We’ve had lots of feedback, questions, and comments on Topaz ReMask, and we thank you for taking the time to write to us and submit examples. I thought I would post a few frequently asked questions (and their answers!) here on the blog.

One thing that I want to note: Topaz ReMask works in a very different way than other masking plug-ins, and plug-ins in general. For one, it doesn’t have a user interface, so it’s almost impossible to “feel” your way through the plug-in. I strongly urge you to at least get a basic idea of how the plug-in works by scanning the User’s Manual or take a look at one of the short 3-4 minute video tutorials. They actually help quite a bit when starting out.

Now that that’s out of the way, here are some of the more common questions we’ve gotten:

How do I refine my mask if it’s not perfect?

If you’ve gotten a mask from ReMask and there’s areas of the mask that you’d like to improve, it’s easy to tell ReMask to re-process a part of the image with additional information. When processing, Topaz ReMask’s thought process goes something like this:

1. I see white in the tri-map over certain image features. I now know that image features similar to these (in color, proximity, etc) are to be kept in the final mask.
2. I see black in the tri-map over certain image features. I now know that image features similar to these are to be removed in the final mask.
3. I see gray in the tri-map over certain image features. I must use the information from #1 and #2 to determine the correct mask for #3.

Keeping this in mind, it makes sense that sometimes ReMask may not have all the information it needs to correctly deduce the gray areas with 100% accuracy. This is where mask refining comes in. All this consists of is using the resulting mask that Topaz ReMask gave you first, as a tri-map for another pass of Topaz ReMask. The key is to give it a little bit more information this time.

As a very simple example, let’s say you’re masking an apple and, for whatever reason, the stem wasn’t included in the mask even though you want it to be. You would first select the layer mask and paint white on some of the stem. You don’t have to paint ALL of the stem, but you have to make sure you don’t get any white on the background… or else ReMask will get really confused.

Then, you paint black on parts of the background around the stem. Finally, paint gray on the areas that you want ReMask to process (this time with added information). For the rest of the apple you don’t have to do anything because ReMask already gave you a black and white mask, so you can just leave it like it is.

(Sometimes it’s more appropriate to paint a thick gray over the entire stem and then paint black or white. It’s up to the situation. The only important thing is to give ReMask more information via black and white areas so it can correctly deduce the gray areas.)

After that, you can either apply Topaz ReMask again to the whole image, or just a selection of the stem. This will refine the mask at the gray areas using the new information. You can repeat this process if necessary.

How do I fix a procEngine -1000 or -878 error?

This is a memory issue. Go to your Photoshop Preferences and take a look at the RAM section.

First, drop it to about 40%. Restart Photoshop and try ReMask again.
If that doesn’t work, try increasing it to 85%. Restart Photoshop and try ReMask again.

If these don’t work, we’re coming out with a memory management upgrade soon, which will almost certainly help with the problem. Also, try minimizing the gray areas in the tri-map; ReMask’s memory usage is directly proportional to the amount of gray area.

Why do I get a message that says “No Layer Mask Channel Found” or “‘Make’ command not available”?

For the first message, Topaz ReMask must be run on a layer with a layer mask containing black, white, and gray. If there’s no layer mask, it will not run.

The second message only occurs when you use actions. If you do use actions, use nothing else – don’t create a layer mask, etc. The action will do everything for you. The “Make” error happens when the action tries to create a layer mask when there is already a layer mask on the layer.

Let me know if there’s any other questions that you want answered in the comments.

This post was originally posted on September 28, 2009

We’ve been pretty quiet on Twitter and the blog lately, but that’s because we were busy preparing a new product that we just released today called Topaz ReMask. Thanks for the very positive reaction!

There are a few commonly asked questions so far that I wanted to clear up. ReMask is definitely a little bit different as plug-ins go (mainly because it doesn’t have a user interface) but as soon as you get the hang of it it gets much easier and faster.

First, you don’t actually need to use the actions to run the software. The actions can speed up the process and make it easier on you, but they’re not required. The Topaz ReMask workflow with actions looks like this:

1. Open image and select layer.
2. Run “Before Masking” action.
3. Immediately brush gray for areas you want ReMask to process, white for areas you want to keep, and black for areas you want to remove.
4. Run “Process” action.
5. If refinement’s necessary, run the “Refine Mask” action and then run “Process” after you’re done refining.

That’s the ReMask workflow with actions – it’s simple and without too much fiddling around with layers and different views. Now, the actions won’t work if you’ve already completed some of the steps by yourself. For example, if you’ve already created a layer mask and you run the Before Masking action, you’ll get an error that says the “Make” command is not available. This is because it can’t make a layer mask on a layer that already has one.

By the way, the actions location was incorrect in the Quick Start video. Here are the actual locations:

Mac: HD->Library->Application Support->Topaz Labs->Topaz ReMask->Actions
Windows: C:\Program Files\Topaz Labs\Topaz ReMask\Actions

Or just download the actions here.

But it’s perfectly possible to use ReMask to great effect without using actions – there’s just a couple more things to keep in mind. Basically, ReMask requires the following condition to run:

You must have a layer selected with a layer mask containing white, gray, and black. The layer itself must be selected (not the layer mask).

Under the above condition, Topaz ReMask works completely fine by itself without the help of actions. After playing around with it for a bit, though, I find that using the actions greatly sped up my masking process. (For example, did you know that I actually did time trials and practiced my masking speed before making this video? Turned out that actions shaved off at least a couple of seconds from my record…)

But it’s up to you whether you want to use the actions or not. If you want to learn a bit more about exactly how ReMask works and our recommended workflows, please check out the Quick Start and How ReMask Works tutorials in the ReMask tutorials section.

Thanks! Feel free to pose any ReMask questions here.

This post was originally posted on September 26, 2009

If you have a beloved car and a beloved camera, it’s practically your civic duty to use one on the other. So, to do this I waited till dusk, drove (roared) to a decent location, and whipped out my Canon 40D. Then came the Photoshop Car Retouching!

Then I opened up Photoshop and played with it a bit. I tried to keep it natural instead of going too overboard with the retouching.

First thing I want to mention – if you’re shooting car photography, most of the time it looks better if you shoot it on your elbows and knees. Shooting below the car, or some other creative non-everyday angle, will produce a much better photo than just shooting it at standing height. So wear something that you wouldn’t mind getting dirt on, and watch out for ants.

So, I got home and opened up the image in Photoshop in all its low-contrast goodness. The very first thing I did was notice the unsightly blotches that adorned my otherwise beautiful baby – the little nicks, scratches, and grime clumps that show up in many car images. Usually to get rid of these I would use the healing brush, which makes it hard to work around edges and other detail.

However, in this case I had another tool – Topaz Simplify. I actually just duplicated the layer, Simplified it, and masked in the Simplified parts where I would have regularly used the Healing Brush. The advantages to this are that edges and color are preserved while the minor blemishes get removed, unlike when using the Healing Brush.

My next step was to apply this oh so brilliant creative exposure, detail, and color software that I somehow had access to. I’m not going to tell you exactly what settings I used because I always like encouraging people to try using the sliders for themselves.

For this pass of Adjust, I ignored the sky and only focused on what made the car look good.

I tried accentuated the reflections while still keeping the car looking natural. Then I ran Topaz Adjust again, this time focusing on the sky. Afterwards, I masked out everything but the sky by utilizing clever masking techniques brushing on a layer mask.

The only thing left after this is to brighten the chrome horse and headlights, and darken the grill a little bit. Slap a small gradient vignette around the photo, and we get the final result.

And that’s it!

Simple steps:
1. Remove blemishes with Simplify and layer masking
2. Apply a layer of Topaz Adjust on car
3. Apply a layer of Adjust on sky
4. Dodge and burn select parts, add small vignette effect

Oh, and for a finishing touch, I added some Photoshop prowess, millionaire magic, and a dash of delightful dreams.

Just kidding. Hope you enjoyed the tutorial.

Please let me know if you have any specific questions about any of this, because I know I skimmed over how exactly to do a lot of what I described. Just drop me a comment for the full scoop on any questions or comments you may have.

This post was originally posted on July 27, 2009

One of the most common image enhancement workflow questions we get over here is…

At what point in my post-processing workflow should I apply noise reduction?

Why, excellent question! This is actually a very important factor in the quality of the resulting image, whether you use built-in Photoshop noise reduction tools or astoundingly good third-party noise reduction software. When to apply noise reduction is one of the most important and most overlooked aspects of effective image enhancement.

The simple answer is to apply noise reduction before applying ANY other adjustments to the image.

This includes JPEG compression, Camera RAW or even in-camera noise reduction, sharpening, exposure adjustments, dodging and burning, “Psychedelic” presets, whatever. See, in order to differentiate between noise and detail, noise reduction software have a very specific idea of what “noise” looks like and what “detail” looks like straight out of the camera. Applying any kind of adjustments to the image confuses the noise reduction software and causes it to give you a subpar result.

Demonstration time! Consider the following thousand words:

Canon 40D: f/2.8, 1/160, 1600 ISO
Canon 40D: f/2.8, 1/160, 1600 ISO

The image is very noisy and a little bit underexposed. I processed it a couple of different ways to illustrate the point of this post:

Brightened original image
Exposure adjusted, then DeNoised DeNoised then adjusted exposure
Feel free to click on the images for larger versions. The first version only has exposure adjustments – in this case Levels – applied to it. Oh no noise! 1600 ISO underexposed isn’t pretty.

In the second version, I took the RAW file and first corrected the exposure adjustment and then applied noise reduction. In the final version, I applied noise reduction as the very first step in my workflow before exposure correction. The results speak for themselves – and this was just a simple exposure adjustment!

Next time you really need to get the best results on your noise reduction, keep this in mind: no matter what noise reduction software you use, it’s always important to apply it first. I’d go as far as to turn off the built-in noise reduction and sharpening functions in Camera RAW before you import into Photoshop for best results.

There’s a lot of advice where noise reduction is put at the end of the workflow together with sharpening. Although this may be convenient, if you’re really looking for great results, put noise reduction smack at the beginning of your post-processing workflow before you touch a single pixel.

This post was originally posted on July 23, 2009