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112 MacDirectory REVIEW FLUID MASK 3 > MASKING GETS SMART One of the coolest tricks you can do in the digital darkroom is take an object from one image and plop it in the middle of another. The effect can be found in artwork ranging from magazine ads and illustrations to fine art. But if you've tried to do it, even with Photoshop's powerful toolbox, you've probably discovered that (a) it's not easy, and (b) with some images, it's nearly impossible to get a convincing result. Fluid Mask 3 is the latest version of in a line of products by Vertus Software that can simplify the merely difficult and bring the virtually impossible into the realm of reality. In masking, what makes an image "easy" are clearly defined edges and a good contrast with the background elements that you want to eliminate. The really tricky part comes in when you have a lot of detail (like hair or tree branches) or very similar colors with vague edges (your proverbial polar bear in a snowstorm). Fluid Mask 3 has modes that deal with both potential pitfalls. The program runs as either a Photoshop plug-in residing in your Filters menu or as a stand-alone application and takes a very unique and interesting approach to masking. When it opens an image, it analyzes it and finds all the edges that it can. You can easily adjust the sensitivity up or down according to the picture's needs. What it then presents you with is an overlay of green lines that represent the edges it finds. It looks a bit like the leaden frames that surround the elements of a stained-glass window. You use one of the brush tools to fill in either the sections you want to keep or those you want to mask out, whichever is easier. The program can automatically fill in the others before it renders your masked image. What constitutes an "edge" can be a bit vague. A bit of fuzziness in the material or a softness of focus can bring up blending issues; a hard clear edge would just not be appropriate. Fluid Mask 3 handles this issue with built-in edge blending. It can sense when the edge is soft and build in a blending mask to provide just the right scale of transparency. Another issue that crops up is that certain regions of an image may need much more delicate handling than others. For example, a fashion model's smooth silk dress cuts a clear line against the background but the fluffed-out hair will be a masking nightmare. The program has a incredibly useful "patch" mode that lets you define a selection, either a box, polygon or with a brush, and fine-tune the masking options without any effect on the rest of the image. For those bad hair days in your digital darkroom, Fluid Mask 3 uses its intelligent blending algorithms so you can take (quite literally) a broad-brush approach to the affected areas. For lattice-like areas, where a complex foreground grid must be separated from a background, Fluid Mask 3 uses a color- based masking technique from an entire image or predefined selection. The program's greatest strength is that it's smart, but not overbearingly so. It can make some incredibly brilliant guesses as to what you want to do, but allows you a wide range of controls to achieve what you really need. Combined with the patching tool, you have the freedom to apply a variety of masking techniques to different areas an image. Fluid Mask 3's default settings will let you get started with a minimum of training. However, you'll want to watch the tutorials on the Vertus Web site to get an understanding of the basics. With its versatility, intelligence and sophistication, Fluid Mask 3 has become a best-of-class masking application. If you're a working pro, the time and effort you save with your first few images will probably pay for the program after the first few projects. WORDS BY RIC GETTER Product Fluid Mask 3 Made by Vertus Price $149 Pros Smart, practical approach to finding edges; useful context-aware onscreen guides; can give special attention to tricky areas Cons Not a "magic bullet" for masking issues, but a smart and slick time-saver Rating HHHHH

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