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Extensis Mask Pro 3

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In: Reviews > Product Reviews

By Jesse Nieminen

Published on July 31, 2003

Extensis Mask Pro 3 If you are a creative professional who uses Photoshop on a regular basis, it is likely you have run into the hassle of trying to remove a complex subject from a difficult background. The most common situation is trying to extract a person from a background while keeping the subtleties of the outlines of their hair intact. To successfully achieve a realistic look can take a lot of work. Sometimes manually experimenting with channels and masks does not do the trick.

Professional third-party masking tools have been on the scene for years, prompting Photoshop to recently include its own version of this type of tool. Unfortunately, though, it still does not provide the same power or professional capabilities found in tools like Extensis Mask Pro.

Mask Pro functions as a plugin within the Photoshop application. Selecting Mask Pro from a dedicated menu in Photoshop, the Photoshop interface disappears and the image opens with the Mask Pro toolset. The interface is very similar to Photoshop’s toolset and panel sets, but the tools are specifically for use with the plugin.

screenshot of Extensis Mask Pro 3's interface

What the application essentially does is help you pick which pixels to keep/delete to result in a seamless extraction from the background. Color pickers, brushes, paintbuckets and pen tools, in conjunction with such things as the Blur tool and Magic Wand, aid in the careful designation of which parts of the image are kept and which are discarded. The Keep and Drop palettes conveniently display which colors will remain and which will be eliminated, and the Tool Options palette provides fine tuning for how the masking will be performed.

Although it’s a relatively simple and intuitive toolset, this does not mean that masking with Mask Pro is effortless. It will take extensive practice to figure out how to get the best results. That said, this is far better than the alternative, and arguably the amazing results could not be achieved without a tool like this. Once you get the hang of it, you will be surprised at what it’s able to do for you. No need to give up on those once “hopeless” images.

Mask Pro 3 is very flexible, offering multiple masking methods within a single environment. On top of that, the undo functionality is such that quite a bit of experimentation is possible to make sure that the results are just right before applying the changes.

In version 3, Extensis offers a number of new tools and improvements. Primarily, Extensis boasts that the new version offers better overall masking. I can attest to this in my personal use. The results are cleaner and somewhat easier to achieve.

The new built-in color decontamination is something that apparently no similar tool offers. What this means is that in addition to a nice complex masking job, Mask Pro gets rid of the edge-spill halos that are sometimes a product of the extraction. Additionally, this decontamination can be applied selectively over different parts of your image.

A couple of new tools that look like they were possibly borrowed from Photoshop’s Extract tool are the hi-lighters. These tools allow the user to select whole areas of the image to keep or drop—something that was previously not possible.

The new Chisel tool restores the edge pixels in an image that was masked too tightly, while the new Blur tool smoothes out the mask edge to optimize transition over a new background. These are excellent tools to increase precision and improve the realism of the results. And the time they save in avoiding undos is invaluable.

I have a couple of ideas for new features in future versions. First, it would be nice to have an erase tool to clean up the highlighter strokes. Also, some control over how the Undo function is implemented would be great. It is sometimes frustrating to take things back in the current “baby steps” manner.

Creative professionals will find that Mask Pro will probably pay for itself in a single use. The time and frustration saved with a tool like this will probably also mean adding a few more years to the end of your life. Mask Pro 3 is now compatible with Photoshop 7, as well as Mac OS X, and is very stable. I encountered no glitches in my testing, and found it fairly easy to use. I look forward to having this the next time I need to clean out a haystack from around a picture of a needle.

A free demo version is available at http://www.extensis.com/demos/

Extensis Mask Pro 3
full version: $199.95
upgrade: $99.95
bundle with PhotoFrame 2.5: $219.95

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