Review: Fluid Mask 2 for Photoshop - Macenstein

Review: Fluid Mask 2 for Photoshop

Posted by Dr. Macenstein

Anyone who has ever tried to manually cut out a subject from a digital photograph knows how time-consuming and unrewarding the process can be. Even studio-quality shots taken against solid colors can be problematic using Photoshop’s built-in tools, and fine details like blowing hair or smoke are all but impossible to perfectly isolate.

Fluid Mask from Vertus is truly a god-send for both the aspiring amateur and the professional Photoshop artist on a deadline. On most shots, we found Fluid Mask was able to quickly create production-quality masks in a matter of minutes that would have taken close to an hour or more using conventional methods, and likely wouldn’t have yielded results close to as nice.

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Above: The top image was created from the lower 2 school photos using Fluid Mask in about 15 minutes, which included the time it took to scan the originals.

The secret to Fluid Mask’s success in creating such detailed masks lies in the unique approach it takes when it analyzes your image. Fluid Mask breaks up your images into blocks of similar (fluid-looking) shapes, which allows you to quickly select the pieces of the image you wish to keep. It is quite similar to a paint-by-numbers picture, where you use one of 2 types of brushes, the “keep” brushes, and the “delete” brushes”. This allows you to create masks from even photos with fairly complex backgrounds.

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Above: Fluid Mask’s “paint-by-numbers” interface.

The usual Fluid Mask workflow for most shots consists simply of painting all the blocks you DON’T want with the “delete local” brush. Once you have all the blocks colored which you don’t want to keep, you click the “Create Cut-Out” button. It’s that easy. You then can preview your mask, and if there are any areas you think need fine tuning, you can then go in and do so using additional brushes. There are extensive options for controlling the way edges are blended, and a clean-up tool to help your mask look even better once you’ve finished. You then simply choose “Save and Apply” from the File menu, and your mask is dropped back into Photoshop on a transparent layer (note, it’s always a good idea to duplicate your layer before applying Fluid Mask, as it does not create a duplicate layer when creating its cut-outs).

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Above: Even fine hair is no match for Fluid Mask.

Tweaking your mask

Even Fluid Mask needs a little help sometimes when a subject has a similar coloring to the background, and for those situations, Fluid Mask has a pen tool that will let you manually define boundaries that the application cannot see. For example, I chose a stock image of a little girl in a hospital hallway (see below) from, and Fluid Mask had trouble picking out her left wrist from the floor, as they both had similar colorings. However, using the pen tool I was able to set things right quickly, and out popped a very nice mask.

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Above: Using the pen tool you can manually create boundaries to help Fluid Mask separate foreground from background.

Almost perfect

Perhaps the only real issue I found in using Fluid Mask is that it usually does such a good job (and so quickly) that you begin to expect it to do the impossible. It may seem obvious, but you really do need a reasonably high-res source photo that is well lit and in focus in order to get great results. Don’t go expecting to scan in some dark, blurry wedding reception photos from 1970 and expect Fluid Mask to create an amazing cut out of Uncle Artie on the dance floor. Most digital cameras these days shoot in sizes in excess of 5 megapixels, and likely anyone willing to spend $200 for a Photoshop plug-in is a fairly serious user working with images of at least that size, but I felt I needed to state the obvious lest someone write me complaining.

My only other criticism of Fluid Mask might be with its consistency with Photoshop. While it is fairly intuitive, and reminiscent of Photoshop’s interface in so far as the toolset and option palettes, I would have liked to see a little more carry-through from Photoshop, with such minor things as being able to zoom in on an image using the scroll wheel of a mouse, for example. I would also like to suggest to Fluid Mask’s creators that adding the option for a bezier path for the pen tool might be helpful.

Learning Curve

There is almost no learning curve in using Fluid Mask. Vertus has a series of excellent short video tutorials on their site which will have you will be up and running in about 5-10 minutes. Additional videos cover some of the more complex masking techniques, such as hair and trees, but Fluid Mask makes these tasks almost effortless.

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Above: The Vertus site has a good selection of tutorial movies that will helpyou quickly become a masking pro.


If you are a digital artist who relies heavily on compositing, the decision to buy Fluid Mask is a no brainer. The time-savings it provides will quickly pay for the plug-in after only a few images. For the pro-sumer hobbyist or Photoshop prankster who likes putting people’s heads on other people’s bodies for a laugh, the decision is less clear-cut. However the controls on Fluid Mask are so straight forward that no one should be scared away thinking this tool is only for the pros.

Fluid Mask 2 by Vertus

Price: $199 (license can be used on up to 2 machines at a time)

Pros: Creates extremely detailed masks in a matter of minutes, even very complex subjects; easy to navigate interface, great training videos online

Cons: None significant

7 Responses to “Review: Fluid Mask 2 for Photoshop”
  1. Ed in Accounting says:

    that looks pretty cool. I just checked out the demo videos, and they have some pretty cool samples. Downloading the demo now…

  2. DAMN! says:

    WOW. That hair demo on their site with the baby is insane!!!!!!!!! I need some more exclamation marks.

  3. Count Macula says:

    Impressive… most impressive.

    I can’t wait to try this for myself.

  4. TK421 says:

    that’s very cool.

  5. Ross Graham says:

    I purchased Fluid Mask several months back and am generally pleased with the results. If your photo has an extreme contrast between the foreground and background your results will be great, and the task simple. Otherwise it can take a bit of work to get in and create the mask for your image. But all in all, this is the best masking software I’ve used.

  6. Mario Zitko says:

    Looking Forward to seeing at work.

  7. Bob Nolin says:

    I’ve been demo’ing FM all day, and I’d have to disagree with your statement that there is “no learning curve”. The patch tool is not by any means obvious to use, for example. To be able to harness the full power of this product, there is some serious learning to do (though nothing like what it takes to learn, say, Photoshop).

    I just don’t want people to think this thing is a walk in the park. It ain’t.

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