- Powerful tools for expert editors
- Two themes for different preferences
- Customizable toolbox
- Custom presets
- Support for plugins
- Menu and dialog box-driven edits
- A lot of superfluous or repetitive effects
- Not suitable for beginners
Imagine a time when photo editing software came on a disk. Imagine a time when you could count the features of these tools on a pair of hands. Imagine a time when Corel’s long-running PaintShop suite was in a two-horse race with Photoshop. Those days have since flown by, and nowadays there’s a bevy of choices and options open to the would-be photo editor, which means that it’s particularly important for developers to specialize. Some will focus on providing a cloud-based service, others on vector editing or helping create great social media images, while the rest can be divided up by their respective target audiences. PaintShop Pro, then, has its pendulum swinging heavily towards the professional editing demographic and its software – available for $79.99 alongside a 30-day free trial – is crammed full of features to match this purpose. Newcomers to image editing will have their hands full, but experts will have all they could hope for.
There’s something of a duality about PaintShop Pro. The software comes with two ‘styles’, Essentials and Complete, which is almost like choosing to be part of the light side or the dark side. The former is a brighter, clearer UI that can be customized more finitely by the user, while the latter literally switches to a darker UI more familiar with practically every photo editing software since Photoshop adopted the gray theme.
It’s a good first impression, actually, but it doesn’t quite serve its purpose as well as it is perhaps intended. There are heaps of tools available but the majority are stowed away in menus at the top of the screen, regardless of which style you select. Software has moved on from this sub-menu reliant interface layout, and this only makes it harder for any level of user to get to and use the functions they need.
This two-toned nature of PaintShop Pro means that you likely want to think about your understanding of editing software before making a choice, though it can be switched back if you prefer. The customizable toolbox with Essentials is a great feature but many options are combined into a single icon, which ultimately means the toolbox pretty much stays the same regardless of the user’s preference.
Conversely, Complete is packed with screen-filling panels, and while it’s all useful to the professional user – and can be hidden if necessary – there’s still a surprisingly small amount of space dedicated to the image itself. It’s archaic in its layout, but more than anything it’s an awkward interface to get to grips with.
Tools and Effects
It’s clear, then, that Corel makes no bones about who PaintShop Pro is for. Where more effort could have been spent on streamlining the process of editing, instead it’s been used on complex and complicated tools and functions. This is, of course, great for the expert, who will find the finite manipulation capable with the sliders and options within dialog boxes highly empowering.
This means that there are no presets in the strictest sense of the word. Custom settings can be saved, which is hugely important for making the same – or familiar – edits to a photo, but there are no one-click effects. Everything has to be done manually within a dialog box and in that sense it can be hard work to create even the basic looks unless you know what you’re looking for.
Even rotations are restricted to adjusting numbers rather than directly manipulating the image. PaintShop Pro just feels old in its function compared to any of its competitors. Even the effects that are here aren’t all that impressive, many of them producing very similar results or failing to offer anything that can be considered appealing.
There are some really great tools, however. The automatic adjustments made with the One Step Photo Fix are better than most, while the ability to draw a freehand selection around an object of interest with the depth of field tool means you can properly add an effect that looks as though the photo was taken that way with the camera and not added on later. Time Machine is novel, too, a way of adding various aging effects to a photo, presented as a timeline with key photographic eras documented within the dialog box.
It’s just a shame that the truly great tools are so few and that there are so many effects that are so specific in their function that they’re borderline useless. It’s hard to envisage there ever being a use for “Balls and Bubbles” or “Curlicues”, for example, and when there are already so many menus items to navigate through anyway, effects that add no value end up feeling like deadweight for the software.
But that’s not the say the software is useless, far from it. To those with the correct understanding of how to utilize adjustments to shadows, midtones, and highlights or what a “Hue Map” might be used for, PaintShop Pro is a powerful suite of tools. The issue is that these great and powerful functions are not brought to the forefront, explained in any real way, and are drowned out by a lot of, quite frankly, dud effects.
Import & Export
One of the biggest benefits of using photo editing software targeted at the most professional of users is that it’s practically guaranteed that you’ll be able to make edits to any sort of image file, no matter how obscure. PaintShop Pro certainly holds up its end of the bargain here, with compatibility for all the basics (.JPG, .PNG, .TIF), the uncommon (.PSD, .MSP, .SVG), and a host of RAW file types from cameras (.ORF, .SR2, .CR2).
And while there are options to save as any of these file types – with a quick, in-built optimization for .JPG – there are also specific tools for exporting as .JPG, .GIF, and .PNG for more intricate control over the optimization settings. These features in particular are useful for those wanting to find that balance between image quality and file size, since there are windows that clearly demonstrate the end result.
The idea of sharing your photos online is typically overlooked by downloadable software. Most don’t consider the idea of getting the files directly online to be important and while PaintShop Pro doesn’t have a vast selection of supported platforms, it does at least have a nifty ability to upload multiple images at once.
A dedicated sharing screen is used to bring either a single image, all open images, or those selected from your disk drive over onto Facebook, Flickr, Google+, or SmugMug. This means multiple images can be shared at once – a real rarity – with the added and very welcome option to either upload the original file or a recommended version that creates a smaller file for quicker sharing.
Though Corel itself does produce multiplatform products, PaintShop Pro is sadly limited to only Windows 7, 8, or 10. Apple owners are held back from using the software without making use of Boot Camp to install Windows. There isn’t no mobile app equivalent, either, so your options are limited.
While talking about this, however, it’s worth adding that PaintShop Pro is compatible with plugins, various add-ons – both free and paid, official and third party – that can be downloaded and installed into the software to boost it with extra features. These can obviously cover a very broad spectrum of functions and aren’t likely to be an important advantage for most, though Corel’s official Pic-to-Painting plugin does at least partially rectify the base software’s lack of precreated effects by allowing for photos to be algorithmically turned into renditions of famous paintings – a fun extra worth installing.
Corel pitches PaintShop Pro as “the affordable alternative to Photoshop”, and with only two versions of the software available and no subscription in sight it certainly manages to achieve that. The base product PaintShop Pro 2019 is $79.99 and is the full editing suite with no restrictions of any kind. PaintShop Pro 2019 Ultimate doesn’t change that base package – it’s still the same program – but for the price of $99.99 instead comes bundled with additional Corel software and a large selection of textures, brushes, and backgrounds to make use of.
There are numerous ways to save on this price, though, from regular offers on the website – there’s even a dedicated menu item, highlighting just how common these deals are – to bundles of Corel software. Though there is no advertised price scheme for it, businesses can claim a significant reduction when buying in bulk, too, though you’ll need to contact Corel about that. There’s also a 30-day money-back guarantee where dissatisfied users can request a full refund, allowing for a full month of risk-free testing in addition to a month-long free trial. Corel accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and JCB.
Whether it’s questions about the software, making a purchase, or any other sort of support requests, Corel has you covered. The option to call to a local number is a welcome addition, as is an email contact that promises 24-hour response times. But more appreciated is the live chat function where, as part of our test, we were connected within seconds to an assistant and the answers to our questions were provided equally snappily.
The static help is thorough and simple to use, as well, with a support page devoted to the very basics of getting PaintShop up and running, an in-depth knowledge base, numerous tutorials with videos, and a very complete online help page that the software links to via the program’s tools. The customer support will even respond to questions left as comments on the blog. And while support can’t be found through Corel’s numerous social media channels, upload a photo creation to the user gallery or as part of a contest and you could have the image shared to the world through these.
In many ways, PaintShop Pro feels like a time capsule. It’s pitched as a cheaper alternative to Photoshop and in the fact that it’s just a one-off fee for a license, this is absolutely true. But its interface is designed in such a way that it is a reminder of how things used to be handled with photo editing software. And that nostalgia is not a positive.
Certainly, expert editors will have very few issues finding and using the powerful tools that they need, but there’s a reason UI design has evolved so much over the recent years – and not just because everyone is following Adobe. Sidebar-based menus and direct image manipulation are the norm nowadays because they’re easy and intuitive for everyone to use, not just beginners. While there are a lot of redundant effects here, PaintShop Pro is capable of great results; if only its users didn’t need to fight with it to make those edits work.