When it comes to graphic design and photo editing, Adobe Photoshop is an impressive tool. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, it’s indispensable for manipulating designs and images. But sometimes, users may find that it comes up a bit short in certain areas—which is where the right third-party Photoshop plugin can be your greatest ally.
Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop CC is compatible with a nearly endless list of plugins, whose primary function is to potentiate a tool that’s already a powerhouse. They help in various ways. Some streamline the process of graphic design effects, some give you access to special features, and some give your photographs that little extra something.
Keep reading to find out what the best Photoshop plugins are (both free and premium) and how you can incorporate them into your work process.
Best Photoshop Plugins—Free
They say the best things in life are free. Let’s start with our top picks for Photoshop plugins that cost nothing and are easy to use.
Camera Raw is a must-have for photographers, used for editing and enhancing RAW photos to achieve the effects you want. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “RAW,” it refers to an uncompressed version of an image file that has all valuable image data available.
Camera Raw allows you to take advantage of all the benefits of shooting in this mode with its RAW picture processing capabilities. Use it for things like sharpening, setting white balance, and adjusting contrast.
Another advantage of this Photoshop plugin is that it doesn’t change the original picture file, meaning that you can change the photo back to the original if needed.
Next up on our list of the best Photoshop plugins is FlatIcon, a database that houses thousands of free vector icons for download. FlatIcon has pretty much anything you might be looking for, and you can download the vector icons in SVG, PSD, or PNG formats.
This Photoshop plugin makes it convenient not only to find what you need but also easy to use them. Insert the icons directly from your work environment in Photoshop by using the panel.
It is worth noting that to use the vector icons with the free plan legally, you have to attribute them. There is a subscription plan available as well if you prefer to go attribution-free, which also grants you access to FlatIcon’s full database.
Texture Anarchy includes Photoshop filters for anyone who needs to create borders and textures. Even novice photographers will find that it’s simple to use, mostly thanks to the presets that it comes with. And what makes it better than similar plugins is that it produces textures based on fractal noise, ideal for creating images with natural elements like smoke or marble.
Layrs Control 2
Anyone who’s ever used Photoshop knows that using layers is a fundamental part of creating the effects you want. However, sometimes managing the many layers you create during the process becomes unwieldy.
Layrs Control 2 erases that issue. With a simple control panel, you can easily take back control of your layers with the option to carry out several different actions. Complete tasks like flattening layers, deleting empty layers, and finding similar files/folders.
Having access to the tools in this Photoshop plugin can save you lots of time and eliminates the need to do many layering tasks manually. And the best part? It’s free!
The Shutterstock plugin allows you to access the site’s full library from within Adobe Photoshop, making the process of using royalty-free images in your designs much more straightforward. You can search for images, insert them, and license them—all directly from Photoshop.
If your work requires the use of stock photos, having a Photoshop plugin like this one is a must.
Pexels Photoshop Plugin
Another option for stock photos is Pexels. Like Shutterstock, you can get the free Photoshop plugin and bypass the website altogether. Pexels makes it easy to find the image you’re looking for, as you can search by popularity, recently added, or by using specific tags.
This new Photoshop plugin, introduced in 2019, has already received some excellent feedback. Powtoon provides a simple way for users to animate Photoshop designs with just a click. Aside from animation, you can also add things like stock footage and soundtracks. Once you’re finished, you can directly export your creation to platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, and more.
Photoshop is a bit lacking when it comes to PNG file formats, so we recommend this free Photoshop open-source plugin.
Super PNG is fantastic for anyone who works with PNG files regularly. It offers all the advanced support Photoshop doesn’t have, such as added functionality and features when you save PNG files. Plus, you don’t have to worry about losing quality when saving metadata and reducing image file size.
Best Photoshop Plugins—Premium
Although there are plenty of superb free plugins, most of the best Photoshop plugins require you to purchase them. While paying for plugins can be a drag, sometimes investing in the right one can make all the difference in streamlining your workflow and giving you the results you’re looking for.
With efficiency and excellent results in mind, here are some of the most highly-rated premium Photoshop plugins.
Machine Wash Deluxe
Looking to achieve a retro look in your photos? Instead of applying textures manually, which can be a real chore, this premium Photoshop plugin will save you time and energy. Machine Wash Deluxe includes more than 3500 presets that you can use on photos, texts, and other designs. It will help you create visually appealing images that will get attention.
At $99, it’s well worth investing in Machine Wash Deluxe.
ON1 Effects is a highly effective all-in-one plugin for photo editing in Photoshop. Within the one-click panel, users receive access to built-in presets, filters for Photoshop, textures, and borders, and it also comes with an effects library. The filters Photoshop has don’t come close to having the variety of filters that you get in ON1 effects.
It’s a tool well worth having in your arsenal because of how easy to use and how it is to create the effect that you want—you can blend, combine, and customize with ON1 Effects. Use it to stack multiple effects, filters and stylize images quickly, and you can also attain a B W image in just one click.
ON1 Effects comes in two versions, ON1 Effects 2020, which is available for $49.99, and ON1 Photo RAW 2020.5, which retails for $99.99. You can also try the 30-day trial.
Looking to choose the plugin that will give you the most bang for your buck? The Nik Collection packs a serious punch. It houses eight powerful plugins that you can use independently, all of which offer something different. Nik Collection users receive access to color filters, photo sharpening capabilities, and noise reduction in these eight plugins—to name just a few things.
The Nik Collection started as an expensive photo processing software program, and it’s changed hands several times since its beginning. At one point, Google bought it and made the program free, but it is now owned by DxO and costs $69. However, it does come with a free trial, so you can see if it’s right for you.
When you purchase the Nik Collection, some of the Photoshop plugins you receive access to are Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, and Dfine.
Noiseware is a high-performance noise reduction software. Use its sophisticated noise-filtering algorithm to suppress or eliminate noise from images, while maintaining the details you want in your photos. This handy little plugin costs $79.95.
You may find yourself in a situation where you need to create a unique font, or perhaps none of the many free fronts on the internet are speaking to you. Fontself Maker can provide the solution you need to either of these problems by allowing you to create the font of your dreams.
You can turn lettering into OpenType fonts with this plugin and create characters, textures, and shades. Fontself Maker can be used with both Photoshop and Illustrator CC.
RH Hover Color Picker
A significant drawback to Adobe Photoshop is its lack of a functional color picker in the software. This area could be significantly improved, which is where the RV Hover Color Picker comes in. It’s much more straightforward to use, and some would argue that it’s a lot better than the standard color picker that comes in Photoshop.
It essentially gives you more control when choosing colors because you can customize the sliders. Another advantage to the RV Hover Color Picker is that it disappears when not in use (hence the “hover” part of its name). To bring it back, all you have to do is hover over the minimized panel.
At $16, it’s worth investing in the RV Hover Color Picker, as it’s easy to use and will help make picking colors a much more enjoyable process.
The Portrait Pro plugin is a must for any portrait photographer who wants to get a retouched image that doesn’t feel overly Photoshopped—which is what this plugin is all about.
You can use it to remove imperfections like blemishes or spots on your portraits, but its capabilities don’t stop there. Portrait Pro has face reshaping and skin smoothing tools so that no matter what, you and your subjects feel comfortable with their depiction. It also includes smart filters that let you put your portraits over various backgrounds.
The bottom line? Basically anything you need to adjust in your images you can do with this powerful plugin. Available for purchase for $44.95.
The Luminar plugin, or “Luminar Flex,” as it was formerly known, is probably one of the best Photoshop AI-powered photo editing plugins available. The best way to describe it is that it acts as a photo editor for your photo editor within Photoshop.
While this description may sound strange, Luminar offers a more focused way of getting the best images possible. Photoshop is a powerful tool, but it has many elements that you may not need. Luminar eliminates the noise of some of the non-photography tools in Photoshop, giving you only what you need.
Available in both Photoshop and Lightroom, Luminar streamlines tasks like masking, presets, sky replacement, object removal, and more. It’s a plugin that will help eliminate a lot of frustration in your work process, available for a one-time payment of $69.
Fluid Mask 3
Even though Photoshop has decent masking tools, if this process forms a regular part of your post-production process, it’s worth investing in a dedicated plugin to up your game.
Masking, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, involves taking part of a layer and making it invisible. It’s laborious, and it takes time and expertise to get it right. But Fluid Mask reduces the amount of time you spend on masking, giving you clean, accurate masks—even in difficult areas.
Though the price tag is a bit on the higher end at $99, anyone who does masking regularly would benefit from having it in their toolkit.
Alien Skin’s Eye Candy is quite a well-known Photoshop plugin, popular for effects like Animal Fur, Smoke, and Reptile Skin. Users can choose from a full range of photo effects that, at first glance, may seem a bit cheesy, but are actually quite usable. You can render smoke, fire, chrome, and glass for spectacular “all rights reserved” logos and the like.
You may have to play around with the default settings to tone the effects down, but its usability is why this plugin has been around for over a decade. Try it out for thirty days free.
You’ll find yourself using guides at some point or another, which can be a painful and time-consuming process. Guide Guide offers users more versatility for Photoshop grids and makes working with them a lot more straightforward.
Just a few of the things you can do are quickly and easily make grids and manipulate guides, save your favorites, and duplicate them in other projects.
Guide Guide provides users with a free fourteen-day trial and is available in monthly and annual billing cycles. Students and teachers can use Guide Guide for free.
B W Effects
Color not your thing? Creating beautiful images in black and white is not just a simple matter of using filter Photoshop, or pressing the black and white button. There is a lot more to it than that. The B W Effects plugin is a handy resource for black and white lovers who want to turn their colored images into rich monochromatic photos.
There are plenty of plugins to choose from if you are a black and white photography lover, but this one from Topaz Labs is the best. It will help you achieve impressive monochromatic looks that won’t leave viewers indifferent. B W Effects comes with plenty of options that allow users to emphasize tone and texture without giving the final images an overly edited feel.
You can also use it to work with movies in Photoshop.
This Photoshop plugin makes use of advanced algorithms that sharpen your images. Instead of increasing the contrast of the surrounding pixels (the way typical sharpeners do), it only emphasizes the edges.
The result? Natural-looking images. There’s a marked difference between the results from using Photoshop’s sharpening filters and what you get with this plugin. You can even purchase a version for video, as well.
Fixel EdgeHancer is available for $30.00.
How Do You Install Photoshop Plugins?
If you’re new to Photoshop, you may be impressed by these plugins but curious about how to actually install them. Most should include installation information, but we’re going to outline the simple steps you should follow. Installing your new plugin is straightforward, and it should take you less than two minutes.
One thing to note is that you may hear the terms “plugin” and “extension” used interchangeably.
Before downloading the plugin, you’ll need to make sure you can accept plugins within Photoshop. Doing so is a simple matter of opening Photoshop, heading to the dropdown menu, and selecting “Edit.” From there, select Preferences>Plugins, and make sure the “Additional Plugins Folder” box is checked.
Once you’ve done this step, you’re ready to download the plugin. Follow these steps to complete the process:
- Download the plugin to your computer
- Unzip the folder
- Put the plugin in your Photoshop Plugins folder (or somewhere else if you prefer)
- Enter your password if prompted (you’ll probably need to if you make changes to Adobe folders)
- Return to Photoshop
- Navigate to “Filters” menu, and your new plugin should be there
Another thing to note is that if the Photoshop plugin installation instructions differ from these in some way, you should default to those directives.
There are plenty of plugins that help bridge the gap between the best Photoshop capabilities and what you’re trying to achieve. Whether you want to improve your workflow, create more stunning images, or make it easier to access stock photos, there’s probably a plugin for what you need.
And, of course, it’s vital to remember that these tools exist when you’re feeling stuck. Sometimes Photoshop’s way of doing things isn’t the best way, and looking for a little outside help can make all the difference in your images.