Vertus has released version 3 of its Fluid Mask masking software, which runs as a plug-in for Photoshop -- or, for the first time with this new release -- as a standalone application.

Fluid Mask 3 offers a more effective edge detection system, according to Vertus. The unique Smart Blending function has been improved by the addition of a slider, which enables the user to seamlessly switch between Smart Blending and standard feather blending.

New complex edge and special hair blending algorithms automatically cut out tricky edges and difficult areas of hair, says Vertus. These includes highlights and hair with wide colour differences, such as black hair next to white hair against a grey background.

Vertus says that Fluid Mask 3 boasts improvements to the initial image processing time, enabling users who are operating multiple processors to realize increased speeds up to 40 per cent faster than the previous versions. The result is a quicker transition from a base image editing program, such as Adobe Photoshop, into Fluid Mask.

The Color Workspace palette now includes a Color Sampler, which enables users to select specific colours from an image and see where else within that image the same colour appears. The Color Workspace gains a new 2D colour map for more accurate colour selection.

Patches can be selected in Fluid Mask 3 with a highlighting brush tool rather than relying on a standard box shaped patch. Once a Patch has been selected, users can call up the most popular editing options with a simple right click of the mouse. In the same way, localized edge blending techniques are used in Patches to overcome common problems such as masking hair and complex coloured foregrounds and backgrounds. Fluid Mask 3 contains a new pressure sensitivity control that can regulate brush size.

Fluid Mask 3 costs £159 plus VAT. It's available for Windows XP & Vista and Mac Intel and Power PC 10.3.9 upwards, with the plug-in running under Photoshop CS2 and CS3.