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Fluid Mask 3 is designed for photographers, image editors, graphic designers and all those who take digital image editing seriously.
In a streamlined interface and workflow, Fluid Mask 3 instantly shows key edges in the image and provides comprehensive easy to use tools that work with difficult-to-see edges and tricky areas like trees & lattices.It is reviewed here by regular contributor and professional fashion photographer, Nathan Pask of www.nathanpask.com
I was asked to have a look at piece of software called Fluid Mask 3 made by Vertus. It’s essentially a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop that assists in doing cutouts. I spent 18 years in the graphic design and print industry and I couldn’t even begin to think how many cutouts I have done in that time. Cutouts are generally regarded as being a fairly painstaking and a fiddly process particularly with imagery that include things like trees and hair. I was all too eager to try out any software that was going to potentially make my life easier in this department.
I have seen and used various software packages that boasted to ‘revolutionise cutouts forever’, but sadly despite having merit in some areas, they failed to completely live up to their own hype. I hadn’t used it’s predecessor FM2 before, but I had heard good things from colleagues in the past and therefore had high hopes for FM3 to be refined and developed enough to hopefully sort out all my cutout requirements.
Like any new piece of software, it takes a bit of time to get used to, and FM3 is certainly no exception. You don’t need a PhD in retouching to use it out of the box, but it is a bit of a learning curve. Despite it being married with Photoshop, the tools it uses are quite different. To help with this, they have included some step by step instructions and video tutorials on their website http://www.vertustech.com which covers the basics and then moves into complicated backgrounds and some specialist cutout tutorials for hair, trees & leaves and also even the incredibly difficult cutouts of smoke. For my own test, I chose a reasonably difficult and perhaps typical image. For the sake of the exercise, I cropped in and around the hair area. You can see my original image below right, she has plenty of fly-away hair on a neutral background. Notoriously difficult getting the detail in and around the fine hair, showing through a new background colour. After watching a few brief tutorials, I cutout my own shot (below left) in around 10 minutes, something of a record for me on an image like this I would have to say.
The images below I’ve zoomed into the hair area for a closer look. As you can see, it has retained a lot of the detail both in focus and out of focus. Blending very nicely with no real visible hard edges. The most important thing being that it looks natural and giving the impression that it was potentially shot like that on white with no really obvious tell tale signs that it has been retouched or cutout. Generally you would get some halo residue from the sky from a shot like this, but there is no evidence this at all.
I did some more tests on different images and like most pieces of software of this nature, I got mixed results. But I would probably put this down to me not quite using the right settings properly and simply getting used to the software. Given regular use, I could see this as being a huge time saving for anyone needing to do complicated cutouts. Obviously, for simple cutouts Fluid Mask 3 completely eats them up with ease. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it would cutout any image you threw at it, but from my experience, FM3 certainly would do more than other application I have used before.
The real difference that I can see over other software I have used is the intelligent edge blending of FM3. Takes a bit of trial and error, but with patience and certainly with more practice can get very pleasing results for a large proportion of images thrown at it. Works on Windows XP, Vista and Mac 10.3.9 and above. Also works on CS2 and CS3 and 4. Can also be used a stand alone software rather than a PS plug-in, but using only limited file formats. As it’s been aimed at consumers and professionals, it is of course compatible with Wacom tablets.
You will need more than loose change for the pleasure. UK£99.00 + tax + postage and US$149.00 + tax + postage. As a professional, this is a small price to pay as you would easily make your money back in a week in saved time. As a consumer, it’s stiff outlay if you’ve already spent your pennies on Adobe Creative Suite, but if you are after a great plugin that really works, this is definitely worth looking at. It’s competition, namely Photoshop Elements’ Magic Extractor, and Photoshop CS4’s Quick Selection/Refine Edge combination is formidable. But Fluid Mask 3 is certainly a much more controllable and powerful application. It hasn’t won a trophy cabinet full of awards for no reason. If you are on the fence in making the investment, you can download a 14 day trial version.
In conclusion, Fluid Mask 3 is certainly at the top of the tree in regards to it’s competition and is definitely worth having a rummage around their website for more information if you are after a plugin of this type. As with anything of quality, they aren’t giving it away, but I think it’s worth the investment if you are regularly cutting out your imagery and you are looking for a product to save you time and give consistently good results on most digital images.