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First impressions compared with Photoshop CS5
on 5 December 2013
I should point out that I haven't been using PaintShop Pro for as long as I would have liked before reviewing. I've been using Photoshop in various guises for about 15 years now and I currently use CS5 as my daily drawing package. I've never been entirely happy with Photoshop's interface, but historically it has done things other programs have not, so necessity has bred familiarity. I got this copy of Paintshop Pro essentially to see if I liked Corel's approach any better, but since I have not made the switch you may conclude that the answer was no. The following explains why.
First impressions using PaintShop are that it appears to be very similar to Photoshop - but not exactly the same. This is good and bad. Good because Photoshop is a fine piece of software to mimic, bad because if there's something you don't like about Photoshop, then you may well find you don't like it in PaintShop Pro either. Annoyingly the little changes go as far as the keyboard shortcuts, especially the use of Ctrl, Alt and Shift, have the same actions (like add to and remove from current selection), but on different keys (that can't be remapped), making the transition very frustrating. Obviously this is not a flaw in PaintShop, or Photoshop for that matter, but it is a pain.
This is not a simple piece of software to learn, so it is very good news that Corel provides lots of learning resources for free when you buy. There are also lot of little help panels scattered around the interface and some simplified interfaces for common photo retouching tools. The software is split into three parts, a photo organiser (that Corel call a manager), an image adjustment area and an image editor. Annoyingly you can't switch between the three at any time - if you're editing an image it forces you to close it before switching to the adjust interface, which belies the point in having everything in the same software.
I wanted to use the editing/drawing features and these are the most complex in the program. Like Photoshop you can create multiple layers per image and mix them around differently to achieve different effects. Getting into all the little complexities of the editor will take time and patience to get the best from, though simple things can be achieved quite quickly and easily.
Other quirks include some editing features that can only be previewed in a little sample section of an image and then applied to the whole thing once you click OK. This seems a little archaic these days and does not appear at all in CS5. In general Effects (the equivalent of Photoshops Filters) can be previewed real-time, but some are so slow as to be very impractical (even running the 64bit version of the software). This basically shows that Corel's program is not as well optimized for speed as Adobe's and, for me, that is a pretty big problem.
Another area where Corel lags behind Adobe is in their smart selection tools. Corel's versions are similar, generally good and great to have, but I don't find them to be as precise and require a few more tweaks to get the region of the image that you want. One set of features that I do like having are the colour reduction tools, though these are probably only of interest to software and maybe web developers.
While installing the software on a 64-bit version of Windows 7 Pro was totally painless, I have experienced at least one crash since installing. I was very surprised, upon re-launching the software, to find that it had managed to save a fully recoverable version of my edited image (unlike other programs that try and fail), so top marks there.
I am, of course, being a little unfair comparing this £40 software to another that retails at ten times that. That PaintShop Pro X6 stands up to this comparison is actually a pretty good result. A more fair comparison would be against Photoshop Elements 12, the equivalent package from Adobe, but I'm afraid that I don't know that one at all and I can't comment on the content.
PaintShop Pro X6 is a powerful and very complete package for the price and I would not tell anyone not to get it. In fact I would have a devil of a time choosing between it and Photoshop Elements, but luckily both have free trial versions that you can download and install before making your mind up. Be warned that you will need to learn how to use BOTH packages while comparing them, which will probably make choosing a pretty time consuming exercise.