Price: £85 plus VAT
Paint Shop Pro has grown into what is probably the most versatile photo-editing and general-purpose paint package you can buy on the Windows platform. The new version 8 isn’t quite the must-have upgrade as were its two predecessors, but it’s still an outstanding graphics package for the money. It continues to come bundled with a GIF animator, and now supports more graphics file formats than ever, including JPEG 2000 and PDF, and full EXIF data embedded into digital camera shots. It also continues to offer an extensive set of hands-on photo-correction tools and quick-fix features, and you can run Photoshop-compatible plug-in filters. The upgrade has a redesigned interface – yet again – which is attractive if not altogether helpful at times. The context-sensitive palettes and toolbars have swelled up, but don’t seem to be self-resizing – so it’s never clear if any buttons have fallen off the edge. We’re disappointed to note that minimized palette title bars still have a habit of stretching over to the right when you pass the mouse over, which is extremely irritating when trying to click on the title-bar buttons. Masks have been brought into line, so they appear as mask layers within the Layer palette, but the redesigned palette is big and clumsy to work with. The worst part of the interface redesign is the hiding of the Zoom tool while using a magnifying glass symbol for the Dodge Brush. Very confusing. You can create toolbars and set up workspaces, however, so at least it’s possible to sort out the interface yourself. A number of new tools and filters have been added to the existing mix. These include some fantastic lens-distortion-correction functions (see below) and a Background Eraser tool. Despite Jasc’s claims that the latter is unique, it’s actually similar to the Background Eraser in Adobe Photoshop. It isn’t a perfect solution for creating cutouts, but we found it did a better job than Photoshop’s equivalent when you’re in a rush. Paint Shop Pro 8 also plays catch-up with Photoshop by introducing a Script toolbar that records, plays, and lets you edit command sequences akin to Photoshop’s Actions. Since Paint Shop Pro is often used as a graphics processor rather than an originating design package, the ability to automate processes like this is an important upgrade feature. However, all these upgrade enhancements have a downside in that they slow the program down compared with previous versions. It even takes longer to launch than Photoshop now, so be warned if you’re planning to use the program on older, sub-1GHz equipment. Comparisons with Photoshop, however, are unfair: Paint Shop Pro does not attempt to tackle the PostScript-clean image-editing required in prepress. And frankly, its colour-management feature is best switched off. Rather, Paint Shop Pro’s strength lies in sheer versatility across the board, from photo correction to vector illustration and Web graphics. In this respect, Paint Shop Pro leaves Adobe Photoshop Elements and Ulead PhotoStudio far behind in its wake, and has none of the ‘home user’ stigma attached.