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Scripts vs Extensions vs Plugins

Scripts vs Extensions vs Plugins

If you're looking to buy or develop a 3rd party tool for an Adobe app like After Effects, Premiere Pro, or Photoshop, you'll often see these three terms thrown around: Scripts, Extensions, and Plugins.

They're not a one-size-fits all, while there are some similarities, they have some important differences. Having a basic grasp on these differences will help you find what you need to either buy or develop for your team.

SCRIPTS

Scripts for Adobe apps including After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, and others are the simplest form of programming in these applications with code. They are best suited for one-time functions, and simplified user interfaces, also known as Script UI. Scripts are written in Adobe's custom flavor of an older ES3 JavaScript called ExtendScript. Scripts are typically stored in .jsx or .jsxbin files.

If all you need is to automate a few consistent tasks to save your team on their number of clicks, scripts are perfect for this. One thing to note is that scripts are not available in all Adobe apps, for instance Premiere Pro does not have scripts, only extensions.

If you're interested in writing your own scripts, check out our post on Building Adobe Scripts.

Script Examples:

EXTENSIONS

Extensions, aka CEP Panels, are like scripts with superpowers. They can do everything scripts can do and more. They can automate tasks in the application via the same ExtendScript language as scripts, but extensions come with a front-end modern JavaScript layer that can use any user interface that a modern website can. This opens the possibilities for tools requiring more complex UI's, and allows modern state-management frameworks like React, Vue, or Svelte to be used as well.

Additionally, extensions run on Node.js, which unlocks the ability to include a multitude of libraries to achieve practically any workflow. Extensions are typically packaged in .zxp files and installed with a ZXP installer.

If you're interested in writing your own extensions, check out our post on Building Adobe Extensions.

Extension Examples:

It's important to note that CEP extensions are in the process of being replaced with UXP extensions, which no longer use the antiquated ExtendScript language, but instead use modern JavaScript on the frontend and backend. At the time of this writing, Photoshop and XD are the only apps that run UXP panels, with the rest lined up next.

PLUGINS

Plugins are the most powerful yet most complicated of the three. While they can typically perform most workflow functions that scripts or extensions can, they are mainly used if you are looking to create an effect for After Effects or Premiere Pro that modifies the actual pixels being rendered, something that scripts and extensions cannot do. Plugins can also be used to add compatibility for media formats not supported natively in Adobe apps, add custom buttons to existing menus, and add even add entire render engines.

Plugins are written in C++ and compiled with Adobe's provided SDKs for Visual Studio on Windows and Xcode on Mac. Since developing and maintaining C++ plugins typically take much longer to develop and maintain, unless your project requires them, extensions or scripts make for a more flexible development process.

Plugin Examples:

Comparison

Here's a side by side comparison of each:

ScriptsExtensionsPlugins
LanguageExtendScriptJavaScript + ExtendScriptC++
Fast DevelopmentYesYesNo
Automate TasksYesYesYes
Change Pixels (Effects)NoNoYes
Format.jsx, .jsxbin.zxp.aex, .plugin

FAQs

Still a bit confused on which type of tool you need? Here's a few common Q&As:

-

I just need to automate a couple clicks to avoid repetition in my workflow, what should I use?

Script is the answer! As long as the application supports scripts, like After Effects or Photoshop, scripts are the perfect solution to enhance predictable areas of your workflow.

-

I just need a UI with simple buttons and text fields, what should I use?

Script again is the answer! The ScriptUI library contains all the most common UI components you'll need regularly such as buttons, text fields, treeviews and more.

-

I want my tool to look slick with a custom UI like a website, what should I choose?

Extension is what you're looking for! The frontend layer of CEP extensions is modern JavaScript so you can build your own UI or use an premade solution like Google's Material UI or Adobe Spectrum along with a modern front-end framework of your choice like React, Vue, or Svelte.

-

My tool needs to communicate over the internet or be updated from online sources, what should I use?

Extension it is again! Since extensions are written in modern JavaScript, you can use any number of modern web communications including Fetch API or WebSockets depending on your needs.

-

I want to create an effect for Premiere or After Effects that I can adjust my footage with, what should I use?

Plugins are the way! This is simple since C++ plugins are the only option for creating effects.