Mask Pro 3

Adobe Photoshop's Extract filter and Background Eraser aren't powerful enough to handle complex masking such as between frizzy hair, around foliage, and through transparent objects. So the latest release of Mask Pro plug-in from Extensis promises to capture the detail – and make light work of it, too. Mask Pro 3 launches within Photoshop, providing tools for tracing the inside ('Keep') and outside ('Drop') areas of the mask with a bold, colourful highlighter effect. The software then works out where the complex edges should be, and lets you preview them to help you clean them up manually. Or, you can dispense with the Keep and Drop Highlighter, and instead apply a Magic Brush directly where you want the mask edge to be. To help the Magic Brush understand which part of the image you want masking and which to preserve, a pair of Keep and Drop Eyedroppers let you pick up colours from the respective areas, displayed in a pair of floating palettes. As with the previous version, you can trace even more accurately using the Magic Pen tool, but there's no need to use a Pen in order to create a Photoshop path: since Mask Pro 3 gives you the choice of deleting the Drop area altogether. It simply masks it over for transparency, or interprets the mask edge as a Photoshop selection, no matter which tools you used to generate the mask in the first place. Another timesaving idea is the Chisel tool, which shaves away halos left around a mask or cut-out's edge. There's also a Blur tool for softening the edges.


The software isn't perfect, of course. There's no specific tool (like there is in Corel KnockOut 2) for including shadows with the cut-outs, although you could probably achieve similar results by masking shadows up carefully as transparent areas. The interface is also a little arcane in places, such as the lack of any Preview button: in order to preview a mask after highlighting the edges, you have to switch to the Magic Brush and choose the Apply Tool To All command, which is hardly intuitive. Not least, Mask Pro 3 has the disadvantage of being a Photoshop plug-in, compared with KnockOut which can run as a stand-alone program, and be launched from any plug-in compatible image-editing program. The results, however, speak for themselves, making this a worthy upgrade, and a good choice if you're looking to buy a masking plug-in for the first time.

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