Masque for iPad: Photo Effects & Layers Made Easy

One common complaint about the iPad is that it is good for consumption—watching movies, listening to music, reading books and so forth—but not capable of much in the way of production. Apple has challenged that idea with its iPad versions of the iWork applications, but relatively few other developers have stepped forward with apps for creating content. One of those developers is Übermind.

Übermind bills Masque as “powerful photo editing at your fingertips”. In more direct terms, it’s a layer and effect-based image-editing program that allows you to import photos from, and share photos to, Flickr and Facebook, as well as your iPad’s photo library.

Pick Your Picture

On first run, Masque presents a photo gallery consisting of two images; the first is an example photo that demonstrates some of Masque’s features. The second is a beautiful wilderness photograph presumably meant to inspire users to new heights of photographic manipulation.

If neither of these suit you—say, if you actually wanted to edit an image of your own creation—it’s very easy to add your own photos from several sources.

Tapping the plus sign button lets you add photos directly from your iPad photo library or sign in to Flickr or Facebook to import photos you’ve saved on the web. Once you’re signed in to either of those sources, you can navigate through your photos just as if they’re stored on your iPad—the only noticeable difference is a slight delay. It’s very well executed.

Importing Your Image

Importing Your Image

When you find the photo you want to work with, a simple tap brings it into Masque for your editing pleasure. Exporting is equally simple: tap the export button in the upper-left corner, tap the photos you want to export, and choose your method of sharing.

As long as you keep Masque open, it will finish uploading your image to Facebook or Flickr even while you work on a new photo. If you stay in Sharing mode, Masque notifies you when the upload is complete; otherwise, you’ll need to keep an eye on the spinner that appears in the status bar to let you know when uploading is finished.

Presumably when iOS4 is released for the iPad, Übermind will release an update that allows Masque to continue uploading photos even once you’ve switched to another application.

Sharing

Sharing

If you’re importing from Flickr, be warned that Masque seems to pull down the original resolution of an image, which can make for a little bit of a delay if it’s a large image on a slow network.

Like An Onion

Once you select an image to work with, you’re presented with a full-screen view of that image and a minimal editing toolbar consisting of a link back to the gallery view, undo and redo buttons, brush (and options: opacity, size, and softness), eraser (the same three options), gradient (opacity only), effects, and layers. One tap on brush, eraser, or gradient gets you that tool; a second tap shows options.

The first thing advanced image editors will notice is that Masque is no Photoshop. There’s no crop, no smudge, no color fill, none of the hundred-and-one other tools advanced users expect—you’re limited to effects, although using layers allows you to apply more than one effect to the same image, and the paint-on nature of layers in Masque means you don’t have to apply an effect across the whole image just to apply it to one particular area.

Photo Editing Example

Photo Editing Example

In theory, you can either paint effects onto the areas you want by choosing the opacity, size, and softness of the brush and then simply using one finger to apply it, or you can use two or more fingers to create, adjust, and place a gradient version of the effect on the image. In practice, though I tried the 2-finger and 4-finger gradients described on the example photo, I had little luck getting them to apply consistently. It’s possible I just don’t have magic photo-editing fingers – your mileage may vary.

The available effects are a fairly standard set: black and white, blur, contrast, cool, warm, darken, lighten, and saturate. Individually, they can be put to good use, but the magic sauce is in Masque’s layer support.

Since you control the shape in which each effect is applied, you can apply different effects to different areas of the same photo, or you can stack them. Even more handily—to my mind, anyway—Masque allows you to paint an effect over an area and then invert it so that the effect applies to every part of your image exceptfor the painted area.

Working With Layers

Working With Layers

The erase tool erases only the effect created in the layer you’re currently working in, which makes it very useful for touching up sloppily applied effects—and believe me, your effects will feel sloppily applied because you’re placing them with your fingers. Unfortunately, the erase tool is no more precise than the painting tool, since it too is painted by touch. With care, though, you can approach the precision of more traditional mouse-applied effects.

A Thousand Words

Photo Example

Photo Example

When I tried to apply the effects on this image more precisely, the image started to look glitchy and overprocessed. How much of that was Masque and how much my lack of skill, I’m not certain.

Conclusions

Masque is a tightly focused application that’s good at what it does. My main wish for the next release would be the ability to zoom in so you could apply effects more precisely, but for casual photo editing—and Masque is definitely that—it should rarely be a big problem.

It would also be nice if the app notified you about completed uploads no matter what view you were in at the time. The import and export features are otherwise very well designed, and make it unusually pleasant to access and work on a photo you’ve saved online.

If you’re looking for full-featured image editing more along the lines of Photoshop or Pixelmator than Preview, you’ll likely want to check out an app like Photoforge, a much more capable (but complex) app that has the added benefit of being available for both iPad and iPhone. Photogene also offers an expanded cross-device feature set at an inexpensive price, but again at the cost of Masque’s simplicity.

My final thought on Masque reflects the apocryphal quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “If you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you will like.” More precisely, if you need this sort of thing, I suspect you will find Masque endlessly useful; if you rarely need to apply effects to images, Masque is probably not an app you need. Either way, it’s $5.99 on the App Store, and worth at least five of those dollars.


Summary

Masque for iPad brings powerful photo editing to your fingertips. Add striking effects to your photos through simple touch interactions, and show your creation off to the world through convenient in-app sharing!

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