Until version 4.0, Filter Forge had no way of organizing filter complexity or abstracting it away. To simplify the creation of complex filters, Filter Forge 4.0 introduces groups that let you “package” reusable parts of the filter tree into custom-made components with user-definable inputs and parameters:
Creating groups is very easy. Just select components you want to group and click the Group button that has been added to the top toolbar of the Filter Editor:
When you click the button, Filter Forge creates a group with all the selected components inside, adds an input for every inbound connection, and uses the outgoing connection as the output. One caveat though: when selecting components to be grouped, make sure that they don't have more than one outgoing connection – the resulting group must have a single output.
To edit a group, you just double-click it, and edit its contents just like you would edit a filter. You can add, change or remove control components to modify the group inputs, or you can edit the component tree to alter the resulting image (or the curve – yes, curve components can be grouped too!) When you're done editing, just click the Back link in the group navigation bar.
A group can have an arbitrary number of custom inputs, such as colors, sliders or checkboxes. To define group inputs, Filter Forge uses Control Components, which now serve a dual purpose: in addition to their usual role of defining filter controls, they can now define group inputs when placed within a group:
To ungroup, simply select the group and hit the Ungroup button on the toolbar. However, be aware that this may not bring the filter tree into exactly same state as it was before grouping. For example, grouping may automatically create control components inside the group to serve as inputs, and when you ungroup the group, these components will appear despite the fact you haven't created them manually before grouping. Groups are not meant as a GUI tool for quickly hiding and unhiding unwanted parts of the component tree – instead, it is a way of creating custom components, so use them wisely and strategically.
Filter Forge supports group nesting: a group can contain any number of other groups. Navigating such group hierarchy sounds complicated, but actually it's easy: the new Group Navigation Bar lets you view the “breadcrumb trail” of the groups you went through. Clicking the group names lets you jump one level back or directly to a specified level of the group hierarchy:
We recommend giving a recognizable name to each group so that you don't get lost in numerous hierarchy levels each named 'Group'.
Instancing lets you create multiple groups that are linked together, so that when you modify the contents (but not the input values) of an instanced group, all other instances are automatically updated. This is useful when you want to use the same group in multiple places in the filter tree. Instancing eliminates the hassle of manually updating each copy of the group every time you make a change to the “master group”.
All instances of the same group are equal: there’s no dedicated “master” among them – you can edit any of the instances to update the others.
Here’s an example showing three instanced groups:
After taking the above screenshot, we edited the contents of one of the groups to replace the checkerboard texture with a particle pattern, and the other two instances updated automatically. Note that all the instances retained their Color settings and other input values:
To create an instanced group, just copy and paste a group: by default, groups are pasted as instances. To detach a group from instancing (so that editing its internals does not affect its other copies), select the box titled “Instance” underneath the group, and click the Detach button in its properties.
Implementing groups and instancing came at a cost: for the first time in history, we decided to retract a feature from Filter Forge. That feature is the ability to use external images as overrides, an obscure option in the Color and Grayscale Control components. To be more specific, we removed this option from Filter Forge 4.0 and, retroactively, from 3.0, and updated the two (yes, only two) filters in the Filter Library that used it.
We decided to remove this feature because it interfered with our decision to adapt Control Components for their second role, group inputs. Keeping both image overrides and dual-role Control Components was too complex for us to implement and maintain.
This is really a fantastic piece of software, I highly recommend everyone checking it out if you're into pattern/texture map creation.
“For 3D modelers, Filter Forge is a dream come true. It creates seamless textures with a single mouse click. The professional version creates the following map types for any texture: bump, normal, specular strength, specular exponent, diffuse, metallic, and alpha. The same filter can be used to generate any resolution, since filters are procedural.”
“Filter Forge is an incredibly powerful new Photoshop Plugin. It's simply amazing. It gives you the power to create your own filters (you must run them from inside Filter Forge though) without any programming knowledge at all.”