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Star Quality: A Review of Various Astral Filters

Ever since I started using Painter and eventually Photoshop to create my fine art and graphic work, I've wanted a filter that would give me an automatic star field. In the early days of third party plug-in filters, there wasn't that much out there, if anything. In the past few years, however, software developers have been catering more and more to this need. Currently, I have a handful of commercial and shareware plug-ins that create some great astral effects.

Company: Adobe
Plug-in Package: Photoshop Built-in Plugin
Effect: Lens Flare

Up until a few years ago or so, this is all we had to get cosmic with: Photoshop's built-in Lens Flare filter. Three different filters with adjustable sizes. Not much to see here folks, move on.
Pros: It's free, as it comes with Photoshop.
Cons: About everything else.


Company: Alien Skin
Plug-in Package: EyeCandy 3.1
Effect: Star

This was probably the first "star" filter available, and it's a pretty little filter, easy to use with adjustable colors and number of points. And it's great if you want to make one star at a time. There is probably a more recent version of Eye Candy out there, but I don't have it.
Pros: Easy to use, intuitive interface.
Cons: Only makes one star at a time.


Company: Alien Skin
Plug-in Package: Xenofex 2
Effect: Constellation

This filter would appear to make up for any misgivings from the EyeCandy Star flter, except it goes overboard in the other direction. Now you can make lots of stars, but your control over their color and point number has been removed.
Pros: Makes lots of distant stars in varying sizes and density
Cons: Limited color controls, blurry.


Company: Auto FX
Plug-in Package: Mystical Lighting
Effect: Fairy Dust

Part of me does cringe at the thought of using a filter called "Fairy Dust", but trust me, this is one cool effect. There is so much you can do with it. Stars are created on a "path" or brush stroke. The thicker the stroke, the larger the stars. You're not limited to stars either, you also have twinkles (skinnier, more acute star shapes), snowflakes, flowers, dust (basically, just circular blobs) and objects (think of it sort of as a cosmic potpourri). You know those little packets of large glitter shaped like stars and flowers that you can buy in a craft store? That's what "Fairy Dust" is like. You could spend hours getting lost in figuring out all the possibilities. And if there was an award for "Filter you'd most like to rub all over your body," this one would win hands down.
Pros: Lots of control over size, opacity, variation, color, softness, etc., clever and cute.
Cons: Complex, slow, long learning curve, expensive.


Company: Auto FX
Plug-in Package: Mystical Lighting
Effect: Flare

While "Fairy Dust" creates multiple little stars, "Flare" creates one big Star. Or Flare. Or Nebula. Or Spiral Galaxy. Again, AutoFX has created a very detailed filter that gives the expert user the most control over the desired effect, but with any filter, the more complex it is, the harder it is to learn.
Pros: Lots of control over size, opacity, variation, color, softness, etc.
Cons: Complex, slow, long learning curve, expensive.


Company: Corel
Plug-in Package: KPT Collection/KPT 6
Effect: LensFlare

This is THE Lens Flare filter to use! Although it doesn't offer as many controls as Auto FX's Flare, it still gives an incredible varied amount of flare styles that can be created, although AutoFX's can create a twirling flare that KPT cannot. But there's something about these flares...the luminosity, the color blending, the reflection, that makes them incredibly beautiful.
Pros: Beautiful, realistic-looking flares.
Cons: No twirl ability.


Company: Flaming Pear
Plug-in Package: Glitterato

I just love Flaming Pear's selection of plug-ins. Their interface is simple, intuitive and gives beautiful results. And the best part? Rolling the dice, i.e., the Randomize feature. Sometimes you just want to have the wisdom of chance guide your art, sometimes you just want to have fun and watch all the possibilities go by. A random feature should be required of all software, IMHO. Glitterato is one of their many cool offerings, and gives you an "instant space scene." You can control the amount, color, texture and fibrousness of the nebula (the colored cloudy areas) and the scale, density, brightness and depth of the stars. Although there is a "Color" slider for the stars, all it does is make them more colorful in general (as opposed to just white), but it doesn't make them greener or redder.
Pros: Inexpensive, randomize feature, quick learning curve.
Cons: Stars are just "specks", no points, blur or true colorize feature.


Company: Flaming Pear
Plug-in Package: SolarCell

Who'd have thought there was such a great demand out there in graphic land for a plug-in that creates solar flares and eclipses? I guess it's an example of "build it and they will use it," because this is a darn cool filter. You're not just limited to red giants and white dwarfs, you can use this to create flares and solitary stars.
Pros: Randomize feature, unique concept.
Cons: Baffling slider controls.


Company: Harald Heim
Plug-in Package: Plugin Galaxy
Effect: Star

If you don't want to spend a lot of money on a space/star plug-in (the package Plugin Galaxy is $50 and includes 19 other different effects besides "Star"), then this is the one to get. I don't know what it is about the stars that this one produces, but I really like them! They remind me of something from childhood that is a good memory--soft white holiday wrapping paper with little metal stars. But back to the graphics: You have a choice of a "single star" or a "star field." You can also control the shape of the stars by adjusting the "+, x, and o" sliders...+ controls the horizontal and vertical star flare, x controls the diagonal star flare, and o controls the halo. You can apply as is, or select Mutate (randomizes the +, x and o effects) and/or Nova (randomizes the colors).
Pros: Inexpensive, simple to use, stars are actually realistically "star shaped".
Cons: A little limiting in controls.


No Stars, But Other Related Fun Stuff:

Company: Alien Skin
Plug-in Package: Xenofex 2
Effect: Lightning

The best lightning effect bar none! You can adjust the beginning and end placement, the inner glow and the outer glow, the branchiness, thickness, jaggedness and branch spread. Plus there's a "Random Seed" which only randomizes within the parameters you've already set, but it's still cool nonetheless. Also, Xenofex comes with "Electrify" which is similar to Lightning, but works around the edges of a selection. These two filters are THE reason why I purchased Xenofex 2.
Pros: Great looking lightning, all the controls needed, no more, no less.
Cons: Can't really think of any.


Company: Corel
Plug-in Package: KPT Collection/KPT Effects
Effect: Lightning

This effect is sort of a let down. I'm not sure if it's because once Corel took over Metacreations' products, they lost the "WOW" factor or what, but if you want lightning, stick to Alien Skin's Xenofex effect. This one has lots of controls, but the end result sometimes looks a little weird, whereas Xenofex Lightning always looks like lightning.
Pros: Effects can be pretty strange and you can use it to make things that don't always look like lightning, like tree branches and plasma globe electricity, if you like that stuff.
Cons: More difficult to use than Xenofex, inner glow is always white in color.


Company: Flaming Pear
Plug-in Package: LunarCell

So you've created star fields with flares and nebulic haze, but it all looks a bit empty. Not to fear, Flaming Pear has the solution: Lunar Cell creates moons and thin atmosphere-based planets (like Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) with amazing surface detail...craters, ice, deserts, water. A very cool plugin.
Pros: Ultimate moon and small planet creator
Cons: Will not create "large gaseous planets."

A comparison of star plugins


Adobe Photoshop: LensFlare

Alien Skin, Eye Candy: Star

Alien Skin, Xenofex: Constellation

Auto FX, Mystical Lighting: Fairy Dust

Auto FX, Mystical Lighting: Flare

Corel, KPT 6: LensFlare

Flaming Pear: Glitterato

Flaming Pear: SolarCell

Harald Heim, Plugin Galaxy: Star

Automatically creates Single Star or starlike image?

     

Automatically creates Multiple Stars or Star Field?

         

Adjustable Star Color?

     

Adjustable number of Star Points or Flare Streaks?

         

Multi-Colored Starfield?

           

Ease of Use?

   

Pretty?

   

Lots of different options for fine tunng?

           

Overall recommended for making star or flare effects?

       

Pricing, USD, give or take a few

Free with Photoshop

$129
(package contains 20 other effects)

$129
(package contains 13 other effects)

$179
(package contains 15 other effects)

$179
(package contains 15 other effects)

$100
(package contains 9 other effects)

$40
(package contains 2 other effects) or $20 sold separately

$40
(package contains 2 other effects) or $20 sold separately

$50
(package contains 19 other effects)

Etcetera

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