Using Image Mattes - An easy Way to Spice up a Production

Image Mattes are often overlooked when editing video, yet they can add a powerful touch of broadcast network style to most any Video, DVD and multi media production.

Most high-end and even mid-price non linear editing software packages have the option to use an Image Matte for keying or compositing video and graphics elements together. I have been using Adobe Premiere now for years and I use Image Mattes on just about any project I do. You will find the option under "Transparency" (just another term for 'keying' or 'overlay') and Premiere even gives you the option to use image mattes as Transitions but more about that later.

So, what is an Image Matte? In short, it is a grey scale image that is used to determine the level of background video or graphics to 'show through' when keying or compositing two layers of video or graphics together. Basically, wherever there is a black area in your grey scale Image Matte, the foreground video shows through, where there is white in your Matte picture, the background will show through. The real 'magic' of the Image Mattes happens in the grey areas, the level of darkness in the greys determines how much background is showing through. This allows for great soft keying effects especially when smooth gradient Image Mattes are used.

On all of the major networks like HBO, CNN, ESPN, you see Image Mattes in action in just about every bumper segment, promo, news report or sports score graphic shown on these networks. Soft keying with Image Mattes gives your production that great soft look and it lets you 'key' material that really wasn't made to be keyed. No green screen, no blue screen needed.

The folks at 3dvideobackgrounds create a multi-page example and tutorial section on their web site that shows how easy and effective it is to use Image Mattes and how great the results can look. To visit their Image Matte Tutorials section, log on to There are many great examples here featuring news, sports and corporate video projects.

So, how do you get your hands on some Image Mattes? There are two ways. If you are pretty versed in using Photoshop or similar graphics software, you can make your own. It's not that hard. All you need to do is create some grey scale gradients. Programs like Photoshop have a 'gradient' function that let you quickly create different gradients. A little experimenting to get the right level of 'see through' where you need it in your project and maybe adding some filters for a more pixelated or effected look and you are done. You can also purchase ready made Image Matte Collections. has a collection of 50 of them for sale at about ten bucks which can save you a lot of time spent trying to make your own Mattes by trial and error. For more info check out

Image Mattes can be used in many different ways. You can key video on video, graphics on video, video on graphics, even video on a plain black or colored background which can look quite dramatic. If your program supports it, you can even use your Image Mattes as a transition. Image Mattes can create smooth, soft focused transitions that look great and not at all 'dated' like a plain wipe would or bland and boring like a dissolve.

If you haven't discovered the power of Image Mattes for yourself yet, take some time to explore this great function on your Editing Program and you will soon find that you just can't live without using Image Mattes anymore.

Alan Steward

About Alan Steward:
Alan is a Video Producer and Sound Designer with
Royalty Free Music and Video Production Goodies

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