Any digital image artist has experienced the tedium of
creating a mask - no, not for Hallowe'en! As an example,
creating and using a mask within an image editor allows
an artist to remove digitally a distracting background.
If the foreground and background are easily discerned,
then the job is comparatively easy. However, consider the
concentration, effort and time necessary to mask the
brightly backlit long hair of a model - perhaps your
worst nightmare. Another scenario: images that lack
contrast between subject and background are tedious to
separate but would yield readily using these filters.
Rushing in to save you are two surrealistic image editor
Extensis Mask Pro
To use version 1.0 you must first create a target
layer for the mask by adding a layer (actually, one of
several options) to the Photoshop image. Then create the
mask by building two palettes; using eyedropper tools
choose the colours (or range of colours) that you wish to
retain for one palette and those that you wish to discard
for the other. You can also define the colour tolerance
and multiple sets of colours; each one could contain
multiple definitions. Flexibility is the order: switch
sets on and off or use more than one at a time. Another
reviewer suggested defining many sets - each containing
only a few colours - and switching among the sets to
address different areas of the image. To refine the mask
you have an array of auxiliary tools (including, for
example, a Spray Gun and a Magic Wand) that are "clones"
of their Photoshop counterparts. Once completed, the
filter - in this paradigm actually a layer - is applied
to the image.
Granted, there is somewhat more to the procedure than
this; however, the tedium has decreased precipitously.
Mask Pro is not a stand-alone program. Although the
Adobe standard for plugins is integrated into a wide
range of programs - for example, Corel PhotoPaint version
8 and Paint Shop Pro version 5 - according to Extensis'
literature Mask Pro will initialize only with Adobe
Photoshop, version 3.0.5 or later.
Visit Extensis at their web site: www.extensis.com for
Chroma Graphics' Magic Mask
Chroma Graphics (www.chromagraphics.com)
offers a less expensive alternate: MagicMask. At $100 (US)
it is one-third the price of Extensis' offering and is
compatible with any application that supports the Adobe
Plugin standard. Instead of "keep and drop palettes"
the MagicMask paradigm uses a color brush. Sweep the
brush across an area to make a selection of colours
automatically; unswept areas represent the raw material
to exclude. A range slider can be used to expand or
contract the selected range and allows fine-tuning of
hue, saturation and value. Also included is a tool to
create variable density masks; it responds to a colour's
Now, I am not an expert. That said, I found that both
tools offered improvements to the traditional approaches:
in speed and ease. I felt that Chroma Graphics' Magic
Mask was somewhat easier to learn to use, particularly
for someone with limited experience in creating masks.
Extensis' Mask Pro seemed to have more inherent power;
however, this is mitigated by a need for more practice to
utilize this power and its much higher cost. With
adequate practice, I believe that both programs would
deliver very acceptable results. Both sites offer
tutorials (in Adobe Acrobat - PDF - format) and full-function,
time-limited demos: 30 days for Extensis and 15 days for
Chroma Graphics. I expect that both would support the use
of a graphics tablet (certainly a lot easier than a mouse);
however, I did not evaluate this ability.
Alas, all these superlatives have a downside: price.
Extensis' Mask Pro lists for $300 US - more than the
price (in Canadian money) of many sophisticated image
editors! The Chroma Graphics offering is more reasonable
and will work with a wider variety of image editors;
however, this must be placed in perspective.
Realistically, I personally do not require these
capabilities often enough to justify the cost of even the
less expensive filter. However, if your job description
appeared above - and time is money - then I expect the
increased productivity would justify a masking assistant.
Mask Pro (Proprietary)
Originally published: November, 1998