There's no denying that Adobe Photoshop is a powerful photo editing tool, with loads of built-in features and effects. In fact, if you're a marketer with little (or zero) photography or graphic design experience, Photoshop can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming.
However, if you've spent years learning the ins and outs of Photoshop, you might now be arriving at a point where you feel like you've exhausted all of Photoshop's built-in benefits.
Regardless of your experience level, there are free Photoshop filters and plugins that can help. As a beginner, these free add-ons can help simplify complex editing processes. As an expert, they can help expand your available Photoshop tool set even further, and help lead you in new artistic directions.
Keep the following steps in mind when downloading the Photoshop filters and plugins we've included below. Each file must be saved in a specific location on your computer.
How to Install Photoshop Plugins
- Open Photoshop.
- Select Edit from the dropdown menu, and select Preferences > Plugins.
- Check the "Additional Plugins Folder" box to accept new files.
- Download a plugin or filter to your desktop.
- Open your Program Files folder and select your Photoshop folder.
- Open your Plugins folder, found inside your Photoshop folder.
- Drag your new Photoshop plugin from your desktop into the Plugins folder.
- Reopen Photoshop and find your new plugin under Filters in the dropdown menu.
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Free Photoshop Filters
Note: The filters below are technically Photoshop "actions" (.ATN files). An action is a pre-recorded series of steps that allows you to apply effects -- in this case, filters -- automatically.
1. Dramatic Sepia (via Efeito Photoshop)
Sure, you can easily create that classic, reddish-brown sepia effect in Photoshop manually by selecting Image > Adjustments > Photo Filters, and then choosing "Sepia" from the dropdown menu. But if you're looking for a sepia filter that's a bit more -- well, dramatic -- the free Dramatic Sepia action from Efeito Photoshop is a popular option.
Image Credit: Romenigps
2. Blue Evening (via Photographypla.Net)
Opposite the warm tones of the sepia filter above, Blue Evening cools down your photos with a pretty blue hue. This Photoshop filter adds a dose of solemnness to your images. You can also use it to soften a sunlit photo and emphasize a cold temperature outside.
Image Credit: Photographypla.Net
3. Old Photo (via DeviantArt)
If sepia is a bit too much for your taste, but you're still trying to create a nostalgic, old-timey feel, the Old Photo action has got you covered. The action will adjust the color and contrast of your image, transporting it back in time (visually-speaking).
Image Credit: sakiryildirim
4. Nightmare (via Shutter Pulse)
Did you ever want to give your photo a haunting look? The setting of your shot only does so much to affect how people perceive the image. For added creepiness, you have the Nightmare filter. Download this Photoshop filter to make any photo look like it came from a horror movie.
Image Credit: Shutter Pulse
5. HDR Tools (via DeviantArt)
HDR Tools is a set of four "actions" that transforms dull backgrounds to reveal intense, eye-catching details. You can turn natural grey tones into beautiful backgrounds that create a contrast against the foreground you didn't have before. The duller the image, the heavier the HDR filter you should apply.
Image Credit: Forfie
6. Dream Blur (via DeviantArt)
As its name suggests, the Dream Blur action adds a filter to your image that creates a subtle, dream-like atmosphere. Specifically, the action produces a dark, blurry vignette at the edges of your image while also upping the saturation levels.
Image Credit: JoshJanusch
7. Vintage (via DeviantArt)
Unlike the Old Photo action from earlier on this list, the Vintage action does more than just visually transport your image back in time -- it also adds a distinctive neon effect (perfect for giving your next project a groovy feel).
Image Credit: beckasweird
8. Lithprint (via DeviantArt)
The Lithprint action imitates the vintage look produced by the black-and-white lith printing process. But compared to the other vintage filters on this list, Lithprint is much more drastic. In addition to adjusting contrast, highlights, and shadows in your image, it adds a gritty texture.
Image Credit: rawimage
Free and Inexpensive Photoshop Plugins
If you're struggling to produce particular effects in Photoshop (e.g., black and white, high contrast, polarization, etc.), virtualPhotographer by OptikVerve Labs could be the plugin you've been looking for. VirtualPhotographer's primary claim to fame? It allows you to add complicated effects to images with a single click.
Image Credit: optikVerve Labs
10. ON1 Effects
Like the virtualPhotographer plugin, ON1 Effects is a free Photoshop plugin that makes it easier for you to add complex effects to your images. What sets ON1 Effects apart is that it boasts a library of filters -- including vignette, adjustable contrast, and HDR look -- that you can stack on top of each other, allowing you to easily build layers of different effects.
Image Credit: ON1
Snapheal is one of the best ways to remove unwanted flaws and blemishes from your photos. Cleaning up a person's headshot or the background of a scenic shot? This photoshop plugin helps you polish your work in three steps: Upload your photo, remove unwanted objects, and enhance the final product.
Image Credit: Snapheal
This tool is a detail-oriented person's best friend. Ink is a Photoshop plugin that allows you to see additional information on a design you're creating -- this includes text size, font name, color codes, and the size of your image in pixels. It also gives you grid lines to help you center and level your artwork.
Image Credit: Chrometaphore
Wish you could sort through thousands of free icons and add them to your projects without having to leave the comfort of Photoshop? Then Flaticon by Freepik is definitely worth a look. The free plugin's icons are available in .SVG, .PSD, and .PNG formats.
Image Credit: Flaticon
14. RH Hover Color Picker
Photoshop's color palate has been known to irritate users -- especially those who need a more customizable dashboard to capture the color they need when editing and designing. RH Hover Color Picker is the solution. This photoshop plugin by Rico Holmes (hence "RH") acts as a convenient flywheel that you can simply "hover" over your image as you perfect your illustration. It even gives you the RGB code of the color you've selected so you can easily find it later.
Image Credit: Rico Holmes
You might know Pexels as a free stock photography gallery. What you might not know is that you can integrate this free content right into Photoshop. The Pexels plugin has more than 30,000 free images to choose from, and syncs your Liked photos with Photoshop so you can call up your favorite stock photos for quick editing.
Image Credit: Pexels
Focus is "portrait mode" on steroids. A smartphone camera can use portrait mode to blur the background of closeup imagery, but it often can't handle wide, complex shots where you need to highlight specific parts of the photo. For that, you have Focus. This plugin, now available in the form of Focus 2, allows you to blur backgrounds, set the blur's intensity, and sharpen the edges of the object you're focusing on to make it truly pop out of the picture.
Image Credit: Skylum
17. Tych Panel
The free Tych Panel plugin makes it easy for you to create double panel (diptych), triple panel (triptych), and quadruple+ panel (ntych) projects in Photoshop. Just select the number of rows and panels you want, as well as the alignment style, and Tych Panel will format everything for you automatically.
Image Credit: Lumens
Ready to get started? Download some of the filters and plugins above and grab your free guide to photoshop below.