There are a few tools that all graphics artists have in their toolbox, but none of them really compare to Maskerade. We've attempted to give an overview of these competitive tools and methods, but we've surely overlooked something or left out someone's cool trick-of-the-day. But, before you write to us and tell us what a lame job we did, take a minute to compare your idea to the ones listed below. Chances are, it's a variation of one of these tools or methods.

Click a heading to expand it...

MaskPro by Extensis Corp.

MaskPro is plug-in for Photoshop that is meant to be used with a single image on any background. If you already have an existing image with a complex background and you don't want to use the standard Photoshop tools or build clipping paths by hand, MaskPro may be for you. But if you need to setup and photograph your subject, you will probably benefit from using another process, like Maskerade or blue/green-screen. MaskPro does not take advantage of extra information that you can gather during the photographic process like blue/green-screen and Maskerade do.

MaskPro is a clever idea, but it is really just a glorified eraser tool. The general principle is to define the unique range of colors that exist in the part of the image to keep and separately, the unique range of colors that exist in the part of the image to discarded. As the user brushes over the image with the eraser brush, MaskPro decides which pixels to make transparent and which pixels to leave intact. In an attempt to minimize the fringe effects that occur when edges contain remnants of the background color, MaskPro removes some of the background color from those edge pixels. Unfortunately, MaskPro is highly dependent on the skill of the operator and is a subjective solution. Two different operators will generate two completely different results.

Review: Mask Pro - Publish, Nov 1997

MagicMask by Chroma Graphics, Inc.

There are so many techniques that we can't have used them all, and here's one we haven't. But, it's appropriate that we mention it and give you some info on the general idea behind it.

Like MaskPro, MagicMask is designed to help generate a mask for an existing image. It just goes about it in a different way than MaskPro does. MagicMask is a group of plug-ins for Photoshop that are meant to work together to produce a mask. The Color Brush produces a mask from the colors that you 'brush' over. The Nudge Tool adjusts the edges of the mask inwards or outwards to fine-tune its fit. And the Magic Lasso produces selections by doing automatic edge detection along a rough path that you define.
While Magic Mask is more of a mask maker than Mask Pro is, it still isn't breaking any new ground or doing anything revolutionary. If you have to photograph your subject, consider using a process like Maskerade to take advantage of that extra info you can get during the photography stage to produce the better, correct solution.

Review: Magic Mask - Publish, Nov 1997

PhotoFusion by UltiMatte Inc. (Blue-screen / Green-screen / Chroma Key)

UltiMatte has been around for a long time and has really perfected the blue/green-screen process. It is an excellent tool for many uses, especially if you are doing people or need to capture motion. But the process is somewhat labor intensive and requires close attention by a skilled operator to get good results. It can't export a transparent image - it must do the compositing for you. So if you plan on layering several of your product shots, forget it. You can save the mask and apply it to a color image, but the color contributions of the background will remain in your image unless you let PhotoFusion do the compositing for you.

Unlike blue/green-screen techniques, you don't need any special paint or new equipment. All you need is a solid colored backdrop that you can change in brightness. You can do it through illumination, that is by strobing the backdrop, you can swap the backdrop with another of a different brightness or color. If you're going to swap it out, black and white work great, but nearly and two contrasting colors will do.

Review: UltiMatte PhotoFusion - MacWorld, Oct 1995

Maskerade™ PhotoFusion
No special backdrop needed. Any uniform color backdrop that you can change in brightness, either through illumination or by physically swapping it, will work. Requires a backdrop painted in a special chroma-key blue, green or red paint. And, you can't use the backdrop for anything else, unless you really like electric blue or green.
Fine details are captured accurately, no matter how small the detail. Maskerade reproduces sub-pixel details with correct color and transparency with NO fringe effects around edges. Fine details are difficult to capture and the results are highly dependent on the skill level of the operator. In addition, good results usually require two photographs to be taken - one of the background alone and one of the subject on the background - to perform the color removal accurately.
Transparency is accurately captured. Transparency, like fine details, is difficult to capture accurately. It usually requires the same two photo technique.
Can capture true spectral transparency. No other software can currently make direct use of this information, but a future update of Maskerade will allow the effect to be simulated properly in Photoshop. Can only do simple, one channel transparency in the resulting composite image. It cannot reproduce true spectral transparency like a photographic color filter or colored glass.
Produces a transparent image as the result. Multiple images can then be used in any manner the designer wishes and composited in any which way he or she chooses. Cannot generate a transparent image. The software/hardware must do compositing onto a background image for you, which severely limits creative freedom.
Images can be reused with no extra effort. After the first masking process, you're done. Images can be reused, but each reuse requires the masking process to be repeated.
Appropriate for still objects only. It cannot mask anything that moves. It can be used for masking dead people though, since they don't move (Sorry, bad joke). Can do people and motion.
Requires two photographs. Can use one photograph, but good results require two photographs - one of the background alone and one of the subject on the background - to accurately remove the background color.
No limitation on colors in the subject being photographed. Can't have color of backdrop present in the subject being photographed. If this happens, the subjects ends up having holes in it.
All images require identical effort of about 20 seconds of work. We could train a chimp to do it. In fact, we may offer one as an option.

In a future release, we will be fully automating the process.

Can be labor intensive, depending upon skill level of operator.

Photoshop by Adobe

We're not even going to attempt to cover all of the techniques that are possible with this "swiss army knife" of graphics programs. Given a photograph or two in your hand, you can use Photoshop from start to finish in any number of ways to do your image masking. However, Photoshop lacks the critical capabilities that prevent it from being able to do what Maskerade can do. As a result, your images image will suffer from the same flaws that are introduced by other solutions, such as Mask Pro, MagicMask and PhotoFusion.

You say "Gee, I can do that with Photoshop". The answer is "No you can't." Take two pictures, one with objects and one without. Use the difference command to create a mask. It doesn't work.

Producing a Contrast Matte by Backlighting

While the blue/green screen technique is technically a contrast matte method, we use contrast matte here to refer to a method used by many experienced photographers. It is a technique where the subject is photographed once with normal lighting, then the lighting on the subject is shut off and the subject is photographed a second time with illumination from behind. The result is one normal photo and one photo of a black subject on a light background. This second photo is used as the mask for the first photo. Unfortunately, this technique requires a great deal of experience and trial and error to get the lighting just right to prevent 'blooming' around the edges of the subject. It's really only applicable for opaque objects and objects with a minimal of small details that can get lost in the blooming effect of the light. See 'correct edges' sidebar.

Maskerade™ Contrast Matte
Appropriate for still objects only. Also appropriate for still objects only.
Fine details are captured accurately, no matter how small the detail. Maskerade reproduces sub-pixel details with correct color and transparency with NO fringe effects around edges. Small details can be lost because bright backlighting causes blooming.
Transparency is accurately captured. Works best for opaque objects. Can be used for transparent items, but the color image that will be masked has contribution of background color still in it.
Very fast. All images require the same amount of user effort. Only file size affects the time required. Moderately fast. But it usually takes several attempts to get the lighting just right for the contrast matte.
Requires two photographs. Also requires two photographs.
Once again, can be done by a chimp. Extremely dependent on skill level of photographer.

Building a Density Mask From Color Channel Data

This is similar to the contrast matte method, but does not require a second photograph to do it. However, the ability to do this is highly dependent on the content of the image. A skilled operator may be able to construct a mask from information taken from several channels, but this is way out of reach of inexperienced and novice users. The general principle is to find enough contrast in one color channel to define the edges and areas of transparency in the color image.

Maskerade™ Density Mask
Appropriate for any still object no matter what the level of detail, transparency or content. Can be attempted with any image, however there must be enough available information in the color channels of the image for the process to work. This usually makes it useful for only the most limited applications.
Very fast. All images require the same amount of user effort. Only file size affects the time required, but of course, that effects all of the methods. Slow. Very slow. Very, very slow.
Once again, can be done by a chimp. Extremely dependent on skill level of operator. Not for the faint of heart.

Each of these techniques is suited to a particular kind of image and can do an acceptable job under the right conditions, but none of them is a 'correct' solution in the sense that Maskerade is. You really need knowledge of all of these techniques so that you can compare methods and choose the right solution when confronted with a masking problem. Just remember that no one technique is the solution to all your problems, and no technique can do a good job with just the push of a button. They all take time and a skilled operator to produce good results.