PostworkShop: reinventing the bitmap filter

When Photoshop was launched some 20 years ago, one of the capabilities that made it stand out was its support for plugin filters and the extraordinary creativity that this unlocked. Indeed bitmap filters became a major industry in their own right and the creativity of add-ons from the likes of Kai Krause, AutoFX and Alien Skin often outshone their host.

PostworkShop: reinventing the bitmap filter

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Since then, however, the focus for bitmap editing has moved on from creative origination to photographic enhancement, and the bitmap filter has become increasingly marginalised. Nowadays users might explore the odd artistic filter that comes with Photoshop but, if they do, they are likely to quickly become disillusioned by the disappointingly limited range, control and end results.

Now a new kid on the block promises to radically shake up the whole world of creative bitmap filters.

Unlike most filters, PostworkShop doesn’t aim to tackle a niche market, such as adding film grain or focus effects, but instead aims to offer a universal creative toolkit. As such it offers over 350 effects divided into broad categories (building blocks, drawing, painting, photographic) and then subdivides further (eg abstract, impressionism, pop art and so on). Each of the filters offers real depth so that, for example, rather than just globally finding edges, PostworkShop lets you set sensitivity, minimum and maximum lengths, Bezier conversion, control over start and end width and stroke colour.

Creative Combination

Rather than liberating the creative potential of bitmap filters, Photoshop has been squatting on it

What really makes PostworkShop stand out is the way that it lets you combine filters. In particular, you can both chain and, far more usefully, layer effects and creatively combine them using blend modes and opacity. This is absolutely crucial to artistic effects in particular where you might want to, say, distort the image, reproduce it using artistic brushes, overlay an outline and combine the results with halftoned shading.

Even better, PostworkShop lets expert users manage such advanced combinations in a node-based view, deal separately with multiple image objects and, most important of all, save advanced combinations as reusable styles. This is ideal if you want to apply the same advanced artistic effect to multiple 3D renders. Users of the Professional edition can even set which parameters of the various component filters are then exposed for customisation and make their styles available to others (either for free or commercially).

Suddenly the range of filters that come with Photoshop are exposed for what they are: an idiosyncratic rag-bag of underpowered, antiquated effects that haven’t been seriously overhauled since they were first conceived. Worse, the apparently stack-based Filter Gallery that was introduced with Photoshop CS to supposedly help tap the power of filters in fact only lets you cumulatively chain effects rather than creatively combine them as layers, let alone as advanced styles. In short, rather than liberating the creative potential of bitmap filters, Photoshop has been squatting on it.

Thankfully, PostworkShop’s comprehensive, powerful, modern, style-based approach brilliantly breaks the creative filter logjam and makes the program a natural partner for Photoshop. There’s just one problem: while PostworkShop can both open and write layered PSD files, it can’t act as a Photoshop plugin and so only operates in standalone mode.

At least that’s the case at the moment. Xycod, PostworkShop’s developer, is currently working on enabling the program to work as a true Photoshop plugin so that all this filter-based power will be made available from directly within Photoshop. That’s certainly a mouth-watering prospect and I hope to revisit PostworkShop 2.0 in more depth when it comes out sometime early next year.

In the meantime, don’t hold back. As it stands, PostworkShop is already a must-have standalone application for those interested in the creative possibilities of bitmap editing and, at only $99 for the full Professional release, is excellent value. There’s also a $50 cut-down standard version that lets you save your own styles and a seriously useful free version that lets you explore all 350 built-in styles. Even better, Xycod promise that anyone buying PostworkShop now will be able to upgrade to the next Photoshop-compatible release for free.

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