10 Must-Have Photoshop Plugins That Are Free

By Christopher O'Donnell / September 21, 2010

If you're looking for new and creative ways to edit or enhance your images,  plugins can make your Photoshop workflow go so much smoother. Whether you want to add some noise or create some stunning color effects, we've got a fantastic list for you – and all completely free!

1. virtualPhotographer by optikVerve Labs

For those who haven't grasped all the nooks and crannies of Photoshop yet, or simply don't want to spend hours tweaking an image, virtualPhotographer is a simple plugin that has over 200 presets for you to apply to your images. There is also a very nifty split-screen preview function that allows you to see the before-and-after of your edit.

2. SuperPNG by fnord

This incredible plugin works with Photoshop to process and save PNG files much faster, and also saves them in a smaller size. If you work with PNG files often but dread the amount of time it takes to process them, then this plugin is for you.

3. Curves by Mehdi

If you haven't mastered the idea behind curves yet, this plugin has eight common presets to select from, allowing you to choose which one compliments your photo the best.

4. B/W Conversion by photo-plugins.com

While you can change your image to black and white in Photoshop, this plugin takes it a step further by allowing you to select presets that imitate the common tonal effects of popular black and white films. Those who have an appreciation for black and white analog photography will enjoy this versatile plugin.

5. Local Contrast Enhancement by photo-plugins.com

Another great resource from photo-plugins.com, this Photoshop plugin allows you to accurately increase the contrast without losing too much detail. The effects from this are more representative of an image sharpening plugin rather than a contrast adjustment, but it still works nicely as it can also help clear up any “cloudiness” in your photo. Before-and-after samples are available on their website linked above.

6. Photomatic by Cybia Software

This Photoshop file has 8 different plugins in one, ranging from a night-vision effect to replicating the fast, grainy effects of b/w film. You may not find use for all of the plugins, but it's definitely a great collection to experiment with.

7. Grain Generator by Richard Rosenman

A fully customizable grain producer that also looks fantastic on color images. Richard also has many other free Photoshop plugins on his download page.

8. Hot Pixel by Red Paw Media

If you're a digital photographer, then you've encountered the annoying hot pixels that plague long exposures, especially taken in low-light situations. This handy plugin can automatically detect and remove those hot pixels without having to use your clone stamp or healing brush.

9. Wire Worm by MV's Plugins

Personally, I can't wait to use this plugin. If you have outdoor images spoiled with telephone wires draping across your skyline, then this tool will help you remove them without spending hours with your clone stamp. The best part about this plugin is that it has unlimited undo/redo and advanced color matching for seamless patches.

10 . Plug-In Switch by Cybia Software

With all your new plugins, you need a seamless way to organize them before things get out of control. This plugin is actually an application that organizes your existing plugins by allowing you to disable and enable them with a single click, which will cut down on your PS desktop clutter.

Read more great articles by Christopher O’Donnell at his blog or follow him on Facebook.

About the author

Christopher O'Donnell

I'm a professional landscape photographer living on the coast of Maine. Through my work, I like to show a vantage point that is rarely seen in reality; a show of beauty, emotion, and serenity. Feel free to visit my website.

  • Jeff says:

    I have CS5. Would love to use the virtual photographer plugin, but it’s only compatible up to CS3.

    • Oliver says:

      I have CS5 and virtual photographer works well for me.

      • Morgan says:

        How do you use virtual photographer is CS5? I can’t find it under the filter tab, which is where it is supposed to be, in order to apply any of the plugins to my photos.

        • Bren says:

          Going by several articles I’ve read, Virtual Photographer will run on CS5 on a 32 Bit system. If you’re trying to install VP with CS5 on 64 Bit you’re out of luck,,as am I unfortunately

        • Jason says:

          By default, the plugin is saved to C:\Program Files\Adobe\Photoshop Elements 7.0\Plug-Ins\Filters. If you are using it on CS5, you have to change the dir to C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CS5\Plug-ins\Filters

    • Drew says:

      You should keep a alt copy of photoshop on a old junker just for plugins and stuff. I have every version needed for compatibility. It’s a good guess that you probably have a junker collecting dust 😛

      I set all mine up with virtual access so I don’t even need a screen for them. It’s always good to have for extra storage,older software,version of windows, and the rest of that good stuff ^^ Plus since it’s all on the same network the virtual usage works pretty much flawless.

      As much as we upgrade computers in this day and age it’s good to put the old ones to some use. I hate to throw away computers or sell them for next to nothing.

      I think I might be a junkie I do have about 30 systems in my lab “A crappy plywood table and box fans in the basement” I lug my ass down there once a month or so to clean them up and make sure my damn cat has not been trying to eat the wires.

  • Dave Lundy says:

    Thanks! Now that CS5 has Content Aware Fill & Photoshop Elements 9 has essentially the same function in its Spot Healing Brush, is Wire Worm still needed? I’ve got a few photos that could use Hot Pixel.

  • Ann says:

    Are these plug-ins compatible with Elements (I have PSE7) or just full Photoshop? Particularly interested in the B&W Converter.

  • phil says:

    I’d like to see a similar list of plug-ins that run on Macs. Thanks.

  • Christopher says:

    Hi Dave –

    That really depends on your image…PS5 can work very well in removing it, but like a lot of Photoshop plugins, they’re tweaks and improvements upon existing ones in Photoshop (Photomatix, Noise Ninja, etc.). I’d say stick with your PS and if there’s a lot left to be desired, try out Wire Worm.

    Hi Anne – I don’t know if they’re compatible as I don’t have PSE7, but it wouldn’t hurt to try!

  • Great plugin list! virtualPhotographer plugin works with CS3+ and unfortunately I have CS2.

  • Moira says:

    Can you note where there are PC only tools, that would be a wonderful help to us Mac users. I followed a blog link earlier today to find out the tool was only available on Windoze.

  • Rudi says:

    Agree with Moira, save wasting Mac users time by telling us if any plugin is only windoze… thanks

  • The Ninja says:

    Great list but would be nice if there was a MAC only list. Maybe future post?!

  • Alicia says:

    Any of these work in Elements 9 or 10?

  • Stacey says:

    Is virtual photographer compatible with elements 10?

  • Yaron says:

    There’s a new one just released called export pro

    Its used for multiple layers exporting, in a one click method
    It is still beta but works perfectly

    This plugin is very useful for app and web designers, less for photographersX

  • Gary says:

    if you’re working a lot with user interface, there is this one for CS5
    it will help you export multilayers fast

  • Kenneth says:

    You can download the old Photoshop default plugins too, they where removed from CS5 but they are still very good 🙂 Download here, free and no adware: http://www.savefile.com/download/rxy56/download_photoshop_cs5_plugins.html

  • Judi says:

    Have just downloaded Wireworm but cannot find it under Filers – am using PS6

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  • Maxim says:

    broths. please, keep in mind what there are lot of psd plug-ins which arent more supported with newest photoshop versions. I could recomment to look official adobe plug-ins list on their site https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/kb/plugins.html. this list can save many time for searching and testing

    Also, please, remember, what free plug-ins are great but nobody will spend time and make really qualitative products free. If commercial plug-ins arent suit for your tastes the as an alternative, you can consider shareware plug-ins. There usually are better as free but it is not mandatory to pay for these if you dont want.
    i.e. look at AlphaPNG shareware plug-in (www.alphaplugins.com) as a comparison of free SuperPNG plug-in

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