So the Nik Collection is now available to download free of charge from Google. But can it be used standalone, ie without buying Photoshop or Lightroom?

I know they are usually described as 'plugins' or 'filters' for Photoshop etc, but can it be used on its own (on Windows)? Or can it be used along with other (free) software, eg GIMP or RawTherapee?

Would it actually be useful as standalone software? Is there any limitations to doing this.


4 Answers 4


Yes they can, but there are some significant caveats. Although they can be run alone, the plugins were not designed to be used as a standalone application.

If you have the folder with the executable file (NOT the plugin file) for a specific Nik suite plugin open on your desktop and drag a jpeg or tiff file and drop it onto the executable file (NOT into a window where you have opened the executable file) a window with the plugin will open with the photo loaded. Note that none of the Nik plugins support raw files. When you use Nik as a plugin the host application must convert the raw files to either jpeg or tiff before sending them to the Nik plugin.

If you installed the Nik plugins to the default location in Windows the executable (.exe) files for each module should be at the following location where each module's executable will be nested within the folder for that module. The executable for Color Efex Pro 4 will be found at "...Program Files→ Google → Nik Collection → Color Efex Pro 4 → Color Efex Pro 4 (64-bit) → Color Efex 4.exe"

You can drag multiple files and drop them on the Nik executable file and it will open with all of them loaded but only one visible. You can navigate from one to the next using the forward and back arrows but there is no way to view all of them in thumbnails.

Other than HDR Efex Pro 2 there are no menus in the top left corner! Proceed With Caution! Anytime you hit the Save button near the bottom of the window your original files that you dragged and dropped into the Nik module's executable file will be overwritten!!! It's a very good idea to make backup copies of your originals and use them instead!

Anytime you hit Save the changes will be written to the original file and then the window will close. To work on another file you will need to drag another file and drop it on the executable file. If you loaded multiple images you can work on each of them and then press the Save All button at the bottom and all of the files will be overwritten with the changes and then the window will close. Once again, if you have loaded multiple files and made any adjustments to them, when the Save All button is pressed all of them will be overwritten, not just the one currently displayed in the window.

The HDR Efex Pro Module does have a few menu options and you can open it in a stand alone window and load images using the "File --> Open Exposure series" command. You can also "Save As" (create a new file with the changes) or "Save" (overwrite the original file) in the HDR Efex Pro module.

With Nikon's Capture NX-D application you can also use the "Open with" option to have Capture NX-D generate a Tiff file with your current edits to an .nef file and send it to the Nik apps.

For more please see:

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ To add to this, the plugins are far better used within a Lightroom, Aperture, or Photoshop workflow; through the latter is by far the best as you get full access to the Nik plugin as a Smart Object, meaning not only can you use it as a layer, any change you make is fully reversible. As a standalone app, it loses most of its non-destructive advantages. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 26, 2016 at 20:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ And how do you open an image for Sharpener Pro 3 (64-Bit) just like you mentioned for Color Efex Pro 4 ? Is it really not possible to use Nik collection as independent software ? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 12:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Slimshadddyyy You drag the tiff or jpeg you want to work on over the executable file and drop it there for any of the Nik collection's various modules. The executable for Sharpener Pro 3 would be located at something like "...Program Files--> Google --> Nik Collection --> Sharpener Pro 3 --> Sharpener Pro 3 (64-bit) --> Sharpener Pro 3.exe" \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 15:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelClark, the .exe file path is valid, but I do not see any option to upload image. How do I I upload/add image for sharpener pro 3 ? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 5:25
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Slimshadddyyy As is mentioned in the above answer, you do not open the executable file and then drag your .tif or .jpg into the window. That will not work. You need to drag the photo you wish to edit over the listing for the executable file and drop the photo onto the file itself. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 9:34

If you use Gimp, you could use ShellOut plugin to export it.

  1. Install the plugin from GIMP registry
  2. Configure the plugin for Nik using the script
  3. Find the plugin in Filters/Shellout
  4. Export the layer to Google Nik.

For detailed instructions see - http://dejoe.tumblr.com/post/141782126039/using-google-nix-collection-with-gimp

The script given above is for 32-bit. For 64 bit the folder structure is different.


Photoshop plugins are written to fit an API published by Adobe, so it is possible for other applications to expose/use that same API.

Also, Nik include a rudimentary frontend (with a few more options for HDR Efex Pro) and the executables can be launched directly. Michael's answer has more detail on how to do it and it is a very 'awkward' and potentially destructive workflow to put it mildly.

There are instructions on how to use Photoshop plugins in GIMP if you search. But bear in mind that Gimp 2.8 (the current version) is some time away from 16-bit/channel support and when released is likely to be problematic with things like plugins. None of the packages support a fully non-destructive editing behaviour features which Photoshop offers (like smart objects which allow users to go back and adjust settings easily).

It's a similar story with Paint.Net which only had 8-bit support last I checked.

I couldn't find an API or instructions for RawTherapee at all which suggest it's probably not possible to integrate directly today.

Capture NX-D does seem to offer some workflow advantages (by converting raw content to 16-bit tiff and making it available to the Nik plugins) but it's still a world away from the way Nik intended them to be used.

TL;DR - You can in theory, but in practice doing so is likely to yield poor quality output, not straightforward and arguably pointless for any reasonable volumes of work.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Those who use them as without Adobe products or Aperture (now defunct) probably don't consider their results pointless. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 22:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ gimp versions don't work that way. 16-bit depth has been already added in 2.9.2 (odd-numbered "unstable" version) and they are working on another features, 2.9.x will be released as 2.10 when everything is finished. \$\endgroup\$
    – szulat
    Commented Mar 26, 2016 at 9:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @szulat - thanks for that, I have to say I never really cared for gimp that much so I never really looked at their versioning. The fact remains that at the moment to use the Nik plugins with anything other than photoshop/lightroom is still hobbling a tool that is built to work with non-destructive editing, 16-bit colour support and a bunch of other features... looking at Michael's answer I just can't think of a good reason why anyone would want to work in such a hostile software environment/ui. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 26, 2016 at 11:07
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It looks like the latest versions of Nikon's Capture NX-D will also generate a TIFF that includes any edits you have made to an .nef and export it to Nik apps when using the "Open with" function in Capture NX-D" photo.net/nikon-camera-forum/00chMJ \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 11:18
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't agree that it is "not a great idea" if one doesn't have the Adobe options available. It's a workable solution if one takes the appropriate precaution to back up the original images. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 22:22

They can run stand-alone. They accept command line parameter pointing to a file you want to edit. You can also drag&drop photo files onto the plugin executables.

The HDR Efex Pro 2 has a unique behaviour in that it saves result in 'My Pictures' folder under the original file's name with a "_HDR" prefix. The other plugins save changes directly over the original file, which is why it is wise to make a working copy beforehand.

Also Viveza 2 has a unique feature in that it works properly with PNG files. Other plugins all open PNG files for me, but do not save them.

Alternatively you can use a small GUI utility for working with Nik plugins on WIndows and on Linux (under wine): https://nik4nix.sourceforge.io

The program is free and open-source. It creates working copy automatically when you open a file, it handless the different behavior of HDR Efex Pro 2 (decribed above) automatically, and it helps you to manage versions of your file when you move from applying one effect to another and between plugins.

Some screens:

main program window

program running on Ubuntu under wine

program window with history of edits with Nik plugins as thumbnails (on the right)


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