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How To Create Your Own Photoshop Filters

The designer's guide to working with Photoshop's Filter Factory By Dave Nagel
Over the last few weeks we've looked at two ways to create custom filters for Adobe Photoshop. Both of these methods involved Filter Factory, a free plugin that comes with Photoshop. Filter Factory is a tool that lets you write your own Photoshop filters. It's distinguished from the other Photoshop filter creation tools out there by the fact that it's the only one available for the Macintosh and also the fact that it's free.

If you haven't already, take a look at the previous two tutorials we've run on this topic (Tutorial 1, Tutorial 2). They'll be beneficial because they were written with a specific effect in mind. Beginning this week, we're going to get more general and discuss the guts of the Filter Factory--including writing formulas, figuring out what variables and operators mean, etc. All of these are what we use to create our own filters.

Now, I know I've already scared the beejeepers out of half of you. "What do you mean by 'formulas?' 'Variables?' 'Operators?' Damn it, I'm a designer, not a mathematician. What's going on here?"

Now don't you worry your pretty little artistic head about those big, bad words. Ol' Davey's here to protect you from them. I know you're a designer, and all you really want to do is create custom effects and be able to show off to your friends the fact that you can make your own Photoshop plugins. There's no programming at all; there's just a specific way you need to write what you want your filters to do. And I'm going to show you how.

This week we're going to look into some basic Filter Factory functions and how they work. Over the course of the next several weeks, we'll get into it more, and I'll even show you how to create a custom interface for each one of the filters you create--again, no programming required.

So let's get started.

Getting started
If you haven't already, make sure that you have Filter Factory installed in your Photoshop "Plug-Ins" folder. If it's not there, you'll find it somewhere on your Photoshop CD. Just drop it into your Photoshop "Plug-Ins" folder, and relaunch Photoshop. Once it's there, you'll find it under Filter > Synthetic > Filter Factory.

For the purposes of this tutorial (and all future ones), you should have an image open in Photoshop that contains transparency. And you should not work on a "Background" layer. If your image is just a Background layer, double-click it in the Layer palette to convert it into a layer.

The reason you want to do this is that Filter Factory provides you with options for modifying each channel in your image. If your image contains no transparency, then you will only have R, G and B channels available for modification. With transparency, you will also be able to write filters that mess around with an image's alpha channel (if you so desire).

What am I looking at?
Now that we have our image all ready to go, let's go ahead and open up FIlter Factory (Filter > Synthetic > Filter Factory). What you're faced with right away is a very daunting-looking interface, just the kind of thing a designer doesn't like to see when he or she is in the middle of compositing. (Maybe this is why Adobe supposedly plans to stop development of the Filter Factory. If, after this, you decide it's something valuable, you might want to get a hold of them and ask them to keep it going.)

You know what the image in the interface is. That's your preview window. But what does the rest of it mean? You see those sliders labeled "Map 0," "Map 1," "Map 2" and "Map 3?" Those are simply value sliders that we'll be using in the filters that we create. I'll show you an example of how they work in a few minutes.

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