ElementsXXL Enhanced to Extend Adobe Photoshop Elements
Photoshop is the acknowledged leader in image editing applications and while it's no longer necessary to drop $699 up front to own it, you'll still need to choose from one of the Creative Cloud subscriptions that include it. For example, it's part of the complete Creative Cloud package, which will set you back $49.99 per month, while a cheaper approach is the Photography plan, for just $9.99 per month. These prices all require a one-year commitment.
Still too much? Then there's Photoshop Elements, which delivers a subset of the functionality of its big brother. This is normally priced at $99.99 but Adobe often provides limited-time promotions. A cautionary note is that Adobe indicates that Elements allows users to "edit photos, create lasting keepsakes, and delight friends and family." Which makes it a bit hard for graphics professionals to take seriously.
However, it seems that a fair amount of Photoshop's code is buried deep within Elements and simply not made accessible to users. For many years Andrei Doubrovski has tapped these latent capabilities in the form of his Elements+, which adds hundreds of functions to Elements, such as paths and color channels, all for the modest sum of $12.
In 2013 veteran Photoshop developer The Plugin Site released an alternative, which is said to integrate fully into the Elements interface. In what would seem to be a reference to Elements+, the developer claims that "Other products that extend Photoshop Elements consist of simple actions or are limited to a dialog that blocks the user interface. So they are far less efficient, easy to use and flexible than ElementsXXL." And beyond that the developers claims that it adds features not even available in Photoshop itself, such as 13 additional curves, a Color Replace adjustment layer, seven additional content-aware options, split layer commands, a selection from the saturation channel, a check bit depth function and the ability to record filter effects as color lookup files.
ElementsXXL for Windows adds hundreds of features, depending on the version of Elements, with support going way back to version 8. There is also a feature-reduced Mac version but here we'll be speaking about the Windows iteration. ElementsXXL adds such things as actions, scripts, smart objects, smart filters, layer groups, image channels, quick masks, vector masks and layer masks, with new filters and adjustment layers: Curves, Exposure, Vibrance, Color Balance, Channel Mixer, Black & White and Selective Color. Notable additions include Auto-Align/Auto-Blend Layers; a Soft Proof option; text layer features; a Fill Opacity option; Fade and Trim commands; and custom pixel aspect ratios.
ElementsXXL can enhance 16-bit image processing with the ability to switch between 8-bit and 16-bit mode, making it possible to use tools that only work in 8-bit mode and then return to 16 bits. In addition, the Quick Mask mode allows users to modify the mask with all available filters and tools. The channels of an RGB image can be edited individually and used for masking, while the Curves, Channel Mixer and Apply Image filters also enhance 16-bit image editing.
A Render feature makes it possible to process 16-bit images with smart filters, adjustment layers and additional types of layers, such as text, shape, dodge & burn, tool and image. A Tool Mode allows users to employ 29 more tools with 16-bit images, including magic wand, healing, clone and smudge. The Fade feature also works with 16-bit images and provides a range of new blend modes for such images.
Support is provided for hundreds of smart filters from a wide range of plugin developers, with the ability to apply filters to the layer mask of a smart object and create a selection from the smart filter mask. Then there's the Pen, Puppet Warp, Mixer Brush, Ruler and Slice & Select tools; a Paths panel for creating and editing paths; a Shadows/Highlights filter dialog with a variety of options; a Color Range feature for creating selections based on colors and tones; and a Color Match filter for applying the colors and brightness of another image. Beyond features, ElementsXXL also enriches the Elements interface, via the addition of icons and drop-down buttons to the Layers panel, control bar and tool bar, as well as enabling a dozen Photoshop keyboard shortcuts.
ElementsXXL 3, releasedi in October of last year, added 200 more features to those provided in version 2, bringing the total of features added to Elements to an remarkable 430. The new version supported Elements 14, along with UI Scaling and HiDPI. Notable was a new Curves dialog for editing all four curves; new Channels and Properties panels; five new 16-bit filters (Exposure, Vibrance, Color Balance, Selective Color and Black & White); an enhanced Color Range dialog; new Warp and Perspective Warp filters, as well as Perspective Crop and History Brush tools; an Edit in Camera Raw command for smart objects; a new Color Settings dialog; the conversion and assignment of color profiles; 12 new Soft Proof presets; the ability to save CMYK image files; nine luminosity masks; and splitting a layer into special RGB, CMY, Lab, HSL and Frequency layers.
Impressive enough but ElementsXXL 4 pushes the envelope even further by adding up to 625 features to Elements. It begins with support for Elements 15 and multiple monitors, which is a nice pro touch. While we can't list all 200 new features, of particular interest are new filters and adjustment layers, e.g. Replace Color and Color Lookup; 13 new channel options for Curves; Calculations and Focus Area features for creating selection from channels and image sharpness; a Brush panel with 80 new brush properties, for 22 tools; support for linked smart objects and applying filters to smart filter masks; an improved Warp tool; and let's not forget Content-Aware Crop and Content-Aware options for various tools. Thankfully, the developer provides a detailed list of what's new.
Was Adobe correct in thinking that those who want to "create lasting keepsakes, and delight friends and family" don't require such functionality? Perhaps. But for those with more demanding image editing requirements, Photoshop Elements and ElementsXXL might well provide a winning combination.
ElementsXXL for Windows can be purchased from The Plugin Site for $49.95, with a trial version available for download.