Price: 67 . 41
Pros: A strong range of high-quality tools with wide appeal; lots of timesaving features.
Cons: Interface can become cluttered and confusing; several of the one-click tools have limited worth.
Once a Jasc rival to Photoshop, Corel’s direction for Paint Shop Pro has become increasingly niche, positioning it as a tool for working on digital photographs. This trend continues with the X2 release, providing plentiful new features for boosting workflow and adding effects.
The new interface is the most readily apparent change with new graphite tones that let images standout. But this doesn’t extend to dialog boxes, which clash nastily when invoked.
The new interface hasn’t dealt with Paint Shop Pro’s tendency towards clutter, and users are still overwhelmed by numerous icons, palettes and menus. There are, however, two features that aim to deal with this. The first is the genuinely useful Learning Center, which provides topic-based tips that also select relevant tools.
The second is the new Express Lab (above). As well as being a great feature in itself, the Express Lab may hint at a future direction for Paint Shop Pro. In essence, it’s a massively streamlined version of the application, enabling you to perform a subset of tasks on images within a folder. Straighten, clone, and ‘smart photo fix’ (providing a single-click solution for improving a photo’s brightness, contrast and saturation, and individual sliders for more experienced users - below) are the most useful components.
Makeover also provides a varied toolset for working with portraits, from a handy blemish fixer
to the throwaway Suntan – a kind of David Dickenson tool – and the somewhat dubious Thinify, which aims to make subjects skinnier via selective warping. As with most tools of this kind, results are variable, but the blemish fixer in particular worked well during testing.
Back in Paint Shop Pro ‘proper’, there are many other workflow improvements. An enhanced crop tool makes it a cinch to separate files from a group scan. Originals of photos are now preserved, in case your edits don’t turn out as expected, and commands for auto-optimizing a save or copy for screen are available – creating an email-ready file via Edit > Copy Special > Copy for Screen or Email is just fantastic.
Corel has also added new effects, although these are less impressive: while the B&W film effect is improved, we’re not sure watermark creation should be encouraged (via the Visible Watermark feature). And although the Photoshop-style Layer Styles look OK, they’re awkward to use and slow to add, making Adobe’s application look blisteringly fast by comparison.
However, comparisons with Photoshop are pointless, since Paint Shop Pro is aimed firmly at the consumer-end of the market – and in terms of bang-per-buck, you certainly get your money’s worth here.
Paint Shop Pro could easily fit into a creative pro’s toolset for 3D artists or video editors who don’t use a suite of Adobe tools, as Photoshop is an expensive investment if you don’t buy it as part of a Creative Suite bundle.