Since the dawn of Photoshop, users have spent countless hours in their quests to remove subjects from backgrounds in photos. For almost as long, companies have been offering software that promises to perform the pixelated exorcism in a fast and painless manner. Often the software solution turns out to be only a little better than the manual method. So it was with a little skepticism that I began evaluating the Photoshop plug-in by Vertus called Fluid Mask 3. It’s described by the company as the “#1 Still Image Cutout Tool,” and after working with it for a few weeks, it appears the third generation of this plug-in offers major improvements over Fluid Mask 2.
Most selection software requires the user to draw an outline or select the colors of the subject to be selected. When you launch Fluid Mask either from Photoshop as a plug-in or as a standalone application, it detects all of the edges in the image, giving the appearance that it has converted your photo into a paint-by-numbers painting (no kidding). Using the tools, you can quickly select the background and the program offers the option to automatically ll in the foreground. Like all software I test, I installed it and jumped right in to see if I could figure it out without reading the documentation.
The first time I used Fluid Mask (version 2), I immediately closed the software and returned to the excellent tutorials and documentation provided on the Vertus website. When I wrote this review, there were only two tutorials that had been updated for version 3, but the existing version 2 tutorials explained the essentials. Fluid Mask 3 takes advantage of multicore processor architectures to noticeably speed up the startup time as it automatically performs the initial edge detection. “The devil is in the details” is an expression that was surely made by someone attempting to isolate the subject from the background.
To that end, Fluid Mask has added or improved a variety of tools to make this tedious job of defining and blending edges even faster and easier. Once a rough selection is made, Fluid Mask allows you to isolate edge detection and blending operations to specific areas using Patches (called Regions in version 2). My favorite is the Review Cut tool that allows you to view the results instantly by dragging the tool over the image. This instant feedback is essential when isolating stray hairs and fine detail. Fluid Mask has intelligence built into the edge detection that determines which edges should be hard and which require softer blending.
All aspects of the edge detection and blending operations are configurable. Fluid Mask allows selection by color, which is a godsend for anyone who needs to replace an overcast sky in a landscape with another one. In all, Fluid Mask 3 is a powerful application that can get the job done after you master it.
The truth is it takes time to become familiar with the different tools and options. (Hey, you didn’t learn Photoshop in a day.) You’ll also have to allow some time to develop proficiency with Fluid Mask. Following the tutorials, you can do simple cutouts in a few minutes; executing exotic cutouts with hair flying in the breeze will take longer. Or perhaps get a adobe photoshop download for mac to try things out every now and then.
Vertus offers a fully functional demo version available from their website.