Paint Shop Pro Reviewed

Paint Shop Pro is a relatively inexpensive tool for editing digital photographs and creating both raster or vector images. The software has a wealth of features in a package that’s easy to use and is ideal for the digital photographer looking to get the very best from their images.

Review of Paint Shop Pro
Rated as 5/5 on May 29 2007 by David Hollingworth


Thumbnail of Paint Shop Pro 9

Warning: this is a fairly long review; but then the product has a lot of features.

This review is based on Paint Shop Pro version 9, the last version to be released by Jasc Software before they got bought out by Corel. Corel don’t (or didn’t at the time) allow online purchases using American Express cards and so prevented me from upgrading, though I did trial version 10. More of that later.

I do a fair amount of photography in my spare time and so need a tool that will allow me to edit images and prepare them for printing or display online. I also do a bit of design for web sites and so I need a tool to create and manipulate gif, Jpeg and png images. I use Paint Shop Pro (PSP) as my tool of choice.

PSP has a full set of image editing and manipulation tools for the digital photographer. Once you’ve opened your image there’s a simple “One Step Photo Fix” button for inexperienced users; but there’s also full control over all aspects of the images composition including:

  • Brightness and contrast
  • Saturation, hue and luminance
  • Colour balance
  • Sharpness, softness and blur

Within each category there’s a number of different tools and approaches you can use depending on your level of experience and personal preference. For example within brightness and contrast you can, amongst others;

  • Do an automatic contrast enhancement
  • Use sliders to control brightness and / or contrast
  • Use curves
  • Correct shadows, mid-tones and highlights
  • Use a full histogram (see the image at the start of this review)
  • Use levels

Other sub-menus give a similar level of choice. So much choice is there that it can be a little confusing for a beginner; but even the “Enhance Photo” menu lets you perform each step in the “One Step Photo Fix” manually so you can see what effect each step is having. This is a great way of learning how the different tools affect the image.

As well as adjusting images there’s a number of cropping and selection tools. The latter include lasso (Freehand) and edge (Magic wand) selectors. You can create and save selections and masks either to file or to the alpha channel.

Defects in your photographs can be simply edited out using the clone tool. One issue I face taking photographs in towns where I live is that all the electric cables are on poles strung across the street. I’ve spent many a happy hour cloning these out of choice photographs. This is also very useful for removing dust specs from an image. There’s a great red eye removal tool too for those ghastly flash images.

In addition to all the photo editing features you can use Paint Shop Pro for creating raster or vector graphics from scratch. I’ve only dabbled in this area; but I have created by own business cards using this software and I think they’re quiet acceptable. There is also an “Art Media” image type that allows you to ‘paint’ images. Again I’ve not used this extensively as I found it very processor hungry; but I did have great fun producing an oil painted version of a photograph of my daughter. Given more time I think this tool could be used to produce some very attractive ‘painted’ images.

How do I think Paint Shop Pro stacks up against the other image editing contenders? I’ve tried other software packages and this is how I feel PSP compares;

  • Adobe Photoshop – PSP seems to have all the features of Photoshop and many are much easier to use in PSP. For example PSP has a live preview feature so you can preview the changes to the image before committing them. I couldn’t find this feature in Photoshop. Also Photoshop is vastly more expensive that PSP.
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements – A version of Photoshop with fewer features and so also fewer features than PSP. OK for a casual photographer; but check the price against PSP which has many more features.
  • The Gimp – is free under the GPL, it has a host of features; but I found the user interface to be very difficult to use and it was a struggle to find commands like image resize.
  • Microsoft Photo whatever – great for novices, hopeless for anyone with even half a clue what they’re doing.

If I had a criticism of PSP it would be poor handling of raw files. It did open my Canon CR2 files after I upgraded my camera; but required a huge computing resource to do it and then did a very poor job on converting them. This may have improved since version 9.

Which brings me on to version 10. When Corel bought Jasc Software I wondered what plans they may have for PSP, I even thought they might dump it in favour of their existing products; but they came out with a new release reasonably quickly. What a disappointment!

Corel had managed to completely dumb down the user interface in an attempt to make the product appeal to a less experienced audience. As far as I could see there was only one new feature for the experienced user and the rest was a tacky attempt at automating the image editing process. The results were pretty awful. This offered me nothing at all.

In summary Paint Shop Pro version 9 gives me all the non-raw image editing capabilities I could want in a package that’s a fraction the price of Adobe Photoshop. The same features are in later versions, you just have to fight a little harder to get to them.

Because it’s so well featured and such good value for money I give Paint Shop Pro five stars.

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