Price: US$39.95, £39.95, EU€39.95 (all including 19% VAT)*
A fun and effective image tool for extracting parts of a picture for use in another
Vertus is a name that, until recently, was exclusively known to professional and advanced amateur photographers and graphic artists for its Fluid Mask image extraction tool. Play With Pictures is a considerably more affordable and easier to use version aimed at the wider non-expert audience.But at its heart the highly sophisticated Fluid Mask engine drives Play With Pictures.
Like Fluid Mask, Play With Pictures enables you to select and extract, or cut out, really quite complex shapes and paste them into new composite pictures. Think of it as digital montage with very sophisticated digital scissors. It's great for kids' homework projects, scrap books, poster designs, photo special effects, and more.
By way of a simple demonstration, I'm going to use the three images below to create a simple result that incorporates two of them as image objects and one as an overall background:
The picture of the camera on a tripod, above is simple to extract, leaving the tripod head and the dull grey background behind.
A much harder job, we're going to extract just the chicken for use in our new picture. The outline of the chicken's form is much more detailed and there is less contrast between the chicken's outline and the grass background.
This flower shot is going to be the background for the new picture. We will also add some text and a speech bubble.
When a donor image is loaded, the powerful Fluid Mask engine analyses the picture, breaking it up into a mosaic of areas that are distinct to the surrounding areas. This distinction can be determined by differences in colour, contrast, and detail. In effect, a jigsaw is created, with the pieces separated by blue outlines.
Your job is to eliminate the bits of the jigsaw that are no longer needed. We're only interested in the chicken, so the areas that cover the grass, etc., need to go. To do this, paint generally around the form you want to retain and the software matches up the characteristics that have been covered by your painting strokes and any matching jigsaw pieces are turned white.
This will leave a rough outline that still shows some unwanted parts of the original picture. Now you can carefully prod each jigsaw piece you want to eliminate one by one. If the subject you want to extract has a clear outline, the job will soon be done. Our chicken has a complex outline, so more fine detail work needs to be done.
Sometimes, it's simpler to rub out remaining detail independently of the jigsaw piece details, and Play With Pictures provides such a tool. If you make a mistake, no problem, you can back track easily.
Eventually, with a bit of patience, you will have isolated the part of the original picture you want to re-use, like our chicken, above.
The professional version of Vertus Play With Pictures, Vertus Fluid Mask, has a much more complex user interface and greater flexibility, but it's nearly four times as expensive and harder to use.
Once the extraction process has been completed, the picture is pasted into your new image. Above we have completed the extraction of the chicken and the camera and used the flower as the overall background. This screen shot shows the input of text. The text font, colour and size, as well as position, are all easily selected and adjusted.
It's the same story with speech bubbles. You have a choice of three styles, and we have chosen a 'thought' bubble here.
Objects in your composition can have their transparency altered, if required. A simple layering system is used so you can place selected objects on top of others, as required. All objects can be re-sized as you wish, too.
Even after an extracted object has been pasted into the new composite image, you can re-edit it at the 'jigsaw' level whenever you wish, further refining the extraction shape and detail as you need.
And here is our final result. Once you are happy with it, you can export it as an image to use in another application, or print it.
Play With Pictures has a very powerful image extraction engine under its hood. In general, the program is easy to use. I was able to get to grips with it without the need to refer to a help file or instruction manual, although I was already familiar with Fluid Mask, so this was an advantage. Nevertheless, I still feel most people who have done a little photo editing will master Play with Pictures well given time and a little patience.
Vertus has been careful to differentiate its Fluid Mask business from Play With Pictures. Anyone hoping that Play With Pictures, at $39, will perform as a cheap alternative to Fluid Mask($149) may be disappointed. Fluid Mask provides many more controls to optimise the quality of the extraction outlines and is not restricted by the 8 megapixel image size limit of Play with Pictures. And you can't use Play With Pictures as a Photoshop plug-in.
But overall, I can see Play With Pictures being a very popular tool for my kids and for anyone who wants a simple and relatively easy image extraction tool. So far, so good. However, there is a caveat. If you already use a general imaged editor that has a sophisticated extraction tool of its own, like Photoshop's Quick Selection tool, which was introduced with Photoshop CS3 and Photoshop Elements 6, there may be no point in investing in Play With Pictures.
There is always a personal preference factor, and even if you do use a recent version of Photoshop, you may find you prefer the simplicity of Play With Pictures, though I don't personally feel the fundamental effectiveness of either solution is that different, they are simply different in style of operation..
Vertus offers a 15 day fully functional trial download of Play With Pictures, which you can find more information about at the Play With Pictures website.
By far the biggest issue I have with Play with Pictures is Vertus' pricing policy. My understanding is that Vertus is a UK-based company, but it uses a German-based online supplier, so a) everyone is charged 19% VAT regardless of their local VAT rate (currently 15% in the UK, for example), and b) everyone is charged 39.95 (including VAT) whether the currency is Pounds, Euros, or Dollars. If you buy in Dollars, you effectively get about a third off compared to buying in Pounds. Boxed CD versions are available, but we have found that the US price can be even cheaper.
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