Mask Pro 2.0

"Masking Has Never Been Easier"

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Type of Product
Extensis' Mask Pro 2.0 is an upgraded plug-in for Adobe Photoshop and Corel PhotoPaint and provides options for masking, selecting, blending and creating paths. In laymen's terms this means that you can create masks for separating an image from its background and composite it with another image. You can spend all day with Photoshop's Selection and QuickMask tools and still not get it right. An innovative color matching technology, comprehensive control over edge quality, and elegant clipping paths let you get your job done quickly with Mask Pro. It is excellent for image Original Imagecomposition, where you take selections from a variety of images and merge them into a new Finished Imagegraphic; isolating selections for color correction; adding effects and filters to selections or masks; and cutting out an unwanted person or background. For instance, I masked out the dog in the dark image to the left and created a another graphic with a gold background. I then applied an edge with Extensis PhotoFrame. See the result in the image to the right. You can also create just a shape from an image, make it into a selection and apply filters or special effects. The beveled guitar image to the right was made in this manner. I then applied a bevel effect from Extensis PhotoTools. You can veiw the original image under the Making Work Path section. Price: $299.95, Upgrade $69.95. Extensis has a variety of products: PhotoTools, PhotoFrame, Intellihance,VectorToGuitarols, QX-Effects; QX-Tools, PageTools, Preflight Pro, Preflight Designer, BeyondPress, and Portfolio. For information on their products, see our other reviews of Extensis software. We used Extensis PhotoFrame and Adobe Photoshop for the section headings for this review. Extensis has an excellent Web site were you can get information, examples, and tips on their products:
User Level
Advanced Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced users. This is a great tool for anyone using Photoshop. I would recommend users to have a basic grasp of Photoshop, but it is an easy way for novices to learn to mask images. Its speed and accuracy can significantly reduce the time necessary to produce professional-quality masks and selections, making it appropriate for professionals, graphic designers, prepress professionals, service bureaus, commercial printers, corporate in-house creative departments, and self-employed designers. It also would be useful for: anyone who regularly needs to create adjustment layers or silhouettes for any reason; multimedia and Internet content creators; and digital camera users.
  • EdgeBlender (New)--Reduces or eliminates halos by replacing the color in partially transparent pixels along the edge of the mask, allowing masked images to blend better with new backgrounds.
  • PrecisionEdge Magic Pen Tool (New)--Speeds normal Pen tool selections by automatically fitting path to the closest edge.
  • IntelliBrush and IntelliWand (New)--Allows you to quickly start masking without selecting Keep and Drop Colors. Simply click on the background and Mask Pro determines what to keep or drop--automatically.
  • Erase Only/Restore Only Mode (New)--Allows you to erase or restore specific colors in your image.
  • Global Choke/Spread (New)--User-definable choke/spread values allow you to tighten or loosen the entire mask.
  • Selection Filter (New)--Gives you the option of creating a selection from your image, rather than dropping out the background.
  • Mask Pro Composite View (New)--Lets you view your mask against background layers in the original image.
  • Full Stroke Undo (Enhanced)--Enhances the incremental Undo/Redo by including a full-stroke undo, allowing you to undo an entire brush stroke at once.
  • Specify Background (Enhanced)--Additional "view modes" let you view your masked image in QuickMask mode, or against a background color of your choice.
  • Apply to Entire Image (Enhanced)--Adds the ability to apply tool functions to an entire image.
  • Revert (Enhanced)--Lets you restore the original image prior to any masking that was done. Helpful when you want to start over from the beginning.
  • Clipping Path Generation (Enhanced)--Ability to create clipping paths from selections as well as masks.
  • Clipping Path Proxy Preview (Enhanced)--Visually indicates the effects of the Choke and Tolerance value settings before applying.

Menu Options: You have a variety of options to choose from, all are accessible undMenu Optionser the Extensis menu on the Photoshop Toolbar. The three options: Select, Mask, and Mask Composite use the same Mask Pro interface and tools.

SSelect Optionelect--creates a selection marquee without affecting the currently selected layer. Selections can then be saved as alpha channels or used to create adjustment layers. This is a perfect tool for separating a section of an image so that you can then apply an effect or filter. With the image to the right, I used the Select option as I wanted to keep the background, but select the lion so I could then apply a filter. For the effect, I used Photoshop's Crosshatch filter under Brush Strokes.

Mask--creates a mask by dropping out the background from the currently seMask Optionlected layer. This is the type of masking that was available in Mask Pro 1.0. This option is appropriate for the image to the right, where I eliminated the background and placed the lion head on another background made with the Cloud filter in Photoshop.

Mask Composite--like the above option, Mask Composite creates a mask by dropping out the background from the currently selected layer. However, with this option, you can also view the underlying layers while you are masking so you can instantly preview the results of any masking. In this way you can tailor your mask for a specific background. The window is the same as the other two but you have a composite view.

Make Work PathMake Work Path--creates a work path either from the current selection or from the transparency in the active layer. This work path can then be used as a clipping path. Clipping paths are very uGuitarseful when working in Photoshop. Photoshop creates an image as a square or rectangle. Unlike vector images that can exist as freeform shapes, bitmap images are always confined to the square or rectangular format. When these rectangular images are placed in a page layout, the square image can be distracting. Clipping paths enable you to save a file as a silhouette, sidesteping the standard Photoshop restriction of the rectangle or square. You have Clipping Pathcontrol over the flatness of the clipping path through two settings. The Choke percentage designates how tightly or loosely the clipping path hugs the masked image. The Tolerance setting determines how many anchor points will be used in the path. The guitar image to the left was created using a clipping path. Then I changed the path to a selection and applied a filter to get the beveled guitar image that is shown under the Type of Product heading. I created a clipping path for the lion head image to the right so I could import it into Pagemaker.

EdgeBlender--removes halos from masks by removing unwanted backgrouEdgeBlendernd colors from edge pixels. A common effect of masking images is unwanted halos around the mask edge. This results from edge pixels retaining color values from the original background. The EdgeBlender feature removes these halos by removing background colors from the partially transparent pixels at the mask edge while retaining all transparency values of those same pixels. The Choke Radius tells EdgeBlender how many pixels in from the edge to average the colors. The Search Radius tells EdgeBlender how many pixels to examine to determine what color the edge should be.

Tools: One of the main advantages to Mask Pro is the complete selection of tools availabToolsle for masking and creating selections. Not every image or every area of an image requires the same approach to creating the edge and its transition properties. The tools are available via keyboard shortcuts and they mimic those of Photoshop wherever possible in order to reduce the user's learning time. The tools are:

  • Keep Color--define colors to keep. Drag across an area to define an average color to keep.
  • Drop Color--define colors to drop. Drag across an areas to define an average color to drop.
  • Magic Brush--creates an automatic mask as you paint over pixels based on the defined Keep and Drop Colors and Threshold setting.
  • Brush--manually add or subtract from a mask.
  • Magic Fill--double-click to remove all holes and specks from the entire mask at once.
  • Fill Bucket--like fill buckets in other programs, used to fill in large areas.
  • Magic Wand--mask out large areas based on active Keep and Drop Colors.
  • Airbrush--manual add or subtract from a mask. Airbrush opacity can be adjusted gradually.
  • Magic Pen--automatically draw an area to mask or restore.
  • Pen--Manually draw an area to mask or restore.
  • Hand--use to pan around an image in the window.
  • Zoom--click to zoom in. Drag to zoom to a specific area.
  • Erase Mode--erases the selected area (fills with transparency). Only erases. Does not restore.
  • Restore Mode--restores the selected area to the original image. Only restores. Does not erase.
  • Dual Mode--both erases and restores. Available only with Magic Brush and Magic Fill.
  • Toggle Modes--toggles between erase, restore and dual erase/restore masking modes.

View Modes: Mask Pro provides a variety of ways to view your mask as you work.

Solid View-- allows you to view your mask against a background color of your choice rather than the checkerboard background of Single Layer View.

Single Layer View--allows you to see the image as you isolate it from the background. Masked areas (transparent pixels) are shown as erased areas on a checkerboard background. Unmasked areas appear as the image itself.

Quick Mask View--replaces masked (transparent) pixels with 50% red rather than a checkered background. Quick Mask View replaces Single Layer View when mask Pro is opened with the "Select" option.

Mask View--displays the mask in grayscale. Transparent pixels are shown as shades of black, opaque pixels are shown as white.

Cleanup View--similar to Mask View, except that pixels that are not completely transparent (shown as black) or completely opaque (shown as white) are displayed as 50% gray. Viewing in Cleanup View is the easiest way to spot and fill holes and find possible leaks.

Composite View--allows you to view your mask and any active layers. Available when you choose the "Mask Composite" option.

Creating Soft Edges While Masking: The quality of a mask is really dependent on the edge--whether it is smooth, choppy, and how it fades. With Mask Pro, you can adjust the edge softness during the entire masking process with any of the painting tools or the Magic Wand. Three separate settings let you soften the mask's edge precisely:

Threshold--determines how much of the foreground vs. background to keep. Dragging the slider toward More means that more of the original image will be kept. Dragging toward Less keeps less of the original image.

Transition--determines how soft an edge will be produced to create a smooth transition between the Keep and Drop colors. A good starting point is to set the distance between the Threshold and Transition about one third of the entire available range. Transition works with all the Magic tools.

Brush Edge--determines how far the effect radiates out as it tapers from opaque to transparent. The softer the brush edge, the smoother the transition. Brush Edge works with all the manual tools.

Creating a Mask with IntelliBrush/IntelliWand: When you start masking, you can use Mask Pro's color matching technoIntelliWandlogy to select color to keep and drop or you can us the Magic Brush and Magic Finished ImageWand, which become IntelliBrush and IntelliWand when no colors are selected. With either of these tools, the color value of wherever you click on an image is temporarily assigned to be the lone drop color. All other color values are kept. The user still has full control over Brush Size and Threshold settings. For images with highly contrasted and consistently colored backgrounds, using IntelliBrush is the fastest way to mask out a background. For instance, I used the IntelliWand on the plain black and white image shown on the left to eliminate the white background by just clicking in the white areas. I then applied Extensis PhotoGlow and PhotoGroove to the black spindle image and produced the green image to the right. The IntelliWand is easy to use and works like the wand in Photoshop.

Creating a Mask with Keep and Drop Colors: When you have a variety of colors, you can use Mask Pro's color matching technology by using Keep Colors--colored pixels in the area that you want to keep, and Drop Colors--colored pixels in the area that you want to mask away. Colors areBottles chosen with the Keep Color and Drop Color eyedroppers. To indicate keep or drop colors, you select the appropriate eyedropper and then drag across a region to indicate an average color or just click on individual pixels for precise color selection. Colors can be collected into multiple color sets, which can be toggled on and off. You can move or copy individual colors among color sets. To help distinguish color differences, users can view their image in an individual channel of the image's color mode, whether CMYK, RGB, or Lab. Once the color sets are indicated, you can smoothly mask away the selected colors to drop while retaining the selected colors to keep. Keep and Drop Colors are used with the following painting tools: Magic Brush, Magic Wand, and Magic Fill. I used a sample masking tutorial, using Keep and Drop Colors, from the Extensis Web site to eliminate the background on the bottle image. I selected a single Keep Color, the black in the bottle tops, and a single Drop Color, the white in the background; set the Threshold all the way to Less; set the Transition all the way to Soft; then double-clicked the Magic Brush to process the entire image. I then applied a different background in Photoshop using the Gradient tool. If you click on the bottle image, you will see the results. The Magic Brush is a versatile tool that you can drag to eliminate colors in a section of an image, or use to Drop Colors from the entire image by double-clicking.

Detecting Edges with the Magic Pen: A significant addition to Mask Pro 2.0 is the Magic Pen, a tool that detects and snaps to edges between sharply contrasting areas of an image. It is similar to Photoshop's Magnetic Lasso. You drag the Magic Pen along an edge, and it automatically creates a freeform path that detects the contrasting edge and snaps to it. Once the dragged region isMagic Pen closed, clicking the hammer icon inside the region erases or restores the mask, depending on the currently selected mask mode. The path created by the Magic Pen can be re-edited. Reversing direction while dragging retracts the path back to the cursor, allowing you to go back and forth until satisfied. Once, the Magic path is complete, any segment can be refined. The Magic Pen tool was used to remove the area around the nose and lip of the lion in the image to the right. I was following a tutorial from the User's Guide that came with the program and the first time I attempted it, I only selected the area around the nose. When I then re-did the tutorial, I accidentally selected the area around the nose and lip, but as I had selected both the colors in the nose and lip area for Keep Colors, it actually worked well.

Clean Masks in a Single Step: When finishing masking an image or creating a selection, you sometimes get stray pixels and small holes remaining. Two tools in Mask Pro--the Fill BuckCleanup Viewet and Magic Fill--help you easily clean up masks. For clean up, the best viewing mode to use is the Cleanup view because it displays in stark black and white what is masked in or out. For filling in large areas, you just click with the Fill Bucket. The Magic Fill, though, is rather different. By selecting the Dual Erase/Restore View mode, the Magic Fill tool lets you automatically fill holes and opaque specks in the image at the same time.You can drag it over an area, or when you double-click the Magic Fill, Mask Pro will remove all specks outside of the mask and holes inside of the mask that are smaller than the current Brush Size setting. I used it for cleanup in the image of the white dog.

Personal Comments
I found Mask Pro 2.0 to be an invaluable upgrade. The new features and advancements are worth the expense. And this plug-in is easy to use and fun. Masking can be difficult and Mask Pro really helps. If you are familiar at all with Photoshop, you know how difficult it sometimes can be to do just some of the simplest things. The 85 page User's Guide is excellent and it includes 5 step-by-step tutorials to get you started. Also there is more information on Mask Pro and a sample tutorial on the Extensis Web site. The interface is intuitive, and the tools are not difficult to use. Probably, the hardest part was learning how to use the settings for Threshold, Transition, and Brush Edge. It just takes practice, which is easy to do with the Undo and Undo Stroke option in Mask Pro. Extensis products are therefore invaluable because they speed up the work process. Once you start working with masks, shapes and clipping paths in this manner, you will wonder, "How did I ever do without this program." Mask Pro, as well as the other Extensis plug-ins are readily available on the Photoshop Menu Bar, and they work well in conjunction with each other. For the filters and effects on the images in this review, I used two other Extensis products: PhotoFrame and PhotoTools.
system Requirements
Pentium processor or equivalent
32 MB RAM; 64MB recommended
8MB available hard disk space
256 colors required; 24-bit color recommended
Windows 95/98 or NT 4.0
Adobe Photoshop 4.0 or higher or Corel Photo-Paint 8.0 or higher

Graphics: Extensis PhotoFrame, Extensis PhotoTools, & Adobe Photoshop
Web Page Editor: Symantec Visual Page
Scanner: Hewlett Packard ScanJet 6250C Professional Series