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Curves (and Other Goodies) for Photoshop Elements

Those of you who use Adobe Photoshop Elements may have noticed that I didn't talk much about your chosen image editing program last week when discussing Curves. The simple explanation for this of course is that Adobe doesn't provide support for Curves in Elements.

Well, let's not let a silly little thing like that get in our way.

Presented herewith are two easy ways to get access to curves in Elements.

The Earthbound Light Solution works great in Photoshop Elements versions 1 though 3 on both Windows and Mac OS. If you are running the newer Elements version 4 or 5 and would like to add Curves, you will need the free SmartCurve plug-in instead.

The Earthbound Light Solution

I use Photoshop CS normally, but picked up a copy of Elements 3.0 when it was released, in part out of curiosity. After rebates, it wasn't expensive and I wanted to see just how close to the "real thing" it actually was. The more I played with it, the more convinced I became that many of the features Adobe wanted you to believe they had left out were in fact only buried and inaccessible from the regular user interface. Authors such as Richard Lynch have seriously explored the possibilities in prior versions of Elements so I decided to see just what I could make Elements 3.0 do.

One of the fastest ways to add functionality to the full version of Photoshop is through the use of Actions to automate a series of steps. Unfortunately, Elements does not provide direct support for Actions, but all the great image effects in the Styles and Effects palette bin are actually nothing more than Actions. It turns out that, in at least some cases, if you write an Action in Photoshop CS, you can convince Elements to run it without too much coaxing. If you poke around in how the Styles and Effects bin works, adding your own isn't that difficult.

So, I made a few, starting, naturally enough, with Curves. And I'd like to share them with you here for free.

In addition to Curves, I also made actions to run a few other things Adobe left out of Elements including using the Channel Mixer to get excellent black and white conversions of color images, adding a Layer Mask to a layer, and using Selective Color adjustments. I'll probably have more to say about these other tools in future articles, but I really can't see any reason not to include them here anyway so use them in good health.

Styles and Effects palette with Earthbound Light effects
Styles and Effects palette with Earthbound Light effects
Curves in Photoshop Elements 3.0
Curves in Photoshop Elements 3.0
Curves adjustment layer in Photoshop Elements 3.0
Curves adjustment layer in Photoshop Elements 3.0

To install the Earthbound Light Curves and other effects for Elements on Windows:

  • Exit out of Photoshop Elements.
  • Download and unzip the file to the right and copy the contained "Earthbound Light" folder into your "Program Files\Adobe\Photoshop Elements x\Previews\Effects" folder. (where x is the version number of Elements you are running. Elements 1 has no version.)
  • Then delete the ListCache.che file from "Program Files\Adobe\Photoshop Elements x\Previews\Cache\Effects Cache."
  • Run Elements. It will automatically rebuild all the cache files for effects since you deleted one. In the process, it will now include the new Earthbound Light effects folder and its contents.

This has now been tested and works with Elements 1, 2 and 3. Because of changes by Adobe, it does not work with the newer Elements 4 and 5.

Earthbound Light effects for Photoshop Elements 1, 2 and 3
(Windows)

Click here to download Earthbound Light effects for Photoshop Elements (Windows)
Click here to download

To install the Earthbound Light Curves and other effects for Elements on Mac OS:

(Note: for newer versions of OS X, use the Windows download instead since Apple has moved from the .sit archive format to the .zip format.)

  • Exit out of Photoshop Elements.
  • Download and unzip the file to the right and drag the contained "Earthbound Light" folder into your "Applications:Adobe Photoshop Elements x:Previews:Effects" folder. (where x is the version number of Elements you are running. Elements 1 has no version number.)
  • Then delete the ListCache.che file from "Applications:Adobe Photoshop Elements x:Previews:Cache:Effects Cache."
  • Run Elements. It will automatically rebuild all the cache files for effects since you deleted one. In the process, it will now include the new Earthbound Light effects folder and its contents.

This has now been tested and works with Elements 1, 2 and 3. Because of changes by Adobe, it does not work with the newer Elements 4 and 5.

Earthbound Light effects for Photoshop Elements 1, 2 and 3
(Mac OS)

Click here to download Earthbound Light effects for Photoshop Elements (Mac OS)
Click here to download

You can use the Curves effect as you would any other Elements effect. Select the layer you want to make adjustments to and double-click on the Curves icon in the Styles and Effects bin. Where to install Earthbound Light effects for Photoshop Elements 3.0 under WindowsA dialog will ask you to assign a name to your new Curves adjustment layer. As usual, you can assign a blending mode and opacity at this time as well. When you click on "OK" you will get the honest to goodness regular Curves dialog just as you do in the full version of Photoshop, except that the Channel dropdown list will be missing. Proceed with adjusting the Curves as was described last week. When you then click on "OK" here, the dialog will close and you will be left with a new Curves adjustment layer entry in your Layers palette.

As with the Curves effect, the Selective Color and Channel Mixer effects create adjustment layers. These work just like regular adjustment layers in Elements in that you can change the blending mode and opacity, or even delete the effect entirely, at any later point since they are saved with your image as layers. Unlike most adjustment layers though, you can't edit the settings later since Elements is smart enough to know that these aren't supposed to be there. If you double click on one after closing it you will get a message that it was created in the full version of Photoshop and can not be edited. To change any of the effect's settings, you will need to delete the adjustment layer and recreate it. Unfortunate, but not a major problem. At least you can now use these effects in Elements in the first place. The Layer Mask effect is linked with the image layer itself and does not have this same restriction. Note that you can't create a Layer Mask on teh Background layer though.

Where to install Earthbound Light effects for Photoshop Elements 3.0 under Windows

CurvemeisterCurvemeister

Written by Mike Russell, Curvemeister is an very nice filter plug-in for Photoshop 5 and above that also works with all versions of Elements.

It installs on the Filter menu, and runs just like a regular filter. In addition to the expected Curves features, Curvemeister includes some nice extra touches. The image histogram is integrated with the grid for curves adjustments. Recently used curves are saved in history and can be recalled and reused at a later date for similar images. Curvemeister (even in Elements) dynamically converts images into RGB, wide-gamut CMYK, LAB and HSB color modes so you can adjust individual channels in any mode freely to take advantage of what they offer. You can also see the curves for all related color channels (those in the same color mode as you have selected) on a single window (or separate windows) to get a great overview of what you have done. Tabs to access individual channel image views are also provided. Both the image preview and curves window can be sized as large as needed so you can tell what you are doing.

Yet one more addition to the normal Curves features is a wizard mode that guides you through setting black point, white point and a neutral grey point using eyedroppers (even though I haven't talked about them yet, standard Photoshop Curves include similar but not identical eyedroppers). When the wizard finishes, you can either apply the curve as is or exit back to the Curvemeister window to tweak things further yourself. The wizard still requires that you understand what you are doing but does make doing it somewhat quicker for some types of images, especially those that have color casts that need neutralized along with regular curves adjustments.

RGB plus combined channel curves in Curvemeister
RGB plus combined channel curves in Curvemeister
Curvemeister wizard interface
Curvemeister wizard interface

If Curvemeister could be used on an adjustment layer, I'd actually use it more in the full version of Photoshop. It really is quite good. Curvemeister is available as shareware for Windows only at the modest price of $34.95.

Update 1/22/2005 - I have confirmation from multiple Mac OS Elements users that the "Earthbound Light Solution" Curves and other actions work in Elements 3.0 for the Mac. If you use Elements 2.0 on either Mac or Windows and have installed these, please let me know for sure if they work there too. Thanks.

Update 1/24/2005 - Well that didn't take long. Reader Geoff confirms that all the Earthbound Light actions presented here work just fine in Elements 2.0. Good to know. Thanks.

Update 5/03/2005 - I bought a Mac Mini a while back, so it seems like it's probably about time I updated this page with Mac OS X instructions. I have Elements now on both platform too, and can personally vouch for the fact that everything works on both. Enjoy.

Update 5/26/2005 - One more quick update. Photoshop Elements 3 can open some files in 16-bit mode, but you will need to convert to 8-bit before running any of the Earthbound Light actions. Elements doesn't yet support the needed functions when working in 16-bit mode.

Update 10/06/2005 - Well, Photoshop Elements 4.0 is out (Windows only for now). It looks like they have addressed some of the features I had hoped for, but clearly not all. Annoyingly, the "Earthbound Light Solution" effects don't work with version 4.0. I'm looking into whether I can fix this. More news as I figure things out....

Update 10/23/2005 - Mike at Curvemeister.com has confirmed that their Curvemeister plugin does still work with Elements 4.0. Also, the current version has even more features than the original one did, but the price is now up to $79.95. A nice program, if it fits your budget.

Update 11/14/2005 - Now works with Elements 1, 2 and 3 on both Windows and MacOS. I haven't yet fixed things to work with Elements 4.0, but I have now solved the problem some users have reported with Elements 2 on MacOS. If you've had problems with MacOS Elements 2, please re-download the Mac .sit file above and and re-install per the instructions to fix things.

Update 03/05/2006 - No luck yet on getting things to work with Elements 4.0 I'm afraid. Adobe seems to have "fixed" what I need to make them work.

Update 08/13/2006 - One frequent question regarding the Earthbound Light Solution curves and other actions for Photoshop Elements has to do with the error message that the 'command "make" is not available.' Elements (and the full version of Photoshop) won't let you create a layer mask directly on the Background layer. If you receive this error, check if you are indeed on the Background. If so, double-click on the icon for it in the Layers palette to convert it into a normal layer. Elements will give it the default name of "Layer 0" but you can give it a different name if you prefer.

Update 09/12/2006 - In an exciting development, Adobe has today announced the release of Photoshop Elements 5.0. It looks like it includes a number of great new features including Curves! This looks like a great upgrade for Elements users.

Update 10/12/2006 - False alarm. The curves that Adobe included in Elements 5 are quite lame indeed. Found under Enhance >> Adjust Color >> Adjust Color Curves..., it only works on 8-bit images, and provides only minimal ability to vary from the preset curves provided. Very disappointing. A small screen shot of the Elements 5 Curves dialog is shown here. You can download the trial version if you want to check it out for yourself, but don't expect much.

Curves for Photoshop Elements 4 and 5The standard Effects Bin contents are implemented quite differently in Elements 5 as well. Gone completely is the Previews folder. No word yet on whether I will be able to do anything to add my own Curves to version 5.

Update 03/11/2007 - Users of Adobe Photoshop Elements version 4 and 5 who are looking for looking for a way to add Curves now have an answer! I've explored a number possible ways of solving this problem and the one that stands out from all the others is the free easy.Filter SmartCurve plug-in by Alois Zingl. Click here to learn about it.


Date posted: January 2, 2005 (updated March 11, 2007)

 

Copyright © 2005, 2007 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Related articles:
Photoshop Curves: Stepping Up From Levels
Digital Black and White in Photoshop
Curves for Photoshop Elements 4 and Above
Photoshop Elements 9 Finally Gets Real Layer Masks
 

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