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Fluid Mask's standard settings will complete the vast majority of a mask with little effort.
Adobe Photoshop CS2 has a dirty little secret: Its native masking techniques aren't all that complete.
For the uninitiated, a mask in an imaging application such as Photoshop protects specific areas of your image. Photoshop CS2's approach to complex background masking leaves much to be desired. And although masking is greatly improved in Photoshop CS3, if you don't plan to upgrade right away, you'd be wise to consider Vertus's Fluid Mask 2.0, a Photoshop plug-in that takes a sensible and straightforward approach to masking.
Compared to Photoshop's native masking techniques, Fluid Mask offers multiple sets of tools applicable to different tasks. The Delete Local and Keep Local brushes are essentially uncomplicated color blockers, and in our experience, the tools that are used the most. When you specify which colors to keep and which to delete, all contiguous areas that contain those colors are masked off. The advantage of these tools over the Magic Wand in Photoshop is that rather than blocking the color selection and automatically deleting or keeping it, the selection is just masked. This unlocks creative possibilities, such as duplicating the mask into a pattern, or tightening the crop should any loose pixels still be apparent.
Wanna make a Photoshopper cower in a corner? Ask her to remove the background from a head shot of Robert Smith, lead singer of the Cure, or from a photo of someone else with big, crazy hair. Complex masking tasks that involve hair or color blends have traditionally been the Photoshop job of doom. These laborious, time-consuming tasks usually involve Photoshop's Pen tool. Fluid Mask approaches these jobs with relish, utilizing its Keep Global and Delete Global options. Though much the same as Keep Local and Delete Local, they each work by masking off noncontiguous layers of an image that share similar attributes. The results are stunning. Fluid Mask turns a half-hour job into a matter of a few clicks.
The Local and Global tools are designed as the start of any complex masking procedure. Like Corel's KnockOut ($99.99, www.corel.com), Fluid Mask is a two-part masking system: Do the rough basics with the standard presets, then use the tidy-up tools for your final mask output. Of these, the Keep Extract and Delete Extract tools are brilliant, allowing you to specify exact areas of an image to keep or dump. The Smooth tool works in a similar manner and is truly excellent for rounding off edges. Finally, the Clean and Force Edge tools enable you to scan final images for stray pixels or final boundaries that might share the same color.
The bottom line. Despite a somewhat steep learning curve, Fluid Mask is intuitive and produces magnificent results in a short amount of time. Competitors such as KnockOut and Digital Film Tools' EZ Mask ($150, www.digitalfilmtools.com) may be cheaper and easier to use, but Fluid Mask 2.0 has them beaten in the results department. And that's where it counts.
REQUIREMENTS: 833MHz G4 or faster, Mac OS 10.2.8 or later, 512MB RAM, Photoshop 7.0 or later
Excellent results. Intuitive workspace and GUI. Multiple undo levels and masking options.
Steep learning curve. Requires a lot of RAM for big images. More expensive than competitors.