Bling! It

21 April, 2008
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If you prepare pictures of your stuff to sell online, you know the challenges of getting that old file cabinet, picture frame, or handbag to look attractive and enticing to would-be buyers. Vertus’ $US50 Bling It 1.0.5 is designed specifically to doll up run-of-the-mill product shots for people who post to eBay or other online selling sites. Specifically, Bling It makes it easy to remove an existing background and place your image on the background of your choosing.

There’s nothing inherently complex about the concept of separating the foreground of an image from its background. But it’s an engineering challenge to detect the difference between them accurately. And with some programs, the hand-eye skill needed to accomplish the task is daunting. Bling It is designed for civilians, not artists, and it’s intended to make an arduous process as painless as possible. And it succeeds, though it took a couple tries for me to get the methodology down.

(Don’t be fooled by the product’s flashy name or hyper-commercial presentation — for example, the exclamation point in the shape of a dollar sign that graces the product’s logo, box, and web site. This is a sophisticated cut-out program from the maker of professional masking software Fluid Mask).

Interface. Bling It opens, by default, to a full-screen canvas, but you can adjust the size of the workspace. A simple File: Open command facilitates navigating to and importing your image into the program. (Bling It supports seven different file formats, including JPEG, TIFF, and PNG, but outputs only to JPEG.)

The program’s non-intimidating interface has a minimal number of icon commands and slider adjustments. Four tabs at the top of the workspace window give you major steps for enhancing your picture: Delete Background, Compose Picture, Add Effects, and Final Image. While these tabs are designed to be used in sequence, you can switch between them at will.

There are two additional small windows: The Paintaway Viewer lets you see the entire image in three sizes as you work; the Tip viewer shows you contextual instructions on how to use the program. I found the Tip viewer very useful because it changed on-the-fly to reflect the tool or process I was currently using.

Background be gone. The first tab, Delete Background, shows you the edges the program has automatically detected in your picture. You can adjust the “sensitivity” of this detection using a slider control in the Edge Finding tool. For example, when I photographed a handbag on a carpeted floor, the program detected the tufts in the plain carpet as edges. Moving the slider bar allowed the program to detect fewer “edges,” a better approach for this image. You can also choose to hide edges completely.

With your image in the workspace, you can then use the Delete Local Brush to start removing the background. As you get closer to the item, reducing the size of the brush and enlarging your item helps to accomplish a cleaner job. Sometimes only a click is necessary to remove a chunk of background. Keeping an eye on the Paintaway Viewer gives you the complete picture, showing you the real-time progress of your picture. As you paint, the background takes on a ruby red colour, the intensity of which varies based on the opacity you set. Lower opacities let you see the texture of the original background, but you can also choose to make that background opaque.

The tricky part of this process is navigating the transitions between the foreground and background. The program gives you customisable edge-blending widths of thin, medium, or thick — or none — with a blending slider that offers a range, Feather to Smart, to assist in creating a correct and pleasing separation of foreground from background. I found it difficult at first to get my edge looking flawless, and I eventually found that the best approach was to analyse the original image first by visually determining the distinction between the foreground and background, and then to set the edge-finding and edge-blending options. After that, the program did the painstaking manual work for me as I simply clicked the mouse.

New background. Getting a nice, clean foreground image is 85 percent of the job. Setting a new background is a lot more fun. In the Compose Picture tab, a pop-up menu lets you choose a background type such as Wavy, Curly, or Fan; choose from a library of background images that ship with the program; or choose your own background image. Solid colours are great for busy-looking items, but you can also use bold graphics to offset and contrast with your picture. All images are adjustable with the program’s positioning tools. You can adjust the size of an image, rotate it, or change the position of the image over the background.

Tiny pushpins let you rescale colour gradients or adjust background colour effects. The Set Image Size command lets you specify the size of the image in pixels and also choose its general shape, such as rectangle or square. Another handy pop-up menu gives you preset dimensions and file sizes for 15 popular auction web sites, including eBay.

Special effects.Some very simple controls help you enhance your image once you have it on the background you like. You can sharpen the image, apply a standing or flat shadow, give it some highlights, and add a logo or watermark to the frame in any opacity you choose. I found the shadows somewhat of a challenge to control, as you have to use a circular tool in the toolbar and up to three sliders to place and tweak it, as opposed to grabbing the shadow and placing it with the mouse. Similarly, I found the Highlight tool difficult to tame on certain images, and its effects sometimes lagged a bit. Those were the two weakest tools in the set, although neither is necessary for any image.

By the time you get to the Final Image tab, you can choose to boost the quality of the image in the foreground by reducing the file size and quality of the background. This is especially helpful for low-quality images with lots of compression artifacts. This same command also lets you specify a maximum file size, which is convenient for online posting. (Note that you can only process one image at a time; there’s no batch processing in Bling It.)

When you finish with the four tabs, you have a usable JPEG image of your item on a neat looking background, and you’re ready to outpace the other online sellers.

Australian Macworld’s buying advice. If you’re doing a volume business on eBay or other auction sites, the $US50 you shell out for Bling It 1.0.5 will be money well spent. It’s easy to use, once you get the hang of it, and some simple adjustments will really make your items pop. While a couple of the special effects are not as flexible as the rest of the controls, they’re also not critical to the core mission of the program.

Bling! It

Type Consumer image editor
Rating 4.5
Publisher Vertus
Distributor Available online

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