By Neil Bennett | on October 15, 2007
Pros: Fastest, most accurate cut-out tool available. New Color Workspace
Cons: No path creation. Standalone version can output only PNGs.
As every creative knows, cut-outs are a pain. Extracting objects from backgrounds by hand is one of those mundane jobs that takes time that could be spent more creatively.
Fluid Mask automates the creation of cut-outs, an area where it faces strong competition from the likes of OnOne’s Mask Pro 4.1 and Digital Anarchy’s Primatte 3 for Photoshop.
It’s also up against Photoshop CS3 itself, which added the Quick Selection tool – although this is simply one step up from the original Magic Wand.
The original image.
Fluid Mask runs as a plug-in for Photoshop, as well as a standalone application. Using it as a standalone application is suited to creating a large number of cut-outs, as Fluid Mask runs faster without Photoshop running beneath it. However, it can output only PNGs, so further processing is necessary before use in production. Even as a Photoshop plug-in, Fluid Mask 3.0 is noticeably faster than the previous version.
There are three main toolsets for creating cut-outs within Fluid Mask 3.0. As before, the software will create a web of similarly-coloured areas that you can select areas that you want to keep or remove in a ‘painting-by-numbers’ fashion, best for objects with hard edges. For intricate details such as hair, you can paint areas as ‘keep’, ‘remove’ and ‘blend’, with it working out the detail in the ‘blend’ area.
Working in Fluid Mask 3.0
The latest version of Fluid Mask adds the Color Workspace, which allows you to keep or remove pixels based on shade. It gives you a graph or colour map of two properties selected from hue, lightness, saturation, red, green or blue. You can then draw on areas to keep, remove or blend.
The Color Workspace provides an excellent way to touch up areas that are too small or fiddly to do using Fluid Mask’s other tools, or even manually.
The new Patch tool lets you mark out areas and work on them without affecting the rest of the image. Patches allows you to work on nooks and crannies and tufts of hair individually without ruining the rest of your image.
The final composition
For example, when cutting out a full-length shot of a person, you’d use the ‘painting-by-numbers’ technique for their clothes, then use the Patch tool to paint on their hair. Then use Patches to fine tune problem areas.
However, while the rest of the interface has been moved to a CS3-style panel structure, the Color Workspace and Patch controls are in floating palettes that often get in the way. It also doesn’t run as a Smart Filter – a hindrance when you need to go back and change a cut-out after seeing how it interacts with other elements of your composition. Now it can produce paths instead of alpha channels, which can be a timesaver for designers.
Fluid Mask 3 is the best cut-out tool on the market. It’s just as adept at producing cut-outs of simple objects such as product photos as it is at helping you create better compositions from intricate images with hair and similarly coloured foreground and background.