Using extensions in Photoshop is like putting scaffolding on Mount Everest. The program already has more features than you probably need. But you can add more functionality by using free extensions. Photoshop CC even invites you to “Find Extensions on Exchange…” on the Windows menu.
Finding Photoshop extensions
When browsing the Adobe Exchange site for extensions, take note of what products they’re compatible with. Otherwise, you’ll end up downloading stuff that won’t install. Naturally, free extensions are less likely to be up to date. Some of the paid add-ons are worth a look, with the caveat that you can’t always try them out first.
You can install Adobe extensions easily by using either Anastasiy’s Extension Manager or the ZXP Installer. (I use the latter.) Drag the .zxp file onto the app, and the extension will be waiting next time you open Photoshop. (Or at least it should be.) You can also use Adobe’s Creative Cloud desktop app to install and uninstall extensions.
Three great free extensions
Some great up-to-date extensions are available for free. They might be a segue from an unpaid product to a paid one or have some other sales angle, but they’re still handy additions to Photoshop.
Here are three free extensions that work with Photoshop CC in 2019 (version 20.0.4 as I write).
Adobe Paper Textures Pro (Russell Brown)
This extension lets you easily add paper textures to photos. The downside is the supplied textures are web-size only, so you can’t add them to big files without losing definition. Of course, it’s designed to hook you into buying full-res textures from Fly Paper. But if you’re into this type of editing, it’s probably worth it, as they appear to be high quality.
To make Adobe Paper Textures Pro fully functional without costing you anything, you can download free full-res texture images from other web sources and load those up instead. The textures automatically blend with your open image, so it’s quicker than creating layers manually. In the past, the extension has drawn a few negative reviews. But it has behaved well for me, and despite the odd glitch, it’s a lot of fun to use.
Interactive Luminosity Masks (Sven Stork)
Being able to select different areas of luminosity within an image can be useful when making local edits. You might want to adjust the contrast or tone in one area and not another. Or perhaps you want to avoid sharpening noisy, darker areas of the image or apply noise reduction to the shadows.
The Interactive Luminosity Mask lets you select highlights, mid-tones or shadows, and also allows a customized choice with a zone mask and picker.
The extension also includes saturation masks. These were once useful for selectively increasing saturation, but the vibrance slider made that a little redundant. Even so, there’s still a lot of value in being able to use color to make selections. For instance, you may want to avoid sharpening large single-tone areas such as skies. This add-on lets you select areas of low, mid or high saturation, or manually pick a color using the zone mask. You can even launch channels and commonly used adjustment layers from within the extension.
Facebook Grid Cover (Bojan Živkovic)
Facebook covers may seem like a frivolous way to spend your time. But creating a grid of photos that look good together isn’t always easy. Even with a simple three-image grid, you may find composing a good online triptych challenging. This extension doesn’t end up in your extensions menu. Instead, it’s an action (or series of actions) that loads initially onto your desktop.
You can pick up to 13 images to go into your Facebook grid cover, and the actions let you switch any one of them as long as the layers remain intact. Whether you run a photographic Facebook page, or just want one for your own cover, this extension will create an eye-catching result.
Here are some more free extensions for you to try:
- Thomas Zagler’s Free Stock Search is ideal for finding free stock images you can use for things such as digital composites. You could compile a folder of free texture photos and use them with the Adobe Paper Textures Pro extension I talked about earlier.
- Sven Stork’s Interactive Blender Panel lets you blend pictures together according to tone (highlights, mid-tones, or shadows) and leave the rest of the photo unblended. This is ideal for dropping in more appealing skies, among other things.
- Anil Tejwani’s Action Launcher provides useful ways to organize your actions, including alphabetically or by favorites. Note: The favorites feature expires after 30 days unless you upgrade to the pro version.
- Davide Barranca’s PS Tools lets you lay out all the Photoshop tools you actually use in a pop-out panel and conceal the rest.
- Denis Yanov’s RealLookLongShadow panel gives you lots of control over drop shadows and their length to make photos or cut-outs stand out.
I hope you find some of these extensions useful or fun. Please feel free to add your own recommendations for free or paid extensions in the comments.