AKVIS SmartMask 2The dream of a powerful tool that can automatically select an object in a photo has been around since the first days of Photoshop. New masking products are always appearing and old ones are updated on a regular basis, promising to take the drudgery out of what can be a complicated task.

SmartMask 2 is a Photoshop plug-in that isolates and removes the background from a photo. The operation of the plug-in is relatively straightforward. Before opening SmartMask, you must first make the Background layer into an editable layer. Once in SmartMask, select the mode that best fits the subject matter (Sharp, Soft, and Complex), and then identify the subject and the background using the Pencil tools. In Sharp mode, I identified both the background and subject and then clicked the Run icon (this will give you a preview without leaving the SmartMask dialog). SmartMask quickly isolated the subject, although the subject’s stray hairs got clipped. Switching to Soft mode and painting the transition (soft) areas improved the result. After clicking the Apply icon to apply the filter to the actual image, the areas around the subject became transparent instead of creating a layer mask.
In an image where the subject and the background were similar, the results with Sharp and Soft modes were less precise. In Complex mode, I had a difficult time producing a really clean isolated subject. But I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression; I think it’s a fairly good product for the price. Personally, I found it great at isolating overcast skies in landscapes so I could replace the skies.

SmartMask 2 works as a plug-in with Mac and Windows versions of Photoshop CS3 and CS4 and Photoshop Elements 6 and 7. There’s a 10-day fully functional trial version available from—Dave Huss

PRICE: $120 (Home); $240 (Business)
FROM: AKVIS Software Inc.

HOT Price; simple to use (after you learn how)
NOT Lack of documentation; Magic Brush for clean-up