Review – Topaz Mask AI
We have been using the Topaz suite of plug-ins for many years now and they are absolutely indispensable in our workflow to get the look we want from our images. As Professional Travel Photographers we don’t always have the luxury of time to wait for great light or the ideal background. Sometimes you just have to get the shot regardless of the background or light. In addition, these days we write many equipment reviews and take shots that require background removal so need software that will do this quickly and accurately.
It is a great comfort for us to know that there is a plug-in that will save the day when we need to remove distracting or boring backgrounds and give the image more mood and emotion, although we must admit that Skylum Luminar 4 also does a fantastic job of sky replacement. We have used the original Topaz ReMask since version 3 and have been astounded by how easy it is to use when wanting to create an accurate mask. Some masks can take you a great deal of time in Photoshop, however, Topaz ReMask always gave us a fairly accurate mask in a fraction of the time.
With the release of Mask AI (the AI stands for Artificial Intelligence), it has now become even easier to mask images. There are also many more features including some fantastic automated features. Most of the examples images below literally took us a few minutes to mask using Mask AI including background replacement. Read on…
Above: Topaz Mask AI – interface
Above is the view you will get when you first open an image regardless of whether you use the application as a plug-in or standalone. The image will open with a green overlay. This default overlay indicates that the whole image is to be kept (not that you would ever save it from this stage). The next thing to do is to move over to the panel on the left of the interface.
The left panel (see left) has 7 tools and we’ll list them all below and what their function is.
- Subject – this is one of the new features for Mask AI. It will auto-detect a subject in your image and apply the mask automatically based on its estimation. If you have a subject in your image that needs to be masked then this is a great starting point. You may have to fine-tune the mask with the Brush Tool.
- Sky – this tool is basically the same as above but will auto-detect a sky. Again, if you looking to do a sky replacement then this is a great starting point.
- Brush Tool – when you click on this tool it will open 3 additional tools (see image below). This is one of the most important tools in the software.
- Mask Brush Tool [shortcut Q]. Blue Button. If you don’t use one of the auto-detect tools mentioned above then this is the tool to select to outline your subject that you want to keep. You would then use the Fill Tool to select areas that you want to Keep and Cut. You would then click on the Compute Mask button on the right side of the interface.
- Keep Brush Tool [shortcut W]. Green Button. After you have used the Mask Brush Tool and Compute Mask you may want to select this tool to add areas that you want to keep that the software has not detected.
- Cut Brush Tool [shortcut E]. Red Button. After you have used the Mask Brush Tool and Compute Mask you may want to select this tool to remove areas that you want to cut that the software has not detected.
- Brush Size – as the name implies, this button allows you to change the size of your brush. Alternatively, just use your keyboard square brackets ( [ & ] ) to change the size.
- Fill Tool – this is another important tool if you are not using the auto-detect tools. When you click on this tool it will open 3 additional tools. Once you have made the selection with your Mask Brush Tool then it is just a matter of filling the area using this tool. Areas that you want to keep use the Green Bucket and areas you want to cut with the Red Bucket. Lastly, click on the Compute Mask button on the right side of the interface.
- Colour Range Tool – this is a very handy tool for making masks based on a colour range. When you click on this tool it will open 2 additional tools. The Green Eyedropper allows you to select a colour that you want to keep in the mask and the Red Eyedropper allows you to select a colour that you want to cut from the mask. When you click on either of the eyedropper tools it will give you options to use the Pick Color to Brush. Once you have made your eyedropper selection you can also adjust the Matched Colour Range slider to give you more accuracy. Just paint over the areas you either want to keep or discard. If there are multiple colours in areas you want to keep or discard simply keep selecting the appropriate eyedropper, make a new selection and paint over the new area.
- Pan Tool – the pan tool allows you to move the image around the working area, however, this is greyed out if the Fit tool at the top of the interface is selected. If you click on the 100% tool next to the Fit tool and your image is larger than the working area then the Pan tool will become available to move the image around.
There are not many tools on the top bar of the interface (see above). The first 3 from left to right are view options once you have created a mask. These are greyed out until you create a mask. The next 2 are the Fit and 100% tools which we have mentioned already in the Pan Tool. The next tool is the zoom slider which allows you to magnify the image. There is also a tool just under the zoom tool that allows you to toggle the Trimap view on and off. When masking you will want this turned ON. Other than that there is the Reset, Undo and Redo tools which are self-explanatory.
The toolbar on the right side of the interface (see left) is your main editing tools once you have created the mask using the masking tools on the left of the interface.
- Image Preview Window – a feature of most editing software apps. If your image is large you will get a box displayed in this window which you can move around to get to different parts of the image.
- Refine Tab – all the sliders below are tools that will help you refine your mask. The Edge Shift is a particularly useful tool to shrink the selection if it has not been accurate enough on the edges of your mask
- Edge Hardness
- Edge Strength
- Edge Shift
- Foreground Recovery
- Background Tab – when your initial mask is created it has a transparent/translucent background. We find this useful as it can be used on any background colour in the future. These are usually saved as a PNG file. If you want to keep your background transparent then you won’t need to access this tab.
- None – retains default transparent background
- Blur – allows you to blur/de-focus the background
- Color – allows you to add any colour to the background. If it is for one use only and you know the background colour HEX then this is a good option.
- Image – allows you to add any image to the background
- Mask Mode
- AI – the default masking tool for general purpose masking
- Translucent – this is a special AI mode for fabrics and semi-transparent (non-reflective) materials e.g. a brides veil
- Contrast – uses image contrast detection
- Auto-update Mask toggle – if checked it will let the software update the changes each time you adjust a setting or, as we prefer, if unchecked you can update the change by clicking the Update Mask button.
- Update Mask – see above
- Save – will open a Save As box with options (see right). Save as PNG to keep as transparent background. Select JPG if you have added colour or an image to the background
As we do a lot of product reviews for our blog we always use Topaz Mask AI to remove backgrounds. We usually always keep our backgrounds transparent. The image below is a product shot of the Peak Design Everyday Backpack Zip 20L. We could not use the Subject or Sky auto-detect for this mask.
When first opened the entire box is Green (Keep). The Mask Brush tool has been used to outline the bag in Blue. Then using the Fill tool select Red (Cut) to add to the background. Lastly, click on the Compute Mask button to create a mask. Once finished the screen will default to a side-by-side view of the Trimap view (above left) and the masked view (above right). To get out of this view select Single View from the top toolbar then click on the Trimap tool and select Keep. You will now only have the masked image in the working area. You can now tidy up your mask using either the Mask Brush tool or the editing tools. In the example above it has done a very accurate job with only a few minor adjustments.
Here is an example of a Sky Replacement with a landscape image. For this image, we selected the Sky auto-detect feature and it gave us the following mask (below right). It has missed a few branches in the tree however we can add those to the mask by painting over them with the Mask Brush tool.
However, the gaps between the branches in the tree have not been selected. The Sky auto-detect has only outlined between the sky and the edges of the trees. To overcome this you will need to paint in the entire area where the sky can be seen through the trees with the Mask Brush tool. The resulting Trimap will look like the image below. The mask is now pretty close to perfect.
To add a new sky select the Background tab and load a sky of your choice. You will be able to position the sky with the Transform tool that will appear when you add the sky image. You also have the option to flip the sky vertically or horizontally. The resulting image is below. The white box is the Transform tool to move the sky into position. If the image is acceptable you can now Save the image.
Topaz Mask AI, in our opinion, is a fantastic masking tool that is extremely useful in our workflow. The latest version is an amazing improvement on previous versions. Having said that, as far as Sky Replacement is concerned we find Skylum Luminar 4’s Sky Replacement tool a lot easier to use and a bit more intuitive when it comes to finding gaps in branches etc, although it is only really designed for sky replacement and not product backgrounds. Regardless, Topaz Mask AI will still remain our go-to software for all our product background masking needs.
RATING: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
We hope you found this post useful and helps you in making a decision as to whether you should purchase or not. The software, at the time of writing, costs USD$99.99, however, the software is also occasionally on sale.
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