Pixel Bender + Fixel Plug-Ins
I’m already hearing the confusion from a number of people reading this. “What’s Pixel Bender?” or “What’s a Fixel?” Well, that is what this post is about.
First off, I want to say that before I came across the Fixel plug-ins for the “Pixel Bender” plug-in for CS5, I only had a vague knowledge of the Pixel Bender myself. So now that we are all starting on the same page, lets get going…
Pixel Bender is a free plug-in from Adobe Labs. It is NOT included with any version of Photoshop, however it is a free download from Adobe at the Adobe Labs website. (Click here to go directly to the Pixel Bender page.) The plug-in is also available for CS4, but I cannot comment on how well that works as I am running CS5 now.
So with that cleared up, now I should explain what Pixel Bender does. I think of it as an accelerated “springboard” for plug-in developers to design plug-ins that work with the Pixel Bender plug-in, which utilizes the GPU (if enabled) and CPU power to supercharge sometimes complex filter actions. Basically, Pixel Bender is a plug-in for Photoshop and it takes OTHER plug-ins that do different things and runs them within the Pixel Bender interface. (Confused yet? So am I, but if you download and install it, it begins to make sense.)
Now that we are on the same page, slightly confused but hopefully intrigued, let me now explain what a Fixel is. Fixel is a small Plug-in developer that has taken the bull by the horns and wrestled some really cool Pixel Bender plug-ins out of it. Considering these are smaller, simple to learn, simple to use plug-ins, the cost is minimal and it makes them easy and fun to experiment with. (Unlike some plug-ins that I have which are overly complex, difficult and extremely expensive. I don’t think I even need to name them at this point.) Currently they offer four options, Fixel Contrastica, Fixel LightIT, Fixel EdgeHancer and Fixel Coloritivity. As with other Pixel Bender plug-ins, they run within the single, simple interface accessed through the Filter -> Pixel Bender -> Pixel Bender Gallery in Photoshop.
With that said, lets have some fun.
First off, Fixel Coloritivity. Although limited to only 5 presets, the slider to blend the Intensity allows for unlimited different looks by mixing the presets with the original image. The before/after results of one of these presets can be seen on my image “Oliver”. Personally, I like all of the presets and feel they work very well on any type of image, including portraits, stylized wedding image and more.
The Fixel LightIT plug-in is a little bit like the “Fill Light” slider in Lightroom, except it isn’t limited to working with your RAW files. Although I don’t have a sample here to share, I can say it does work and has an interesting way of being able to bring up shadow detail without affecting the highlights. Perfect for those images where the sky is “just right” but the subject isn’t lit quite well. It was able to bring out the color and detail lost in darker shadows without making the image look overly processed. (And we always want to avoid that “over processed” look!) But lets not mistake “shadows” with “complete blackness”. Nothing can recover color or detail that simply isn’t in the file. (Which is why proper exposures are SO IMPORTANT in photography!)
Next up is the Fixel EdgeHancer. This plug-in handles sharpening, with a twist. Unlike an overall sharpening filter such as Unsharp Mask, the Fixel EdgeHancer really boosts the edges of higher contrast areas while having little or no effect on areas of low detail. Meaning, you can really pump that sharpening with less artifacts or noise appearing across your image. Or push it further for more creative effects. (Click the sample image for a 100% crop of the before and after.)
And lastly, Fixel Contrastica. The name says it all really. It allows for local and global contrast manipulation, including realistic through creative levels of contrast BOOST or REDUCTION which is sometimes nice but difficult to do in Photoshop without hurting the color.
All of the plug-ins are fun and easy, each offers it’s own creative advantage but my favorite has to be the Coloritivity followed closely by the EdgeHancer. Hopefully we might see more fun Pixel Bender plug-ins from Fixel soon.