There’s a new masking tool in Photoshop CS5, but so far, I haven’t been able to muster much enthusiasm for it. I pine for the old Extract tool, gone with version CS4. It wasn’t great, but it was easy to use, and it was similar to the other 3rd party masking tools on the market. If you’ve never used it, it was simplicity itself. You draw with three colors: red to mark the stuff to delete, green to indicate what to keep, and blue to mark the boundary between the two. Press the button, and if all goes well, the software figures out where the edge of your subject is, and creates a nice cut-out for you. That’s what Extract used to do, but now it’s gone.
Luckily, Topaz Labs has created what Extract could have become: Remask. I reviewed version 2 back in December 2009 (link). It worked pretty well then, and certainly beat the pants off the other masking software I tested. It was even better than Photoshop’s own Extract (admittedly, not a hard act to beat). Remask3 is out, and they’ve added a few things I noted as missing in version 2. Now it creates a duplicate layer, with a layer mask, automatically. Yea! This means that, once you return from the Remask plugin back to Photoshop, the mask is a layer mask, and you can non-destructively continue to tweak it if you so desire.
As with Remask2, I tested with a particularly nasty (from a masking standpoint) photo of a little boy. The hair at the top of his head is virtually the same color as the background. He has fine, wispy blond hair strands. A real challenge for a masking tool, I’d say. As you can see below, another nice addition is the choice of 2 and 4-pane views. This makes it easy to compare the mask to the original image, for example. You can paint on any of the panes to make changes.Remask3 worked equally well on this image, which is fine, since it did a good job before. What’s new in Remask3 are new tools to handle some tough situations that Remask2 wasn’t quite up to.
Let’s say you have a photo of a tree, with lots of spaces in between the leaves (see below). This is where the new Single Color Selection brush comes in. It works like this: First,click on the Blue Reset button to set the whole image to Blue. Now you begin marking the colors you want to keep. Select the green brush, and the cursor becomes a green eyedropper. Pick a color on the image that you want to keep, and then the eye dropper becomes a green brush. Brush on the image, and wherever it encounters that color (or range of colors, based on a slider), it marks it green. Repeat this until all of the colors you want to keep are marked. Do the same with the Red Single Color Selection brush. Run the Compute function. Areas that are marked wrong can be fixed by continuing to apply the Single Color Selection Brush. It recomputes just the area of your brush stroke, so it is a fast process. (I think of this as the “Many Colors” brush, since it allows you to mark many colors for keeping or deleting.)
The other difficult situation that Remask3 now handles with ease is transparency. A good example is a bridal veil. You need to select the veil itself as “keep,” but you want to “delete” the colors showing through the veil. Remask3 has added the Dual Color Brush to handle this. In Remask terms, “background” is the area to be deleted, and “foreground” is what you’re keeping. To use the Dual Color Brush, you select a foreground color (green — keep) and a backround color (red — delete). Then, the cursor becomes a brush. Brush over the veil, and it marks the area in a new way: it indicates with yellow what has been marked. It also recomputes the brush stroke area, and bingo (if all goes well) you have a transparent mask. It’s really a very sophisticated selection, and one that would be darn near impossible to create manually.
The Dual Color Brush is also useful when creating a mask over wispy hair. Some areas of hair are practically like a veil, with tiny areas of background showing through. For this, you tell Remask3 what’s what with the new Dual Color Brush. This works well when you’re trying to get Remask to reveal a thin strand of hair. Select a hair color as foreground, a background color as, well, background, and stroke over the stray hair. The hair is now visible in the mask. This is shown clearly in this fine 12 minute video put together by Topaz. Click on the image to watch it.
I used both the Dual Color Brush and the Single Color Brush to create a mask of this photo of a girl with fly-away hair. The image I used was probably too low a resolution (600 pixels wide at 72ppi) to test properly. The strands of hair weren’t defined very sharply, understandably. But you can get an idea of how well it works from this, I hope. The video, left, is well worth watching, to see how it’s done by someone who actually knows what they’re doing.
One last thing I want to mention is the excellent documentation and tutorials Topaz offers for their products. There are some excellent videos, like the one linked to above, and the user manual is clear and to the point. Learning new software is not usually so easy. Topaz Remask3 is available from Topaz Labs for $69.99. If you click on the box image below to purchase, you’ll help support this site. (Disclosure: Digital Image Magazine is a Topaz affiliate, and does earn a percentage of sales that originate from the site.)