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© Vincent Oliver 2006

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Fluid Mask 2.0
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Fluid Mask 2.0 review

When I started out as a professional photographer the item that was high on my purchase list was a background projection system. This expensive hardware allowed you to photograph a person in a well lit studio and drop in any background image. The effect was supposed to look like they were actually on a sunny Barbados beach or other location, the trouble was that it never really looked that convincing. Needless to say I never did get around to buying the setup, but ironically I was offered one very recently at a bargain price - I passed on the offer as better solutions are now available at a fraction of the cost.

The single thing that I like most about digital photography is being able to cut out an object or person and place them in a new photograph. Depending on your software, cutting out and masking skills, you can produce a very accurate cut out and still retain the finest of hair detail. An item of software that recently came to my attention was Vertus Fluid Mask 2.0, a Photoshop plug in that allows you to quickly create very complex masks. The software is available for both Mac OSX and Windows XP. Let's put this software through some tough tests and see how it compares to some other offerings.

The interface

Fluid Mask is launched from the Filters menu in Photoshop and opens up on top of your desktop - Photoshop is minimised. This of course leaves all your desktop patterns, icons etc or other open applications as a distracting backdrop, it's a pity that Vertus could not have minimised all applications or better still apply a neutral backdrop (see right hand screen shot below).

Too many distractions for default display
A neutral background would be a better choice

Before launching Fluid Mask you should create a duplicate working layer of your image, this gives you room for error, just in case....... The image is analyzed by Fluid Mask and after a few seconds appears in the Fluid Mask interface looking like a "Painting by Numbers" picture, this is actually breaking the image down into regions of contiguous colours for easier mask creation. This is an automated action which takes a few seconds depending on the complexity of image being processed.

Our test shot
Areas of similar colour/texture are created

The next stage is to define what is background and what is subject matter. The tool palette has a series of Delete (Red ) and Keep (Green) brushes. Take the centre Red Local brush and dab into an area of background and it will be highlighted with a red mask.

The Delete area has been defined using the Delete Local brush

Next use the Green Local brush to define the Keep areas or select Auto Fill, this is your basic mask which on our sample image took about 20 seconds to complete. The area segments can be turned off to reveal the Delete and Keep areas. The blue line defines the transition area, this is where the real magic begins.

Delete and Keep areas are defined
The blue line is the transition area

The area under the blue line, is the important bit, this is where East meets West and the two are blended together to give the appearance of a smooth cut out, rather than a kids scissor job.

Pressing the bottom button on the tool palette creates an instant cut out which can be seen on the windows Output tab, you can also view your cut out on a custom background colour by clicking on the colour swatch. There is no facility to load a background image, which would have been useful. You can return to the Workspace by clicking on the center tab and then make any further adjustments if needed, you can also alter the opacity of the Delete and Keep colours, there is also a facility to change these to a colour of your choice in the preferences. The last tab, Source, shows the original image.

Source Tab
Workspace tab with opacity set to full
Output tab and custom colour
Output tab and transparency

Turn to the next page to see samples


27 May, 2006

© Vincent Oliver 2008 www.photo-i.co.uk
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