Topaz Labs is primarily known for their low-priced alternative to the $600 Lucis Art filter. It’s called Topaz Adjust, and sells for a mere $50. Now Topaz has released the second version of Remask, their low-price alternative to the overpriced masking tools on the market, and it looks like a real category killer. It’s incredibly fast, easy to use (once you figure it out), and dirt cheap compared to everything else out there: Topaz Remask 2 is $69.99. This review will show how Remask 2 stands up to several alternative masking tools, including those delivered with Photoshop and Vertus Fluid Mask 3. We’ll finish up with a quick-start guide, so you can download the trial version and get right to work.
Our test photo is a masking nightmare, as you can see above. The top of the boy’s head seems to merge with the dun-colored background, so that it’s very hard to tell one from the other. In addition, there are single flyaway hairs. To begin our masking adventure, let’s first use Photoshop out of the box. We’ll use a technique called channel masking (which I don’t have time to go into today, but suffice to say it uses one of the color channels to build a mask). Basically, we use this technique to create a mask using the image itself. This is a method taught by Photoshop god Deke McClelland and Photoshop diva (that’s her official title) Katrin Eismann. As you will see, it’s not quite up to this particular challenge. Here’s the best I could come up with.
The other Photoshop method we’ll look at is the Extract filter (which Adobe unfortunately dropped from CS4). As we’ll see, you use Topaz Remask 2 very much like you do (or did) Extract: just draw an outline to tell the software where the edge of your mask goes. Easy as pie. Luckily, Topaz’s version does a much better job than Adobe’s (below).
A while back, I invested well over $200 in a masking tool called Fluid Mask 3, from Vertus. Perhaps the fault lies with me, but the fact remains I’ve never been able to use Fluid Mask effectively. For a difficult image such as this one, Fluid Mask requires about six steps. The work flow is completely unlike anything else, and the learning curve is steep. If you are a serious professional retouch artist, you may find it to be a powerful tool. For someone like me, who only turns to a masking tool occasionally, it wasn’t a good fit at all. Here’s my pitiful results using Vertus Fluid Mask 3.
As you can see in the image at the top of this review, Topaz Remask 2 gives a much better result than anything else we’ve tried here. And it took less time–by far–than any of these methods. Here’s how it works. Remask 2 lives in your plugins folder, and you access it via Filter > Topaz Labs > Topaz Remask 2. But you’ll want to duplicate your background layer before getting started. If you don’t, you’ll get an error message. (Hopefully Topaz will change this so that it works more like the Nik Filters, creating a duplicate layer with a layer mask automatically). Drag your Background down to the Duplicate Layer icon in the Layers palette, and then click on the Layer Mask icon in the Layers palette. It should look like this.
Make sure your Background Copy layer is active (click it to highlight it). NOW go ahead and start up Topaz Remask, from the Filter menu. When Remask first appears, you’ll see your image with a green cast to it. Down in the bottom left, you’ll see a drop-down called “Menu.” When one of the choices under Menu is the User Manual, but it doesn’t seem to work on my Mac Pro. So, here you are, scratching your head, wondering what to do. And that’s a shame, really, since the program is so darned easy to use. Perhaps they could add a little button that brings up some brief text (or a video) showing how to get started. In lieu of that, here’s my quick start guide.
Though Remask is very similar to Photoshop’s Extract tool, it starts by applying a “keep” color (green) to the entire image, and that may throw you. First you’ll mark the dividing line, in blue, between the keep portions and the delete portions. Use the blue paintbrush, as indicated.
Next, click on the red bucket icon, as shown below. Click anywhere in the “delete” (background) area. It fills with red.
Now click on the compute button. I choose the “High Quality” setting, since my image is only 1MB. In about two seconds, it’s done. Click on the Mask tab (shown below) to see the mask you just created. Not too shabby!
If you’re happy with the mask, just click OK, and you’ll find your image file has been updated. Now the layer mask has your selection mask in it. Using a layer mask this way is non-destructive, and allows you to keep working on the mask to refine it. However, there is a Magic Brush option available to you within Remask, once it has processed the initial Compute. You’ll see the checkbox become available. By using the green and red brushes in Magic Brush mode, you can explicitly tell Remask where to clean up the mask. One other adjustment you can make is to the edge hardness, which is like a feathering control.
There are some Remask 2 tutorials available on the Topaz site, but the product is so simple, I hope the above will be all you need to get going. Overall, it’s a great product, and performs nearly miraculously, even in the worst situations. If you’re looking for an easy and fast masking tool that won’t break the bank, give the free trial a spin. I think you’ll like it.