Fluid Mask 3

Among the most difficult tasks in Adobe Photoshop is separating complex objects from their backgrounds. It can be time-consuming and frustrating to isolate objects like hair, tree branches, or animal fur using Photoshop’s built-in selection and masking features. Fluid Mask 3.0.2, a Photoshop plug-in, can save you time and effort and help you produce natural-looking cut-outs.

Fluid Mask does an excellent job of isolating and cutting out objects that have high contrast or sharp edges from an image background. But the product really shines in difficult situations where foregrounds and backgrounds are similar, or where objects have soft, unfocused edges. Fluid Mask analyzes an image and creates outlines at the edges of areas with distinct color and texture, breaking the image into regions that you can choose to keep or to delete. It also blends image edges to avoid artificial-looking, hard-edged cut-outs. The initial edge analysis occurs automatically and without noticeable delay.

Fluid Mask has become a popular masking tool for designers, graphic artists, and photographers since its initial release (   ). Fluid Mask 3 includes a number of enhancements over its debut version and the subsequent revision. The interface now fills the screen and its tool palette, tool options bar, and panels may look familiar to Photoshop users. The new Color Sampler tool, which selects colors directly from the image, is useful for building masks based on color. The Patch features come in handy for identifying and blending difficult edges in localized problem areas. So, if you’re having trouble outlining an edge in a particular area, you can use the Patch features to analyze that area separately, and to find and blend that portion of the edge.

Vertus is generous with its help and tech support. The company’s Web site offers useful video tutorials and free, live Webcast training with a Fluid Mask expert. A Tips window, integrated into the product Help files, offers contextual information on whatever feature you’re using at the moment. That’s a lot more helpful than opening a general menu and searching through an entire help index. The Fluid Mask manual, which is available both online and from the program’s interface, is a well-written learning and reference tool.

All that help will come in handy, because there is a steep learning curve for applying the product to complicated images. Fluid Mask offers good results, but it is not a one-button tool. Strategizing about the best approach and feature set to use is important when you’re trying to isolate a complex object from its background using Fluid Mask.

Professionals, as well as prosumers who familiarize themselves with the product’s features, will find that Fluid Mask can increase their production efficiency and the quality of their cut-outs. There are other masking plug-ins, like Software’s Mask Pro (   ) and Corel’s KnockOut (   ), on the market. Fluid Mask competes by offering authentic results and enhanced features for complex masking tasks.

Fluid Mask can be used as a standalone application, or installed as a plug-in to Photoshop CS2 or CS3; within Photoshop, the tool is launched from the Filters menu.

Macworld’s buying advice

Fluid Mask 3.0.2 is a very effective tool for separating objects from their backgrounds. It offers a variety of useful features for tackling almost any difficult image, from wispy hair to complex foliage. Online video tutorials and live training sessions help ease the learning curve.

[ Jan Kabili is a Photoshop author and trainer. Her latest movie series is Photoshop CS3 for the Web at lynda.com. ]

On startup, Fluid Mask automatically analyzes the image and outlines its edges, preparing the image for masking.

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