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Topaz Labs ReMask 3 plug-in for Photoshop

Reviewer: Bruce M. Herman, AAUG member
Product: Topaz Plug-in Bundle: ReMask 3
Company: Topaz Labs
Contact: www.topazlabs.comPrice: $69.99 purchased alone, $199.99 with the Topaz Plug-in bundle
Pros: Easy masking of simple shapes with fuzzy edges, such as a person with hair
Cons: Does not work well on large, complex items such as trees with extensive areas where sky and leaves intermix; maximum paint brush size is too small


Moose: 3.5 out of 5

Test platform: Mac Pro with OS X v 10.6.6with 64 bit extensions, 14 GB RAM, Photoshop CS5, Aperture 3.

Conflict of interest: Topaz Labs provided a free copy of the plug-in suite which includes ReMask 3 to the AAUG for the purpose of the review.

The primary purpose of Topaz Labs ReMask 3 is to cut out a portion of a photograph so that it can be used with another photograph.  For example, many people have seen the photograph of a polar bear in the middle of a desert.  This is a composite of two photographs, the foreground bear and the desert background.  The tricky part of the effort is extracting the polar bear image from within its original image and still keeping all of the hair around the edge of the bear.  This used to require a great deal of work, but new technology has made this a bit easier.  ReMask 3 claims to be the easiest and best at doing accomplishing this task.
The fundamental process is to create a “mask” which is an outline of the area to be cut out.  Masks have a much broader role in Photoshop, where they are used to limit the area affected by adjustments such as color changes or blur.  ReMask 3 allows a mask created within the plug-in to be saved and used just like any other mask.  This is the manner in which I used the software, but the workflow within ReMask 3 is nearly identical for either extraction or mask creation.  The only difference is a setting within the preferences that allows the mask to be saved after running ReMask.

ReMask 3 is quite different in operation from any of the other plug-ins in the Topaz Labs plug-in bundle, but Topaz Labs has put together an excellent video tutorial on their web site that explains how to use the program.  There are also some hints on the Topaz Labs Blog about using the software.  ReMask 3 opens with the entire photograph covered in a green tint, which is the color applied to areas to be masked or extracted.  Basically, you paint a rough outline in blue with a brush around the area that you want to extract or mask, and then fill the area external to this with red.  The blue area encompasses all of the difficult areas, such as wispy hair or leaves on a tree in addition to the sharp boundaries between the areas to be kept and excluded.  The broader the area in which the item to be masked and the background are mixed, the greater the area that has to be painted in blue.  For example, a wispy tree with lots of blue sky visible through the leaves would have to be painted almost entirely in blue.  The trunk would remain green or be painted green.  This is a very difficult test of the software and the very example explored in the Topaz Labs video.  It is also one of the tests that I gave to the plug-in.

The photograph is of a bristle cone pine tree with blue sky behind most of the limbs and foliage and was made on 4×5 inch film, which was subsequently scanned at 2540 dpi.  The file size is approximately 650 MB.  The tutorial video suggests that you first outline the tree with the blue color on the paint brush.  Then, because so much of the area within the outline has blue sky showing through, you would then fill the entire outline with blue.  This means that the software will determine the boundaries of the mask.  Two problems are immediately encountered with this approach.  The first is that the maximum brush size that ReMask 3 supports is only 100 pixels. This makes drawing the outline around a large complex shape very time consuming.  The tutorial then recommends that you fill the area of the tree with mixed foliage and sky with blue, and allow the software to determine the area of the mask.  This fails with the full size image because the program returns an error message saying that the area in blue is too large.  This even failed when the image was reduced to 5800×7000 pixel image for printing at 16×20, where the maximum paint brush size was still too small to make quick work of outlining the area of interest.  I also found it difficult to modify the mask when it was made in the larger file.

Aside from the brush size, ReMask 3 works well even for large files when the area too be masked or extracted is compact with little mixing of the subject to be extracted with the background.  The polar bear would be a good example of a subject that could be well extracted regardless of the file size.  This would be a case in which REMask 3 is superior to Photoshop’s internal masking tools.

I think that there are certainly enough photographs in which I would use ReMask 3 to justify purchase of the standalone plug-in.  It comes with the Topaz Labs plug-in suite, and I think that it’s a worthwhile addition there, too.  I don’t know what needs to be done to allow a large brush size, but this would be my highest priority for modifying the program.  Allowing it to work with a larger area would be my second priority, but would still be a high priority.  I give Topaz Labs ReMask 3 3.5 moose.


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