Ok, so I know all of my fellow Mac users want to know whether or not their Topaz plug-ins will be compatible with the new OSX Lion?
The answer…YES! All of your Topaz plug-ins will be compatible with Lion. Best of all: No updates are needed. 🙂

Once you download and install Lion (available from the Mac App Store) you will be able to still access and use your Topaz plug-ins from Photoshop. Should you find any issues with Topaz or Photoshop and need to reinstall just contact our customer support and we can help you.

OSX Lion comes with over 250 new features, which I’m really excited about! Lion hasn’t been released yet, but it is due out this month…hopefully you won’t have to wait too much longer. Once you’ve installed the new OS and played around with the new features be sure to let me know which ones are your favorites!

 I have found that ReMask can be a more effective way to create clipping paths in Photoshop (versus dozens of clicks with the pen tool). After going through my normal masking workflow with ReMask, then making a few additional clicks back in Photoshop, I can quickly and easily create a clipping path from my cutout.

Clipping paths are neat selections because they can be retained with your saved image file – which is great if you offer masking/clipping path services or if you need to share your image project with a colleague!

Follow along, and see how easy it is to incorporate this in your workflow.

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Just as important as having a good masking tool is the importance of knowing how to best use its included tools and features to produce the best possible results on your images. So today I want to explore some best practices that will help you enhance your ReMask workflow and of course produce better results with your images.

Now, when we first released ReMask, Eric wrote his three best practices…which definitely still apply. So we’ll start by taking a look at them and then I will add on a bunch of my own – some that you may know and some that you may not. I will also add some feedback/explanations (in my favorite color!) on Eric’s tips so that you have a better understanding of how they impact your workflow.

Eric’s Key Three

1. Try to accurately sample as many colors as possible in the image with your tri-map.

ReMask works by analyzing the colors in your image and in the selections that you make with the Red and Green brushes. The more colors that you same with these two brushes, the more information ReMask will have when it analyzes your compute (blue brush) selections…producing a better mask for you.

2. Always sample at least a little bit within enclosed areas.

(Notice the Red (cut) selections made to the background color seen inside of the curls

Interior areas like the background in between curly hair or the middle circle of a donut are considered enclosed areas. Sampling these areas is important. While you don’t have to select every enclosed area or completely paint it in, it is still a good idea to mark with a dot or small brush stroke.

3. Refine your mask in order to make it perfect. Keeping these three simple things in mind, Topaz ReMask can do a fast and excellent job on extracting a wide variety of images.

Initial masks never come out perfect. You will always want to do a little refining to clean up your mask. Making use of the refinement toolset will help you do this.

So now that you have Eric’s Key Three (which are also the basics) let’s take a look at my workflow tips for best practices with ReMask.

Before You Mask…
If your image suffers from noise or jpeg artifacts it is very easy for ReMask to pick this up, and you may often see artifacts or blockiness around the edges of your mask. I suggest running your image through a program like DeJPEG first, to remove any artifacts and before using ReMask. This will give you the best possible results.

During Tri-Map creation
When you are creating your tri-map and using the blue brush:

1. Limit the amount of blue (compute) selections. You don’t have to be precise, however an abundance of blue may result in longer processing times, a less refined initial mask and more refining at the end.

2. Be sure to adjust the brush size periodically. (use the bracket shortcut keys…so much faster!) This will allow you to zone in on key areas and also help lessen the amount of blue area selected.

3. It’s OK to use a larger brush size on areas like wispy/stray hairs, fur or trees, remember Eric’s second practice: always sample at least a little bit within enclosed areas.

4. Use a smaller brush on well-defined and harder edges.

During Refining
1. Use split views to compare. The Mask and Keep view are the two I use most often.

2. Don’t ignore the mask view. When looking at the mask view, areas that are solid white are kept areas. Areas in gray are semi-trasparent. You want to be sure that your keep subject is filled in with white to the edges otherwise your processed image may end up with some undesireable transparent areas. Also don’t be afraid to use the mask hardness and mask strength sliders.

3. Use a small brush size (1-5) when making refinements with the Magic Brush tool. Keep in mind that the Magic Brush only fixes areas that were originally marked in blue. It will NOT affect your original red or green tri-map selections.

4. When working on hair bump your recovery slider up…I keep mine at the max most times. Plus as you are refining with the Magic Brush it will automatically bring the hair back to life for you!

5. If you are working on a complex area (say hair) and you have made several touch-ups with the red and green magic brush, you can then go back and paint over an area with your blue brush (you’ll probably want to increase your brush size a little). This will refine the area more based off of the additional red and green Magic Brush selections you made…it’s a faster way to clean up difficult areas.

6. Don’t forget to adjust the color range slider when using the brush tool. It’s easy to forget that this feature is there so be sure to use it. Quick Reminder: The Color Range slider allows you to determine the spectrum of shades affected within the image based on the main color selection.

7. Change the background color to help identify areas in need of refinement. (This option is in your ReMask Menu).

8. To help recover edges from color contamination, increase the Decontamination slider under the Foreground Color option (you have to be in the Keep view).

Transparency Areas
1. Use your the Dual-Color selection brush tool when masking areas with transparency – such as wedding veils. Fill the area with blue. Then set your foreground color to match what should be kept (white for the veil) and set your background color to the color behind the veil that is to be removed. After that, set your brush size and then brush over the blue area. The yellow dots that appear represent transparency.

And that’s it! Hope this information helps you with your masking. If you have any tips that you’d like to share or any questions then feel free to leave me a reply below.

As you may have heard, It’s Mastering Masks Month here at Topaz. Our goal is to help you learn more about the uses and benefits of integrating masks into your workflow, and to help you maximize your productivity with Topaz ReMask. Despite the challenges faced with most masks, having the right tools and a little masking education can help you easily tackle even the most difficult images.

Masks: The What and Why?
Now, part of being able to master the masking process is understanding masks and what they are used for. The easiest way to describe a mask (also referred to as cutouts / extractions) is that it’s essentially the isolation of an element (or area around an element) that you would like to enhance or protect.

Like many popular (and often very necessary) post processing techniques, masks can be challenging. Even with the various tools available today, the process can still be tedious and definitely requires patience. Like many others, you may have found your initial masking attempt difficult and frustrating. So why do it? (so why bother?) Well, when it comes to post processing, masks can actually be quite a powerful tool – giving you flexibility in your creative and corrective enhancements.

Masks allow you to:

  • Replace unwanted backgrounds
  • Make selective adjustments (color, levels, detail, sharpness, adding blur…etc.)
  • Create collages and compositions (photo merging)
  • Design multi-layer graphics and layouts

A great mask will help you do these things easier and faster. So now that you have a little background, let’s explore the masking process and how ReMask can help.

Masking with Topaz ReMask
The problem with the masking process and the various masking tools that exist, is that they are hard to learn, heard to use and don’t always produce the results you need. Topaz ReMask, on the other hand, is designed to make masking easy. Even complex images like hair, veils and trees are simplified and more efficient with ReMask.

How does it work?
One important thing to understand about Topaz ReMask is the purpose and importance of the user-created tri-map. The tri-map is important because essentially it a blueprint that ReMask mask will follow when creating your mask.

The purpose of the tri-map is to sample the colors in your image. This means that wherever you paint green, Topaz ReMask will look at that section and determine that those colors are meant to be kept. Wherever you paint red, ReMask looks at it and determines that those colors are meant to be removed. Wherever you paint blue, will be computed. When computing, ReMask will take the samples gathered in the green and and areas to figure out what the blue areas should be.

Once the tri-map has been created, clicking the Compute button in ReMask will analyze and process that tri-map to create the actual mask.

Now, just like any other method, it is highly likely that the generated mask is not perfect at first. That’s why ReMask includes the Magic brush and the refining toolset, which make it easy to refine the generated mask.

Magic Brush
The Magic brush tool is integrated into your regular brush tools. Check the box next to Magic Brush text to enable it. Once the Magic Brush is activated you can use it to clean up your mask. The Magic Brush tool is pretty intuitive so just a click or a small stroke will actually clean up similar problem areas that are in close proximity to where you click. You will want to repeat this process as necessary throughout your image until you are satisfied with the results.

  • When you have a Red brush selected you can click in areas of your image that has leftover color or detail that you want to remove.
  • When the green brush is selected, you can click in areas of your image that have been removed or are semi-transparent in order to bring back in that color/detail.
  • If you select the blue brush and brush over an area it will clean it up for you.

Refining Toolset
The refining toolset allows you to make adjustments to your mask and to your foreground. Your settings here will differ from image to image.

When using the Mask Hardness and Mask Strength sliders it is best to be viewing your image in the Mask preview. Also, most of the time a low to mid value works best for these sliders.

  • Mask Hardness
    Determines how hard your mask is applied to subject edges in your image. The higher the parameter the harder your edges will be. The lower the parameter, the softer (more feathered) your edges will be.
  • Mask Strength
    Determines the brightness of the mask. Increasing this parameter will give you more detail by making the weaker mask details stronger.
  • Recovery (Foreground Color)
    Revives the color of your foreground – in weaker / more transparent areas. Typically you will find that setting this slider to a high value or at max will produce the best results.
    • Desaturation (Foreground Color)
      Desaturates the edges of your mask (in weaker / more transparent areas) to help with color contamination and blending.

    Other Brushes…which to use and when?

    • Single Color Selection Brushes
      These brushes allow you to brush out the foreground or background area in your image, based on the color selected and the setting of the Color Range slider. Focus in on an area and use this brush to select a specific color within that are to clean up.
    • Color Range
      The Color Range slider allows you to determine the spectrum of shades affected within the image based on the main color selection.
    • Dual Color Selection Brushes (for transparency)
      This brush allows you to define two colors (keep and remove) to target at once. The Dual Color brush is key for images where transparency is a factor because it will allow users to select a foreground color, such as the white of a wedding veil, and a background color to be removed from behind the veil.

      (The gray & white checkerboard in the background represents transparency – as seen in Photoshop)

      This brush can save time, because it allows you to remove unwanted colors and revive desired colors at once. Selecting this brush will automatically activate the color selector so that can select your colors. The Green (keep) color selector comes up first, just click on a color within the image that you want to keep, then it will switch to the red (remove) color selector, just click on a color within your image that you want to remove. After both color selections are made the tool will automatically change to a brush. Set your brush size and then brush over any area of your image that contains the colors you selected.

    See the step-by-step veil masking tutorial here.

    More tutorials available on the ReMask tutorials page.

    Sign up for Free masking webinars.

    Up Next: ReMask Workflow tips explored. So stay tuned! If you found this post helpful or if there is something that you want me to elaborate more on something then just let me know by dropping me a line below.

    When Lens Effects v1.1 came out, it brought with it a handful of new features and tools. Included in those new features is Dual Focus Lens…which is quite possibly one of my new favorite LE tools. With just two clicks, I was easily able to select two different focal points in the image (and change them), then quickly blur the background/areas around those points.

    I’ve received many questions about this new feature, so let’s take a look at the new lens option and how it works.

    The Dual Focus option (accessed from the Effects Menu on the left of the Lens Effects interface) has three adjustment tabs: Dual Focus Adjustments, Focus Area 1 Size and Focus Area 2 Size. Application of this effect is done in the Dual Focus Adjustment tab, then you can refine the focus area sizes in the Focus Area Size tabs.

    Dual Focus Adjustments:

    Focus Point Button – Set your two focus points here. Click on the focus point button to activate the crosshairs, then click on an object/area in your image to set it as the focus point. To set the second focal point, simply click on the focus point button again to reactivate the crosshairs, and then select the second focus point.
    Blur Amount – Increase this slider to apply blur to your image.
    Transition – Control the transition between the blur and the two focus points in your image.

    Focus Area 1 & 2 Size:
    Using the width and height sliders in the Focus Area 1 and 2 tabs, you can adjust the size of your two focus areas. Focus Area 1 controls the first focus point you selected and Focus Area 2 controls the second focus point you selected.

    Focus Width – Adjusts the horizontal span of the focus area. A higher value will include more focused area and a smaller value will have less focused area.

    Focus Height – Adjusts the vertical span of the focus area. A higher value will include more focused area and a smaller value will have less focused area.