Using Photoshop Plug-ins without Photoshop, Part 1

Electrical Plug

What’s the deal about plug-ins, Photoshop or not?

One of the advantages of using Photoshop is the large collection of free and commercial plug-ins that work with the program. Some of these may be simple add-ons to add specific features, others may be full-blown programs that combine the advantages of a stand-alone program with the flexibility of editing the result with Photoshop.

But for those who do not have (or cannot afford) Photoshop, there are free programs that can offer many of the features of Photoshop and/or have the ability of using Photoshop plug-ins. In this series we’ll look at three plug-in hosts: Irfanview, Paint.net and GIMP, all for the PC. (If you have Photoshop Elements, Paint Shop Pro, Corel PhotoPaint, or one of several other commercial programs you may have all you need to install and run Photoshop plug-ins there.) If you use Linux or Macintosh computers, GIMP works in all three OS’s, as do some plug-ins. The process of adding plug-ins is similar, but the step-by-step instructions will be different.

What is this Irfanview of which you speak?

Irfanview is a program by Irfan Skiljan, who lives in Wiener Neustadt in Austria. Unfortunately, the program is only available for Windows computers (but nearly every version of Windows still around.)

Irfanview is not a photo editor but a graphics and media viewer for all kinds of graphics formats from the popular to the obscure. Think of it as a Swiss army knife for graphics, digital photos, RAW photos, artwork, videos, sound files, icons, and the like. It also can translate most formats into another. So if you have a need to take a JPEG or BMP or RAW file (or a GEM raster images, old Amiga artwork, or a LizardTech MrSID format file) and turn it into a TIFF, you can do that in Irfanview.

Among other things, it supports Photoshop plug-ins very well..

Don’t Photoshop plug-ins use a special format?

Yes, they do. In particular, we’re discussing using filter plug-ins with the odd-looking extension .8bf. The three programs we’ll be looking at actually need to install another plug-in order to run the plug-ins. Don’t worry, it’s easy and only has to be done once. Non-geeks can do this as well as geeks.

Why even bother?

I learned how to do this because there were certain specialized commercial plug-ins I wanted to test and, possibly, buy. In particular, there were a couple by Topaz Labs, namely Topaz Adjust and Topaz B&W Effects. These are commercial programs, but cost much less than Photoshop, Elements, or many other plug-ins, for that matter. Doing research, I also found other useful plug-ins that I want to try with my photos.

OK. So how do I get Irfanview?

First, go to the Irfanview website and click on the Download link (on the left side, in red). You will have a choice of places from which to download the software. Click on the link, follow any other instructions, and download it somewhere you can find it again. (Your Downloads folder is a good place.)

While you’re at it, you also need to install a set of plug-ins just for Irfanview. On the Irfanview website, click on plug-ins, and follow the instructions. This should give you another downloaded file irfanview_plugins_435_setup (or similar name, depending on the version number).

When completed, you should see a file (currently called iview435_setup, for Irfanview version 4.35). Double click on the file and the installer should open up. You will have the option to select which types of files you want to automatically open with IrfanView. You can select all, any specific files, or none. Since I plan to still edit images in other programs, I selected none.

You also have the option to select a location for your INI folder. This is to store your program settings, so just use the default option. You probably will never have to edit this file.

Finally, click on Install.

Be sure to repeat the installation process for the Irfanview plug-ins by running the irfanview_plugins_435_setup file. Just double-click on the file and install. Easy. Among the plug-ins you just installed is the 8BF-Filters plug-in.

To check if the necessary plug-in is installed on your version of Irfanview, you can go to Help menu and select the Installed PlugIns… choice. If the 8BF filter is installed, it should be right on top of the resulting list.

I guess I need some Photoshop plug-ins now.

Yes you do. Fortunately, you can do a Google search and find a good number of them – or search for a web page that reviews free Photoshop plug-ins. Also, most plug-ins for sale will let you try before you buy – either with a trial period (usually 2 weeks to a month), or by printing with watermarks on the printout (which is rather annoying).

Here are a few plugin sites to get you started:

After you download your filter you may need to either Unzip the file or run an installer. Remember where you put the resulting files.

I have my new filters. How do I load them into Irfanview?

To use your new plugin tools, you need to first start Irfanview. One of the quirks, er, features of the program is that you have to have an image open before you can load any filters, so open a photo you want to edit. (In Irfanview, just type o to open a file (no control key necessary – another quirk).

Then, from the top menu, select Image > Effects > Adobe 8bf filters… (Plugin) or just type Control-K.

Using Irfanview for Photoshop Plug-ins

Menus to navigate to the plug-in control center

From here, click on Add 8BF filters to load a filter into Irfanview. Navigate to wherever you saved that filter you downloaded and select its associated folder. You should see the name of the filter now in the left hand box. (See the screen shot.) You can repeat if you like.

Irfanview 8bf Plug-in Control Box

This is the control box to add and launch Photoshop plugins

After the filter is loaded, click on it and click on Start selected filter. Some filters take a while to load, so don’t panic if nothing seems to happen right away. Sooner or later, the filter’s work box should open and you’re open for business. As mentioned, some filters are pretty easy, some are full-fledged, multi-faceted programs. The Topaz plug-ins I’ve tried are big honking programs with lots of great features that have already changed the way I do photography. (I’ll probably review some of them later.) Others have just a single task.

Dust-Scratch-Plugin Sample

Here is a relatively simple one-task Photoshop plug-in

When you are finished with the plugin, you click the Save button and you return to the previous plugin filter control box. Note that it might take several seconds before you see the work you did with the plugin reflected in your screen image. Don’t panic.

You can now select another filter, or close the box to return to Irfanview’s main window. Easy peasy! So far, Irfanview has worked with almost every plugin I’ve tried with it. GIMP, in contrast, is much fussier (more on that in a later post.)

Topaz plugin in Irfanview

As you can see, the Topaz B&W plugin has lots more features and could be a full-fledged program all by itself.

What Else Can You Do In Irfanview?

While you are settings things up in Irfanview, Go to the Options menu and select Properties/Settings, then select Miscellaneous. Click on one of the Browse buttons in the numbered list, and you can select your main photoediting programs (up to three) to launch directly from the Irfanview menu. Set it here and press OK. Now, under the File menu, you can choose Open with external editor and select which program to further editing your photo. This helps make up for the fact that Irfanview is NOT an editing program.

Another unexpectedly great feature in Irfanview is its Print controls. From the print dialogue you have complete control over where your photo shows up on the page (centered or not), and how large you want the print to be; you can scale by inches/millimeters or by percentages and set the margins exactly as you like. You can add a “Headnote” or “Footnote” with the font of your choice. There are also settings for multiple-page images. I wish photo editors had all these features in one handy place! I sometimes use Irfanview just to print photos in the center of the page (a feature that my Canon printer apparently left out of its print options).

Irfanview Print Dialogue

Irfanview offers a comprehensive printing tool just for photos.

A few other Irfanview features:

  • You can rotate, crop and resize photos, then use the Save for Web tool to prepare your tools for your blog or website.
  • You can add the image you are viewing as your Wallpaper image.
  • Select Information under the Image menu, and you can see lots and lots of info on your image, including all the Exif data on your photo (which you can copy to your clipboard), and add your own notes.
  • Irfanview also has a good slideshow tool.
  • You can open RAW files directly into Irfanview.
  • You can run it from a USB thumb (or portable) drive to run on other PCs without installing it.
  • You can control a TWAIN compatible scanner from Irfanview.

A few Irfanview Quirks:

  • The Open shortcut is just ‘o,’ no Control or Command key (like almost any other program). You can also rotate left (counterclockwise) or right (clockwise) just by hitting ‘L’ or ‘R’.
  • There’s apparently no way to simply close an active picture. You either hit ‘O’ to open a new file or hit ESC (the Escape key) or click the close box to exit the program.
  • You can only work on one photo at a time in Irfanview. Forget about layers – Irfanview is not an editing program.

This is great! Is there other free software that runs Photoshop plug-ins?

Yes. We’ll talk about at least two of them soon, Paint.net and GIMP. ThePluginSite also has a fuller list of free Photoshop-compatible tools.

Do you have favorite Photoshop plug-ins you want to tell us about? Please share in the comments.

Credits: 

The Electrical Plug photo “Electrical Connection” is courtesy of jiggoja and FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Screen shots of Irfanview are by the author, Andrew Brandt.

The Dust & Scratch removal plug-in (in featured screenshot) is by the Polaroid Corporation.

The Topaz B&W Effects 2 plug-in is by Topaz Labs.

Frugal Guidance 2 - http://andybrandt531.com