My First Encounter with Vertus Fluid Mask 3

Fluid Mask 3 Tutorial Screenshot

I strongly suspect that Fluid Mask 3 by Vertus is a very powerful and capable application for masking and cutting out images. Having test-driven the software provided me by Vertus (thanks, Zach Heath), I was made aware of its power and at the same time humbled by the experience, the way a half-hearted hunter is humbled by a big wild beast.

After a cursory look at the introductory tutorials, I went straight out at attempting to extract an image that included some hair, an ambitious undertaking as it turned out.

Now, I’m not a Luddite, my friend, or a klutz at imaging tutorials. I love technology and I’m not that bad at following imaging tutorials, but after several tries at Fluid Mask 3 following the online tutorials (here) pointed to by Vertus I still could not manage to turn in a decent work.

It did not help, of course, that the voice instructing me in the video tutorials sounded robotic and cold (bless him!). It did not help either that my interface seemed a little different from the tutorials. And that part about Edge Blending in Patch Properties? It was just as clear as mud. So, after three hours of intense attempts, going back to the tutorials especially on Hair Blending every so often, I gave up.

But what I noticed in my extracted image (the cut-out, as Fluid Mask calls it) encouraged me. There were portions with very fine hair that I managed to extract wonderfully along with some blotted out portions where I managed to mess up with the Keep tools, Delete tools, Blend tools and the Patch tools. If I was able to do some portions right but messed up the others, then certainly I was not doing the whole thing incorrectly?

So I went back to the tutorials and searched for answers, but there was nothing there to improve on my attempts. How I wish this guy (the voice in the tutorials) could teach like Scott Kelby!

I left it at that.

After a couple of months, and as serendipity would have it, I stumbled upon a link via which mentions several tutorials on Fluid Mask. These tutorials were on the Vertus website all along but were not mentioned on the main tutorials page (I wonder why).

So I went back to work again on my messed up image, choosing to revert back to the original and started anew, this time following the hidden tutorials that featured a friendlier voice who sounded natural at teaching. And guess what?

I was able to do a decent cut-out of the image that I wanted, and was happy with it. Was it perfect? Not that perfect, but I’m happy with it. There are still a few pixels that needed some retouching but I can deal with that later when my understanding of, and skill with, Fluid Mask shall have improved.

The point here that I want to make is that Fluid Mask 3 is a powerful application. My own experience bears this out. In the right hands it can accomplish wonderful tasks.

So, is Fluid Mask 3 difficult to learn?

Don’t kid yourself; masking is serious business. It is complicated; I am talking here of course about masking fine hair against a backdrop that almost matches the color of the hair, not just trying to extract a well defined book from its very distinct background. I’m not even talking about the girl’s hair above; that’s easy, the hair color is distinct from the background and it can be accomplished with Photoshop’s Color Range technique. I’m talking about fine hair flying all over an indistinct background that almost matches the color of the hair.

That’s why Fluid Mask initially retailed for $400 (there’s some recent discounts I gather; it’s now $239). Mastering it could bring you immense masking power for your images. But you have to understand how the tools work – the Keep tools, Delete tools and the Blend tools mainly (there are a few others), and invest some time at understanding the various settings for the different tools when dealing with different images. If the devil is in the details, the details in the tool settings can bedevil you.

And this is where effective tutorials can help tremendously; I need a tutorial that can teach me the finer details of the tool settings beyond the self-explanatory Keep Tool, Delete Tool and Blend Tool. Perhaps Vertus can elucidate further on Edge Blending in Patch Properties mentioned above.

Perhaps they can also enliven the tone of the present tutorials. I want a tutor who talks to me directly and not just mumble things to himself. The learning curve can only be as steep as the quality of the teaching materials.

As for myself, I think I’ll avail myself next time of the free Live Training sessions that Vertus offers. It’s there, I found belatedly under Support, and it’s free to users of Fluid Mask. I just hope someone will indeed be there to take my call when the time comes for me to call. Can Vertus sustain it when there’s a few hundred users who’d call at the same time? The free Live Training is a nice touch but better tutorials I think should still be the way to go.

Would I pay $239 for an application that can help me extract a well-defined book from its very distinct background? Perhaps not. I’ll pay $239 because it will be profitable for me to be able to perfectly extract an image of a person whose beautiful hair just happens to be flying all over a very indistinct background and transpose it on a lovelier background.

And that, I found out, is where Fluid Mask 3 excels – extracting complicated images from indistinct backgrounds. If they can only make it easier to understand…


Published by Chris Malinao

Chris teaches Lightroom as workflow software to photography students at the FPPF, Federation of Philippine Photographers Foundation. He also teaches smartphone photography.