Skin Retouching Plug-In

Digital Anarchy recently updated its Beauty Box plug-in for Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, and Aperture. It's touted as an "easy and powerful way of smoothing out skin and removing blemishes." That's somewhat true. As for removing blemishes, this doesn't. It will smooth the areas affected by the mask, but actual blemishes will need to be removed before applying the filter.

The Beauty Box masking algorithm does a decent job of automatically detecting skin tones to do a quick smoothing job with just a couple of clicks. There are tools to adjust the mask, but they work a bit too much like the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop—selecting pixels based on similarity of hue/lightness, many of which you probably don't want in your skin mask (like hair or lip colors), with no way to subtract from the mask. There are great ideas here—sliders for smoothing, shine reduction, sharpening, texture—but there's way too much room for user error. There are only a few points on each slider that provide good results, and a twitch on either side of that golden zone creates overly airbrushed results, or worse—scaly, super-textured skin. Cool for an effect, maybe, but rarely necessary in beauty applications.

There are 34 presets, a half dozen of which I can't imagine anyone ever using. And the few you might actually use are buried in alphabetical order (please move these up top, Digital Anarchy). Even using the sample images provided by Digital Anarchy, the results are just okay. For a studio or lab with hundreds of images to process per day or week, Beauty Box could serve as an affordable tool to speed along skin smoothing, but for a designer or professional portrait photographer, I would probably suggest other avenues.

Company: Digital Anarchy
Price: $99
Rating: 2
Hot: Affordable; decent auto-masks; simple interface
Not: Few useful presets; much room for error; lacks control