Improved usability, new camera-based functionality and the bundling of Photo Album provide a clearer focus on high-end digital photography..
During its long history Paint Shop Pro (PSP) has come a long way from its shareware origins to its current position as the only serious competitor to the all-conquering Photoshop. Now, under the new ownership of graphics giant Corel, Paint Shop Pro has the opportunity to really take the challenge to Adobe. So what does this latest version offer?
Version 9 saw some major interface improvements but the environment remained too technical, fussy and amateurish. Now with a new colour scheme and redesigned icons the program seems much more professional and modern. More importantly, with rationalized toolbars and menus and slight tweaks to the toolset (including a new Pick tool for selecting and transforming layers) the program is generally less intimidating and more transparent.
The most effective interface changes have been made to three of Paint Shop Pro X’s most important palettes. The most striking is the rewrite of the Learning Centre which is now docked down the left of the screen by default, providing context-sensitive descriptions of the tools as well as access to comprehensive task-based tutorials. The central Layers palette has also been revamped with the former indecipherable command icons replaced by a clean dropdown while the display of opacity and blend mode settings for each layer is now optional, opening up the necessary space to provide visual thumbnails for each layer. The Browser palette has been redesigned too, providing instantly resizable thumbnails of supported files, and by default is now docked across the bottom of the screen, operating in “ photostrip” mode.
Corel has brought the PSP interface up to date.
Paint Shop Pro X’s integrated file browsing is very handy especially when dealing with multiple images, but digital photographers handling hundreds and thousands of images really need dedicated image management. As such, the single biggest improvement in Paint Shop Pro X is the bundling of the standard edition of Photo Album 6. This provides a visual front-end for image management along with features such as keyword cataloguing and archiving to CD though some features such as VCD and web gallery support have been reserved for the standalone version (see full review ).
The bundling of Photo Album shows Corel’s focus on the digital photography market and this is apparent throughout this latest release. To keep up with the constantly improving quality of digital cameras, Paint Shop Pro X now supports a wider range of raw camera formats and provides more options for boosting their image quality on import (all files can also now be automatically processed on opening). The program also now provides 16-bit support enabling much greater tonal range for the most common colour correcting commands, though you still have to drop back to 8-bit to apply most filters and retouching tools. Overall performance has also been increased significantly especially during program start-up, when handling high resolution images, and when undoing and redoing.
For the all-important task of enhancing your photos, Paint Shop Pro X concentrates on making existing power more accessible by adding one-click versions of its existing filters for removing noise and the common purple fringe effect caused by chromatic aberration and provides simplified default handling for controlling colour balance. In addition the program adds filters for simulating the effects of shooting with black and white and infrared film and for seamless sharpening. Most impressive, and the undoubted star of this new release, is the Smart Photo Fix command. This analyzes the current image and makes a best guess for correcting contrast, brightness, sharpness, saturation and colour balance. For most photos the suggested settings produce significantly better results but, crucially, you can always override them with the slider controls to fine-tune where necessary.
The Smart Photo Fix correction is ideal for fast photo enhancing.
Corel’s determination to make the program less technical and more user-friendly is again clear when it comes to retouching. Paint Shop Pro’s longstanding and seriously over-the-top redeye removal tool which laboriously recreates the pupil and iris is still available as a filter option, but a simple one-click colour replacement option sensibly takes its place in the toolbox. Here it is joined by a new Makeover tool which lets you whiten teeth and quickly give skin a sun-tanned appearance. The tool can also be used to instantly remove small blemishes by replacing them with sampled surrounding pixels while a dedicated Object Removal tool lets you do the same to larger objects by specifying a source area for texture sampling.
Paint Shop Pro X’s new tools benefit expert and beginner alike, but the program moves into high-end only territory with its new commands for calibrating and profiling monitors and the ability to read and save colour profile files. The intention here is to improve colour accuracy and to enable Paint Shop Pro X to output CMYK files ready for output as part of commercial print-based workflows and so to directly challenge Photoshop’s domination of the professional market.
Ultimately though, without support for features such as a Channels palette or out of gamut highlighting, Paint Shop Pro X is no match for Photoshop when it comes to the print-oriented professional. Equally, for the average consumer wanting to make the most of their digital camera, Adobe’s latest Photoshop Elements provides the simplest and most efficient solution. It’s a tight squeeze then, but where Paint Shop Pro X scores is in the middle ground - those keen photographers looking for serious editing power but not at any price.
ratings out of 6
System Requirements: Windows 2000 (SP4), XP
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