Extensis Releases Mask Pro 3 for Experienced Photoshop Users

Before and After using Mask Pro 3 by Extensis.
Advanced Photoshop users, a group which includes a lot of newspaper designers, deal with the process of masking quite often. Masking is the process of selecting, then erasing, parts of an image. Typically, you select the parts of the image you want to keep and then erase the areas you want to drop.

The most common use of masks at newspapers is in the creation of clipping paths, the process of cutting an area out of a photo to place on a page in Quark, InDesign or some other layout program. The process sounds pretty simple, but as designers deal with shadows, color shades and other details, masking can quickly become an overwhelming process. That’s where Mask Pro 3 comes in.

Mask Pro 3 is a collection of professional-level masking tools, available as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop and ImageReady. You may remember that a plug-in is a program that works within another program to give it added functionality. From Extensis Software, creators of Suitcase, Version 3 includes several new features which promise to give users the “flexibility they need to tackle any masking challenge and get professional-quality results fast.”

Taking a Test Drive

If you’re like me, you don’t spend much time reading the user guide. I jumped right into the plug-in to see what it could do. I selected a photo that gave me problems a few months ago while creating a staff page for our website. All of the photos were taken at a desk, in front of a computer. As is the case with a lot of shots like this, there were charts taped on the wall, shadows of various levels behind the subjects and hairstyles which make masking a chore. I used the magic wand and color range tools to remove areas from the photos, but had to do quite a bit of time-consuming detailed work to get the images looking good enough to place on the website. With Mask Pro 3, I got better results in much less time.

Mask Pro 3 works like this: The user basically determines which colors and shades she wants to keep in the photo. These are indicated by clicking on areas with a green-tipped tool. Next, the user selects colors to remove from the image by clicking on areas with a red-tipped tool. Then, using a variety of tools (I used the magic brush, the most straightforward tool), the user brushes over areas of the image. After predetermining how much should be removed and kept with the use of a tool options palette, the user begins to brush across the image. With about five minutes practice, I was having quite a bit of luck creating accurate masks. When colors change throughout the photo, the tools palette can be changed, making it relatively simple to erase background areas of various shades and colors while leaving details such as open spaces between strands of hair.

Tools and New Features

I was very impressed with Mask Pro 3. While not for the Photoshop novice, this is a very powerful tool in the hands of an experienced Photoshop user. Mask Pro 3 features include:

- Smart Edge Detection, which automatically detects and snaps to distinct edges so you can easily trace out areas to mask away.

- Precise Clipping Paths, which allow you to create accurate and precise clipping paths.
- Fast Mask Cleanup, a dedicated tool which helps the user perfect the mask by quickly removing holes and specks that can be hard to find.

New features in this version of Mask Pro include:

- Color Decontamination, built in to provide halo-free results.

- Chisel Tool, for times when you need to accurately restore edge pixels in an image that was masked too closely, or to tighten the edges of a mask that is too loose or contains background color spill.

- New Blur Tools, which adjusts specific edges of a mask to make them blend in seamlessly with the new background.

Free Demo Available Online

At the moment, Mask Pro 3 is available only on the Mac platform. A Windows version is scheduled for release later this year. Mask Pro 3 works with Photoshop 6 or 7, running on OS 9.2.2 and OS X.1.5 or higher.

Mask Pro 3 is available from most catalog vendors and computer superstores. The estimated street price is $200 US/$280 CAN/$310 AUD. Upgrades from previous versions of Mask Pro are approximately half that price. For more information, go to www.extensis.com. A free full-functioning 30-day demo is available at http://www.extensis.com/support/5e.html.

Newspaper Institute Announces Dates For Spring Session

The Institute of Newspaper Technology, an internationally-recognized training program for newspaper professionals, has released its schedule for Spring 2004. The dates for the Institute are March 11-13, 2004.

Internationally-recognized trainers in the newspaper and design industries will be on hand. For more information, contact me at newspaperinstitute@kevinslimp.com.
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