buying yourself a copy of Filter Forge right away, you can just enjoy exploring the possibilities at your own pace.
Are There Cheaper Alternatives?
While you might expect me to compare Filter Forge with G’MIC, for which I recently showcased a selection of creative filters and effects, each has a different scope and does what it does very well. Besides, I don’t see why you shouldn’t enjoy using both. If you watch and wait, I’m willing to bet you’ll get yourself a sweet deal on Filter Forge via DAZ 3D. This software has previously been included in store-wide sales that happen during March Madness and the annual PA sale (late summer).
Having had a chance to play with it, my verdict on FilterForge is overwhelmingly positive. 3D enthusiasts, other digital artists and keen photographers are likely to get as much out of it as I have. If you love filters and can set aside some of your art or photography budget to treat yourself to Filter Forge, you’ll have a fun addition to your postwork tool set that can really make your work stand out. Having the ability to create your own textures and effects also means this software will only grow in usefulness as your own skills develop.