In this article, we’re going to look at 10 Photoshop filters that I think every user should know. We’ll talk about what they do, and more importantly, why you should get to know them all.
I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times that I use this one. It’s a wonderfully simple blur filter, but also gives you a very high degree of control over precisely how strong of a blur you want to apply. It’s a great tool for softening edges or spreading colour out across the canvas.
For example, one lighting technique that I use quite frequently involves creating a layer with a coloured light, which I give an Overlay blending mode. I can start off by simply painting a simple block of colour with a large, soft brush, over one of the textures from my Texture Pack 1
I can then apply a Gaussian blur of 100px to really soften the “light” up.
Then I just apply the Overlay blending mode, to get an effect like this one.
I’ve also used this filter to add a faked depth of field to a photo, to soften certain gradients and to add certain glow effects to type. It’s just so incredibly useful!
2. Add NoiseFilter » Noise » Add Noise…
It took me a while to start working with this filter. I had used the Reduce Noise and Despeckle filters on some rough stock photography before, but I couldn’t figure out why anyone would even want to add noise. Eventually, though, I got with the program.
When creating certain types of illustrations – or even some UI elements – adding a bit of carefully controlled noise is an excellent way to add a bit of extra texture. Take this image of my Imperial Leaf pattern for example. First, we see it without noise.
Next, we apply just a little bit of monochromatic noise, with a uniform distribution.
Notice that the pattern now has just that much more texture and depth to it. It has more of the appearance of a photograph than the large, unbroken and coloured spaces of a vector pattern. Of course, it’s a filter that requires a delicate restraint. The idea is usually to add just a tiny bit of noise for the sake of added texture. Too much noise, however, can quickly destroy the design. Fortunately, we have the Undo command, and the power of non-destructive editing, which I will get to below.
3. CloudsFilter » Render » Clouds…
This is another filter that is really great for adding extra texture to your work, especially if you are looking to develop a nice smokey effect. When you run the Clouds filter, Photoshop basically takes your current foreground and background colours and creates a random, cloud-like effect like this:
If we set the blending mode to multiply over a nice red-to-black radial gradient background, we get the beginnings of a nice, dark red smokey effect.
With just a bit of extra work, this could become an awesome background for a dark or fiery design.
4. TexturizerFilter » Texture » Texturizer…
The Texturizer filter is similar to the Clouds filter, but with a few more options. There are four different types of textures that you can choose from – Brick, Burlap, Canvas and Sandstone. You can also adjust the scaling of the texture, the relief (ie the perceived depth) and the direction of the lighting. This last option can be particularly useful if you are working on a piece with an existing light source.
Here are some textures created with this filter:
Also, while you can render clouds into an empty layer, the Texturizer filter won’t work this way. It actually needs to work on something. I will often just start by filling the canvas with a solid colour, but you can apply texture to a photograph or other graphical element too.
I admit, the lens flare can be a dangerous tool in the wrong hands! A poorly executed lens flare can leave a design looking almost painfully amateurish. Still, if executed properly, it can be an incredibly useful filter.
Normally, I will take a plain black layer and render my lens flare onto that. Then, I can use some sort of blending mode in order to better apply the lens flare to whatever I’m working on. For example, here is a simple black layer with a 105mm Prime flare.
Now, with the same background we made with the Clouds filter, I set the lens flare layer to Color Dodge to get this:
I would probably do a bit more work to soften up some parts of the lighting effect on this one, but the filter is definitely a good start.
Spherize is an awesome distortion filter, which basically takes a flat image and distorts it so that the details of the image itself appear to be wrapping around a sphere. Obviously, it’s a very specialized kind of filter, which you probably won’t use all the time, but I have found it useful in several projects in the past.
One of the ways that I find that this filter works best when working with textures, which you can basically turn into a textured glove or sphere of some sort. Let’s take this simple stone texture, also from Texture Pack 1, as an example:
Make a circular selection in the middle of the texture, create a clipping mask to hide all of the excess texture that we won’t need. Then, apply a Spherize filter. I would use a strength of about. If we add a simple Inner Shadow effect layer style, here’s what we get:
Again, this piece would probably need some work to help bring out the proper sense of depth, and maybe sharpen up some the details, but the filter certainly gives us a good start!
This is a cool filter, which you can do a lot of interesting things with. When you use the Rectangular to Polar option, it basically compresses your image, the twists it around the canvas’ center point. It really isn’t the easiest thing in the world to explain, so let’s look at an example. These screen shots are taken from a previous post, entitled Quick Tip: Create A Simple Sunburst Element.
From this simple set of vertical lines, we apply a Polar Coordinates filter, and we get something like this:
Notice the way document is distorted and warped around the center point. It’s kind of like what happens when you take a Slinky and twist it so that the two ends meet. Make sense?
This is one filter that I would recommend you experiment with. It can be a bit tricky, and can sometimes yield some somewhat unexpected results. It’s still awesome though!
8. Lighting EffectsFilter » Render » Lighting Effects…
This filter allows you to apply various types of lighting effects to the layers in your designs. This can be particularly useful when working towards some of the effects that are extremely popular these days. There are also a ton of different options, including three types of lighting, the choice of colour, intensity, and many others. The filter also comes with several presets, which you can use as they are or as a starting point for creating your own custom lighting.
The preview is a pretty useful part of this filter, too, since it allows you to select and modify the shape of the light itself, giving you a remarkable degree of control over your effect.
As an example, let’s take this this same texture that we used in the Gaussian Blur example.
Now, here are three different lighting effects on the same image, each using one of the different presets.
These lighting effects represent only a very small sampling of the different things that you can do with this filter, which is why I think it is so valuable, and absolutely worth getting to know!
9. OffsetFilter » Other » Offset…
The Offset filter is a useful little tool for shifting the position of pixels on the canvas. I will often use this filter when creating repeating patterns in Photoshop. When you run it, you are given the choice of how much you want to offset the image on both the horizontal and vertical planes. Because I am usually creating patterns, I generally offset by exactly half the width and half the height, so that what were originally the four corners of my image now meet in the center.
For example, here is an image of a lovely young woman that was made available as a free download from iStockPhoto some weeks ago (cropped down to a 500px square):
Now, if we apply an offset of 250px and 250px, we get a result like this:
It may not look all that useful on a photograph like this, but it’s a great way of creating perfectly matching, seamless edges for patterns!
10. High PassFilter » Other » High Pass…
I actually picked up on this filter from an article posted over on the GoMediaZine, entitled “Photoshop Tip: Sharpening with Photoshop’s High-Pass Filter”. It’s an incredibly easy way of achieving good, controllable sharpening of your images.
Basically, you just duplicate the layer that you are wanting to sharpen and run a High-Pass filter on it. If we do this on the same image that we used for the offset, we get something like this:
Not too pretty, I know. However, if we set the blending mode of this new, filtered layer to Overlay, suddenly we can see the sharpening occur. Here is the same image again, with the left half sharpened and the right half unchanged:
You can also achieve something similar with the Soft Light and – blending modes. And, if you don’t want to the sharpening to be quite as strong, just pull back the opacity of the filtered layer. This is a great technique for making quick and non-destructive changes to an image.
But I would also encourage you to be Smart with you filters.
I’m playing on words a bit, but here’s the basic gist: any filter applied to a Photoshop Smart Object is applied as a Smart Filter. What does this mean? Simply put, it means that the filter becomes editable! You will be able to see the filter in the Layers Palette, the same way you would see a Layer Style. You can then go ahead and double click it to reopen the settings dialogue and make slight modifications, if necessary! Or, you can just delete it entirely, and see the image return to its original state.
Trust me – learning this literally transformed the way I approached a lot of my Photoshop work. Plus, knowing that I could easily go back and either remove or alter a filter’s settings has afforded me a lot more creative freedom. Hopefully it can have the same effect for you!
I hope you enjoyed this post, and maybe learned about a filter or two you hadn’t used before. What about you guys? Are there any filters that you use all the time that didn’t make this list? I’d love to hear about your own experiences with filters!