Miscellaneous Ramblings

Miscellaneous Ramblings Review

Vertus Bling! It: Affordable Image Masking Software for Casual Use

Charles Moore - 2009.03.23 - Tip Jar

Rating: 3 out of 4

Vertus, Inc. specializes in image masking software - applications with the ability to pull desired elements out of or eliminate unwanted ones from a digital image by separating the image into puzzle-like pieces, allowing the user to simply paint in the portions of the image to be kept or deleted.

There are two Vertus image masking programs - Fluid Mask, which is targeted to graphics professionals and serious/advanced amateurs, and Bling! It, which harnesses some of Fluid Mask's power in a user friendly package for consumers wanting to, for example, create professional-looking image layouts of items or products for publishing on the Web or on online auction sites, like eBay and Craigslist, or small businesses wanting to create their own ad illustrations

In the first installment of this two-part series of reviews, we'll look at Bling! It, with which even amateur users without any prior image editing experience can produce images that will attract auction bids, raise the achieved sales values of the items that you sell, and increase the click-through-rate over that of standard thumbnail images, giving them a "shot-in-the-studio" look and feel.

You can do the sort of graphics work Bling! It does using Photoshop's Background Eraser tool and layers if you know your way around that complex and expensive application. The much more reasonably priced Photoshop Elements 6 also supports pulling images from their backgrounds, but Bling! It costs a lot less than even Photoshop Elements, and it provides you with inexpensive and easy-to-use technology purpose-made for replacing backgrounds in digital photos and leaving only only the item of interest.

Guild D-25 guitarFor example, take this photograph of my Guild D-25 guitar. The basic shot isn't too bad, but it can be made a lot more effective for use in an ad by eliminating the background and replacing it a more appropriate one that focuses buyer attention entirely on the guitar.

First, you need a photo to work with. Positioning the product against a uniform background, such as a solid color, is best, while a busy background, like the patterned bedspread my guitar was sitting on, will make it more difficult for Bling! It to distinguish the product from the background.

I found it virtually impossible for Bling! It to distinguish automatically where the strongly vertically-grained mahogany of the D-25 ended and the bedspread began, making it necessary for me to remove the busy background using Bling! it's Delete Exact Brush and Erase Exact Brush instead of the automatic Delete Local Brush.

Rolleicord VBI experienced similar difficulties with this photo of my Rolleicord VB camera and was obliged to resort to the same solution. On the other hand, a sample photo of a guitar laying on a white dropcloth from the Bling! It Web page cleaned up nicely and quickly using the Delete Local Brush, so it pays off to heed the suggestions.

sample guitar photoCare taken in choosing the background of your choice of product shots, although Bling! It can handle busy backgrounds with a bit more effort.

A digital camera of at least 3 megapixels is recommended, and it's suggested that you take lots of photos and choose the best one for your ad. I did that, but they were all on that floral pattern bedspread.

Bling! It starts up quickly even on my old 1.33 GHz PowerBook G4. To import an Image into Bling! It for editing, go to the File menu and choose Open. The Open dialog box appears in which you browse for and select the image file you want to import.

Unfortunately, dragging and dropping an image on the Bling! It icon in the Dock is not supported, and I found that dragging an image from the Finder into the open Bling! It application window would work sometimes and not others.

You can open the following image formats in Bling! It:

  • bmp
  • jpeg
  • jpg
  • pbm
  • pgm
  • png
  • ppm

Bling! It only saves in JPEG format, which is the most common image format for the Web. If you get confused while climbing the learning curve, Bling! It supports tool tips for the various tools that appear on mouseover.

Workin in Bling! It step by stepPreparing a photo in Bling! It for ad presentation involves a straightforward and specific series of steps, which can be outlined as:

  1. Delete the background
  2. Compose and edit the picture with a new background
  3. Add effects
  4. Enhance the object Resolution
  5. Save the image

original photoIf your source photo has clear contrast between the object and the background, this step can be pretty quick. When you import an image, Bling! It will attempt to draw edges around what it estimates to be each picture object's object's periphery.

If the program guesses reasonably correctly, Bling! It will do the heavy lifting by tracing all key edges in the image. Then it's just a matter of a few mouse clicks with the Delete Local Brush, and you're good to go. Simply paint Delete outside these edges, and Bling! It will flood-fill right up to it's edges. It's could be compared to painting-by-numbers in reverse.

However, if object and background contrast are less than optimum, it can be a challenge for Bling! It to determine the object edges, as in the case of my guitar and camera photos. In such cases, background elimination will require more user-involvement and take substantially longer.

original imageBling! It also provides dedicated tools for fine-tuning image edges. The Number of Edges slider sets how finely Bling! It divides an image into objects, while the Edge Width Threshold slider sets the minimum width in pixels of a color or texture transition that Bling! It recognizes as an edge.

If you do decide to set a low threshold, Bling! It finds many in-focus and sharp edges; if you set a larger threshold, Bling! It finds fewer but broader edges, such as those found with out-of-focus edges. However, these are essentially intensity and sensitivity sliders that don't apply in real time; each change requires the program to refresh the entire image, which can get quite tedious on slower Mac - the processes execute much more briskly on an Intel Mac.

Paintaway ViewerThe minimum size system requirement for Bling! It is a G4 with 512 MB of RAM, but I'll ad an empirical caution and say that using it on hardware less powerful than my 1.33 GHz G4 with 1.5 GB of RAM would require patience waiting for processes to complete.

Bling! It's user interface window has a subwindow called the Paintaway Viewer that lets you monitor changes as they will appear in the corrected image; it is visible by default in the Delete Background tab and can also be opened from the View menu, or you can just hide it if you don't want the preview intruding in your workspace.

You can preview your image in the Viewer in three progressive sizes:

  • Small View
  • Medium View
  • Large View

Bling! It can also optimize the size and format for major Auction Sites like eBay and Amazon with a simple pulldown menu selection. Bling! It has preset values for various auction site image specifications that automatically resizes the image's dimensions but also sets it to the correct data weight as well.

Background libraryYou can choose a background from Bling! It's built-in library, and a larger selection of backgrounds that can be downloaded from the Bling! It website. You can also generate a background from scratch using Bling! It's background design functions or import a background image of your own.

Positioning tools appear in the Compose Picture tab. with the following functions:

  • Compass - Changes the position of the image over the background.
  • Arrows - Rotate the image.
  • Sizer - Resizes the image relative to the background
  • Pushpin Tools - Move and rescale color gradients; move the pushpins to try different effects.

Once your basic image, background, and composition are settled, you can use Bling! It's tools to optimize the image's appearance. If the object isn't quite as sharp as it might be, you can use the Sharpen Image slider to eliminate fuzziness. The Apply Shadow tool can be utilized to create either standing shadows or drop shadows to make it look like the object is either standing up or lying down, and the Highlight Brush can be employed to Increase highlights intensity in the object, lifting the saturation and brightness of a particular area.

guitar with new backgroundBling! It will automatically ensure that your image's data weight will never go above the limit but will maintain optimal product resolution without editing-out anomalies and even add a logo to the image.

Web image resolution is greatly affected by data weight limits. Bling! It can independently vary the resolution of the image and the background to estimate the product's optimal appearance under the data weight constraints. This may be adjusted using the Background Compression tool in the Final Image tab.

Rolleicord with new backgroundThe Background Compression slider transfers the allowable data weight from the background to the foreground, thereby enhancing the appearance of the object and logo and compressing the background further. You can also use this feature to make the background appear out of focus and the object sharply focused, thereby increasing the perception of depth of field - essentially the same effect as you would get using a long camera lens or a wide lens aperture. You can also set the Max File Size.

To save your image, click the button and save to export the tweaked image as a JPEG file.

To summarize, Bling! It works well at what it's intended to do, especially if the basic image you want to mask has a relatively clearly defined background. This program is really intended for people in a hurry who just want to fix and optimize their ad photos without a lot of hassle or the necessity of advanced image editing savvy. Bling! It's price has recently been reduced from $49.95 to $29.95, so it should pay for itself quickly if you do much online auctioning or selling.

However, if you do a lot of image masking, you will likely find Bling! It's larger and more powerful sibling, Fluid Mask, worth considering. We'll check out Fluid Mask in the second installment of this series.

To determine whether Bling! It is for you, the best approach is to download the demo and try it out.

System requirements:

  • PowerPC G4 or G5 or Intel processor
  • Mac OS X v.10.3.9, or 10.4.9 or later (worked fine in Leopard 10.5.2 for me)
  • 512 MB of RAM
  • 250 MB of available hard-disk space
  • Internet connection or email required for product activation

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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