Filter effects like Auto FX Software’s Mystical Tint Tone & Color can be helpful to several different types of photographers. One type of user that will find them helpful is the casual photographer who doesn’t need or want Photoshop. Photoshop has a relatively steep learning curve but with Mystical Tint Tone & Color any PC user can be applying effects within an hour or two of installation. Filter effects can also be useful to the new Photoshop user who is still learning his or her way around the software. Since the application is available as a plugin you can jump from Photoshop to Mystical TT & C and then back to Photoshop for any further edits. And preset effects can be useful for the more advanced Photoshop user for those times when you know a photo needs something but you’re just not sure what. By playing around with the various filters you can often get good ideas.
I tried out Mystical Tint Tone & Color as a Photoshop plugin and found it to work for me as a source of ideas to spark my creativity. And even when I had a good idea of the direction I wanted to take an image I found that sometimes I could get there more quickly with Mystical TT&C. Effects that might require two or three adjustment layers in Photoshop can sometimes be accomplished with a single MTT&C effect. And the effect comes prepackaged so that you don’t have to figure out which combination of Photoshop adjustments will get you the desired effect. A nice feature is that you can layer multiple effects and adjust the opacity of each one to arrive at an overall desired effect.
Some effects require you to brush on the effect to the desired parts of your image while other effects are applied uniformly to the overall image. Still other effects give you a choice between painting on or applying globally.
Although I found Mystical Tint Tone & Color to be a helpful tool for discovering and applying creative effects I have to say I also found it to be quirky and not easy to learn. One problem is that the effects don’t have previews. You have to guess what the effect will be like based on its description. Some effects do have presets (i.e., preset combinations of settings for a given effect) and those presets do have previews. If you hover your mouse over the sample image for a preset you can see before and after previews. But you don’t see a preview for your image. Instead, you see a preview for some random sample photo. And the Preset menu is separate from the Effect selection menu and both require a rather tedious process of drilling down a couple of levels each time you want to add an effect or preset.
Another odd feature of Mystical Tint Tone & Color is the Zoom tool—there is no way to tell what level you’re currently zoomed into. The zoom tool has certain preset zoom levels and clicking/Alt-clicking will zoom in/out to these levels but there is no display that tells you when you’re at 50%, 100% or whatever. In addition, you can’t zoom to any arbitrary level, say, 78%, for example. You’re stuck with the preset zoom levels.
Learning & Support
As mentioned above, I found the software to be a bit difficult to learn. One problem is that the user interface has the feel of an older application which is sorely in need of being updated. Another problem is the lack of resources for learning. I couldn’t find a manual of any kind. The installer creates a folder in the Windows Start menu and that folder includes a menu item titled Online Manual but clicking the link just takes you to the product sales/marketing page.
The Auto FX Software website does have a page with a dozen training videos but, with only one exception, they are only 1-2 minutes long so you can’t learn a lot from them. In addition, none of these videos addresses the overall user interface. They only discuss specific effects.
Also, of concern is the apparent lack of technical support. There is a Support link on the website but it just provides access to the training videos. I couldn’t find a web page with a support form or a technical support email address.
Photoshop Integration Problems
Another problem with Mystical Tint Tone & Color is that it doesn’t provide support for Photoshop Smart Objects. I love using this feature with other filters like the Google Nik Software suite but missed it in Mystical. When you apply a Nik filter to a Smart Object you have the ability to reopen the filter later and see what settings you used and make further adjustments. But Mystical TT & C’s inability to work with Smart Objects results in a destructive workflow. Furthermore, it doesn’t even create a new layer for you. You have to remember to do that yourself before applying the filter.
I found Mystical TT & C’s performance to be acceptable for smaller photos. Speed varies depending on the effect but I found there was typically a delay of a few seconds when applying an effect to a 2 MB photo. However, for larger photos of around 20 MB the processing time can become significant. The Darken & Sharpen effect took over 20 sec. for a 20 MB file; the High Key Blast effect took almost as long. These times were obtained on my desktop PC with an Intel Core i7 940 3 GHz CPU with 12 GB memory on Windows 7 x64; system disk is a Kingston 256 GB SSD.
These delays can become problematic because each change to a filter setting entails waiting through the entire recalculation period. Having to wait for 20 sec. each time I tried to fine-tune an effect started to become frustrating.
Full price for the Mystical Tint Tone & Color package of 60 effects is $249; they currently have a 26% discount code posted on their website. This price seems high compared with other software like Topaz photoFXlab (“over 500 effects” for $79.99) or onOne Software’s Perfect Effects 8 ($99.99 for the premium edition).
Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of Mystical Tint Tone & Color Gen 1 from Auto FX Software.