TK Infinity Mask panel

For several months I’ve been working to expand the concept of the “Infinity Mask” first described in this blog post. An “infinity mask” is my term to describe a luminosity mask that has been further adjusted to more precisely select specific tones in the image. The “infinity” moniker comes from the fact that adjustments to the original mask are accomplished using a Photoshop Levels adjustment, which allows wide flexibility as to how the final mask actually looks. Granted, there may not be an infinite number of settings from which to choose when constructing an infinity mask, but there is certainly a huge new gamut of possible masks.

Feedback on the original infinity mask blog was very positive. Shortly after posting it I was contacted about the possibility of using a Photoshop plug-in to create these masks. The TK Infinity Mask panel is the result of this collaboration. It is shown below and offers a new method for working with pixel-based masks. The Photoshop plug-in that powers it has its own recipe for determining which pixels to include in the mask. The plug-in uses 32-bit floating point pixel-level data and is not restricted to just the luminosity values for individual pixels. Color channel data and even saturation data can be extracted from image pixels to create a new assortment of self-feathering masks that can then be “infinitely” refined.

TK Infinity Mask panel

The complete instructions PDF for the panel can be downloaded here. The most important features about the new panel are summarized below.

  1. The panel is mask-based. Like the Infinity Mask in the TKActions V4 panel, the user is seeing the mask in real time as they create the infinity mask that best suits their image. Having it visible helps insure that it correctly selects the intended image pixels as the mask is being manipulated by the panel.
  2. Different data channels can be accessed with one click. This is the top row of buttons on the panel. The plug-in can access Luminosity, red (R), green (G), blue (B), and Saturation data for all pixels. The panel then creates tonally feathered masks based of this data as it applies to these specific channels. The images below show what the different channels look like.Infinity Mask channels composite
    Infinity Mask channels composite
    Infinity Mask channels composite
  3. Presets (Darks-1,Pick, and Lights-1) are available in the second row. These are channel-specific. For the Luminosity, R (red),G (green), and B (blue) channels, the Lights-1 mask is a black and white positive of the image (shown above). The Darks-1 mask is a negative of the image. For the Saturation channel, the Lights-1 mask is a saturation mask (lighter values in the mask correspond to higher color saturation) and the Darks-1 mask is a vibrance mask (lighter values in the mask correspond to lower color saturation). The “Pick” option is the most sophisticated preset of all.  It opens the Color Picker to allow the user to click in their image. The plug-in extracts the pixel-level data of the area that was clicked and creates a mask specific to the chosen channel such that the clicked pixels are the brightest areas in the mask. If you’re familiar with the TKActions V4 panel, this would be like getting a matching Zone mask for any of the various Photoshop channel options at any point in the image.
  4. Sliders are used to adjust and fine-tune the mask (that is, to “infinitize” it). This is where the fun really starts. Once a preset button has been chosen, the sliders can be used to modify the mask in near real time depending on image size and computer speed and memory.
    • TONE−This slider changes the tone that shows as white in the mask. For Lights-1 the TONE is set at 255 and for Darks-1 the TONE is 0. The slider or input box allows for any tone from 0 to 255 to be chosen. But how do you know which tone to choose? That’s actually quite easy when you can see the mask  displayed on-screen. Just move the slider until the tones that need to be selected in the image are white in the mask. The on-screen mask updates every time the slider is moved. Or use the “Pick” button and select a tone directly from the image. The pick button automatically sets the TONE slider to match the tone that was clicked in the image.
    • RANGE−This slider determines the tonal width of the mask. As the range is narrowed by pulling the slider to the left, more pixels are excluded from the mask and the mask gets darker. The selected TONE, however, stays white.
    • FOCUS−This is a new feature for luminosity masks. The FOCUS slider increase midtone contrast in the mask, so the mask is less gray and more black-and-white as a result. The FOCUS slider addresses one of the common problems sometimes seen with luminosity masks, which is that they feather so perfectly that they bleed adjustments into parts of the image where no adjustment is intended. The FOCUS slider helps to prevent this. It increases midtone contrast in the mask while keeping the 50% gray value constant. When FOCUS is increased, there is more dark gray and black in the mask. As a result, adjustments bleed less beyond the selection border because they are more concealed by the mask. The panel also allows mask FOCUS to be decreased by pulling the slider to the left. This has the opposite effect. Midtone contrast in the mask is decreased, with the result being that adjustments through the mask bleed more into the surrounding pixels.
    • STRENGTH−This slider is essentially the white point for the mask. At the default setting of 100, only the chosen tone will be completely white. Moving the slider to the left makes it so the chosen tone is no longer pure white but a shade of gray. The other tones in the mask are adjusted proportionally. A STRENGTH value greater than 100 allows tones near the selected tone in the image to also start showing as pure white in the mask.
  5. Multiple output options. Once the on-screen infinity mask has been adjusted to the satisfaction of the photographer, the output buttons at the bottom of the panel provide options to deploy it.
    • Selection−Loads the infinity mask as an active selection.
    • Apply−Applies the infinity mask as a layer mask to the active layer on the Layers panel
    • Pixels−Creates a pixel layer of the infinity mask (more on this in a future blog post).
    • Channel−Duplicates the infinity mask as an alpha channel on the Channels panel.
    • Curves−Creates a Curves adjustment layer with the infinity mask as the layer mask.
    • B/C−Creates a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer with the infinity mask as the layer mask.
    • H/S−Creates a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer with the infinity mask as the layer mask.
    • Levels−Creates a Levels adjustment layer with the infinity mask as the layer mask.

Summary: The TK Infinity Mask panel provides a new way to construct and adjust pixel-based masks in Photoshop. Luminosity masks, color channel masks, and saturation masks can all be managed from one panel. The mechanism for creating these masks is a plug-in that runs in the background.  It provides a visible mask based on the settings chosen by the user. The mask-based interface provides near real-time control of how the mask looks and ultimately which parts of the image will be revealed by it.

The TK Infinity Mask panel is available on the Special Offers page. The video below by Sean Bagshaw shows how the new panel can be used. The video can also be viewed here.

NOTE #1: I have contacted all customers I’m aware of who purchased the TKActions V4 panel for Photoshop CC to provide update options for the Infinity Mask panel. If you have the CC version of the V4 panel and have not heard from me, please check your junk/spam email or contact me for update information. If you purchased the V4 panel from Adobe Add-ons, please forward your purchase receipt (from FastSpring) or other proof of purchase as Adobe provides no information to me as to who purchased from their website.

NOTE#2: The TK Infinity Mask only works Photoshop CC in RGB Color mode. It does not work in Photoshop CS6

Infinity Mask and Zone-Picker

Luminosity masks select tonal ranges in the image based on the brightness values of individual pixels. The original luminosity masks tutorial described how to use intersection and subtraction to create series of masks that targeted Light, Midtone, and Dark tonal ranges. Additional tonal ranges were added with zone masks, which used specific subtractions of the Lights and Darks masks. The recently released TKActions V4 panel uses calculations to make “16-bit” versions of these masks. These are all variations on the same theme, namely finding ways to select tones in the image for adjustment, painting, or blending.

The latest update to the TKActions V4 panel adds two new options: the Infinity MaskTM and the Zone-PickerTM. While these expand the ways for creating luminosity masks and selections, for some photographers they will also simplify the process of choosing which mask to use.

An Infinity Mask uses a Levels adjustment layer to simulate the Lights- and Darks-series luminosity masks. Which pixels are selected, how strongly (or weakly) they are selected, and the feathering from selected to non-selected pixels are all controlled in real-time by the user. Instead of a number of defined Lights and Darks masks, the possible number of luminosity masks created via the Levels dialog is infinite. Fortunately, the real-time environment for creating the Infinity Mask makes it possible to quickly narrow the selection to the pixels the photographer wants to control. The familiar white-reveals/black-conceals mask image is presented for evaluation, and adjustments to the Levels sliders instantly update the mask image.

Image for Infinity Masks

The image above is used to demonstrate the different set-ups for the Lights and Darks Infinity Mask. The illustrations below show how they work. (NOTE: While there is a lot of information in these diagrams, it is not necessary to memorize it. It’s only necessary to look at the on-screen mask image and adjust the sliders in the Levels dialog window in order to see and make the desired mask/selection.)

Infinity Lights. The on-screen image changes to the Lights-1 luminosity mask. Adjusting the black-point slider by moving it to the right (to choose the lower dark boundary for the selection) and midtone slider (to adjust the feathering) is usually sufficient to create the desired selection. There are additional adjustments available as describe below. Clicking “OK” in the Levels dialog window creates a mask and corresponding selection to match what is being viewed on the monitor.

Infinity Lights

Infinity Darks. The on-screen image changes to the Darks-1 luminosity mask. Adjusting the white-point slider by moving it to the left (to choose the upper light boundary for the selection) and midtone slider (to adjust the feathering) is usually sufficient to create the desired selection. There are additional adjustments available as describe below. Clicking “OK” in the Levels dialog window creates a mask and corresponding selection to match what is being viewed on the monitor.

Infinity Darks

The Zone-Picker helps take the guesswork out of finding the right off-center midtone mask to target specific tones in the image. It uses Photoshop’s Color Picker tool. When the Color Picker opens after clicking the Zone-Picker button, the Eye Dropper tool becomes active allowing the user to choose a color/tone from the image. Once chosen, clicking OK runs an action that automatically chooses among 23 different tonal zones to find the one that most closely matches the chosen tone/color. The available choices are similar to the zone and half-zone buttons on the Spectrum tab of the V4 panel, but a bit narrower and more focused. The luminosity masks/selections created by the Zone-Picker are NOT simulated luminosity masks. They are calculated directly from Lights- and Darks-series masks, and so are themselves 16-bit luminosity masks based entirely on the pixel brightness values of the image.

Adobe Color Picker

The Zone-Picker dialog window itself can be used to choose a color/tone instead of selecting a color/tone from the image. In fact, the dialog window allows two new series masks to be created. Picking pure white (255, 255, 255) produces a Lights-6 selection/mask and picking pure black (0,0,0) produces a Darks-6 selection/mask.

Sean Bagshaw has recorded a video on how to use an Infinity Mask and the Zone-Picker. His application is slightly different from how I describe their use and application, which speaks to their adaptability in different workflows.

The Infinity Mask and the Zone-Picker are additional ways to select tones in the image for painting, blending, and adjustment. These functions have been added to the Photoshop CC 2014/2015 version of the TKActions V4 panel. They will eventually be added to the CS6 version of the panel too, though it will take some time in order to include additional planned updates.

Spectrum Tab V4 panel

NOTE: I’ve added a direct purchase link to the CC version of the TKActions V4 panel on my special offers page instead of linking to the Adobe Add-Ons website to get it. I continue to update the Adobe Add-Ons product with the current version, but Add-Ons has proven unreliable and I can no longer recommend it for the initial acquisition. When it works, Add-Ons is great, but when it doesn’t, the various workarounds are time-consuming and more trouble than most people want to deal with.

The newest CC version of the TKActions V4 panel also has a few other changes:

  1. The Burn/Dodge layers are no longer filled with 50% gray. They are transparent, which allows the painted pixels on the layer to be loaded as a selection and used for additional adjustments. Sean Bagshaw discusses the process in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCeZtmjjvXs.
  2. Layer bookmarking has been added. When actions in the panel require adding layers at the top of the Layers panel, the action automatically returns the user to the layer they were on before the temporary layers were added when the action is finished. This is most important with the “+/- View” button. A round trip using “+/- View” leaves the user back on their original layer to immediately start painting through the selection or to create a layer mask after finding the right selection.
  3. The “+/- View” button should now work in Lab mode as well as RGB mode. The color is a little more intense, but it still works.
  4. The mask generated by the “+/- View” button can now be toggled from red to blue. An extra layer has been added in view mode. Turning “on” the visibility of this layer changes the red overlay mask to a blue mask. This is for people that have a hard time seeing the red overlay.

Blue overlay mask

NOTE: The phrases “Infinity Mask” and “Zone-Picker” were coined by Tony Kuyper and are trademarks of his products− Infinity MaskTM and Zone-PickerTM.

TKActions V4 — A New Panel for Luminosity Masks and Beyond

I’m pleased to announce a new TKActions panel for Photoshop. This is the fourth version of this custom luminosity mask panel (V4) and has been completely rebuilt. It takes advantage of new capabilities in Photoshop extension panels–smaller footprint, smarter buttons, updated interface, and more features–to provide users a practical and efficient way to add luminosity masks to their workflow.

TKActions V4 panel

The top part of the panel is a Photoshop control center. It executes many common menu commands and keyboard short cuts with the click of a button. Most of the usual steps for developing an image can be accessed from here.

The bottom of the panel has three tabs. The Spectrum tab provides a new interface for creating luminosity masks. The widths of the buttons in this section roughly match the tonal ranges that will be selected in the image. Standard luminosity masks (Lights/Darks/Midtones) as well as subtracted and zone masks can now all be created with a single click.

In addition to the Spectrum tab, the bottom of the panel also has an Actions and Basic tab. The Actions tab has several useful functions for enhancing the image and a web-sharpening section for preparing images for jpeg output that has been completely redesigned. The Basic tab provides an alternate interface for using luminosity masks with Curves and Levels adjustment layers and as Channel masks and selections.

TKActions V4 panel

A partial list of new features and improvements in the V4 panel includes:

  • 16-bit luminosity masks−These were discussed in previous blog posts.
  • Spectrum selection−Creates ALL masks, including zone and subtracted masks, that were available in the previous version 3 panel.
  • Integrated actions−No more action sets to install on Photoshop’s regular Actions panel.
  • Smart buttons−Panel buttons monitor the Photoshop workflow and only fire at the right time.
  • Toggle buttons−Allows one button to perform multiple tasks.
  • Active selection indicator−Keeps track of when there is an active selection even if the marching ants aren’t visible.
  • Updated web-sharpening−No more fixed-dimensions. Users can enter their preferred dimension from 100 to 3000 pixels and easily tailor the level of sharpening to their taste.
  • Condensed history−No more scrolling histories for buttons that execute multiple steps. One button, one click, one entry on the History panel, Ctrl/Command-Z to undo it.
  • Tonal Clarity−A saturation-neutral method for enhancing detail and structure in an image.
  • One-click Photoshop control−Many Photoshop menu commands and keyboard shortcuts can now be accessed from a color-coded interface for more efficient image processing.
  • Midpoint rollovers−Choose among the different luminosity masks based on tones sampled from the image.
  • Rapid clear channels−Quickly remove all alpha channels from the Channels panel to decrease file size and memory use.
  • Creative Cloud installation−Once acquired, the new panel and future updates are automatically installed on computers signed in to the Creative Cloud desktop application (see this video and this one).

The new V4 panel is designed to help take the guesswork out of luminosity masks and make them more accessible than ever. It’s also meant to make other actions and tools more available to allow photographers to creatively develop their images. My website has additional information. The complete Instructions PDF can be downloaded and covers all aspects of the panel. Sean Bagshaw has also recorded a corresponding video series called the Video Guide to TKActions that explains the new panel in detail. Samples can be found below.

Purchase options for the new panel and videos are on the Special Offers page. A German version of the panel and accompanying videos are available on André Distel’s website.