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Alien Skin Xenofex 2

Filter effects for Adobe Photoshop By Dave Nagel
This makes three in a row for Alien Skin--three amazing sets of filters for Adobe Photoshop in the last year. The latest is called Xenofex 2, an update of an older plugin package that has received several enhancements, as well as four brand new effects. It's also been updated to be compatible with Mac OS X and Windows XP.

By now, Mac users who've adopted OS X as their operating system of choice are used to what's being termed "the Mac tax"--that is, companies charging full upgrade prices for their software just for Mac OS X compatibility, and little more than that. This is not the case with Xenofex 2. Quite the contrary. Aside from the new and improved filters in the collection, the whole set has been overhauled to provide the kind of workflow we've come to expect in professional-level design tools. We'll get into this first because I don't think I've covered it enough in past reviews of Alien Skin software to do it justice.


Interface and workflow
Like the other two plugin sets released by Alien Skin over the last year, Xenofex 2 has adopted the Eye Candy 4000 interface introduced back in 2000. This interface provides several advantages over standard filter dialogs. First, of course, is familiarity. If you've purchased the other Alien Skin filters I've recommended over the years, you'll have no problem getting used to this new filter set because its interface is exactly the same.

Second, each Alien Skin plugin collection has its own customized set of menus. Each filter has its own unlimited undo and redo, as well as standard cut/copy/paste features. Each has a View menu for zooming in and out and showing underlying layers. Each can be accessed through Alien Skin's own Filter menu, so you don't have to go back and forth to and from the main Photoshop application, if you want to switch filters. And each has its own Settings menu for saving and accessing custom settings.



Of course, the collection ships with its own presets, but you can also define your own and manage them through a Settings Manager, where you can delete or rename settings you've created.





And, finally, many of the menu items have their own keyboard shortcuts for saving time when working with effects.

And third are the other workflow niceties. The interface dialog window provides a large preview, scalable to any size from 775 x 595 pixels upward. Filter settings are tucked neatly on the left of the preview window in tabbed groups (where needed), and navigation elements appear above the preview window. These include a Navigator window, Zoom tool, Move tool and toggle switch for showing and hiding the original, unprocessed layer.



Effects
All right. So now you know how it works. But what kinds of effects can it produce? Xenofex 2 includes 14 individual plugins for producing a wide range of effects, from natural phenomena like Lightning and Little Fluffy Clouds to distortion effects like Crumple and Flag to texture effects like Classic Mosaic and Puzzle.


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