Since 1990, Corel’s image editor, PaintShop Pro, has been a low-cost alternative to Adobe Photoshop (which first appeared in 1988) and the later Photoshop Elements (2001).Though it offers a lot of image manipulation capabilities, during its whole existence PaintShop Pro has lagged behind Adobe’s products in both features and slickness of interface.
This latest PaintShop Pro X5 version adds some major features we’ve already seen elsewhere – face tagging, mapping, and Instagram-like one-click photo effects. That’s not to say Corel hasn’t innovated, with its own twists on these features. Also, with the boxed copy retailing at £59.99 (and the download version at £51), the software is cheap and undercuts Adobe’s asking price – but it still trails in deep features and in terms of overall usability.
PaintShop Pro is available in a regular edition (the £59.99 one) and an Ultimate edition that adds Reallusion FaceFilter Studio 2.0 portrait enhancement tools, Nik Colour Efex Pro 3.0 filters, and a collection of royalty-free images, brushes and textures. However, it’s £20 more, which makes it the same price as Photoshop Elements.
You can download and install a fully functional 30-day trial version of PaintShop Pro X5 from Corel’s site. It’s a 138MB download, and the installer unfortunately tries to side-load a browser toolbar, which you can deselect if you’re alert during installation.
The interface is little changed from X4’s, but with competitors like Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 cleaning up their interfaces considerably, PaintShop’s remains overly cluttered with buttons, icons, rulers, panels, and menus. It’s a standard three panel affair, with folder navigation on the left, the main image view in the centre, and an info and action panel on the right. Along the bottom is your filmstrip view of photos in the current folder, aka the “tray.” I do like how you can undock or hide any panels to suit your taste. You can choose interface colours other than the default (and best, to my eyes) dark grey. An odd choice here is a distracting baby blue.
In contrast to the busy working area (see the below pic for an idea of just how busy it can get), three simple mode selectors grace the top of PaintShop’s window – Manage, Adjust, and Edit. Most photo workflow apps add one or more output modes – Print, Web, and so on. Lightroom is the king of this, with the ability to customise which modes appear to taste.
The Adjust Mode doesn’t actually offer all of the adjustments the program is capable of, instead just offering some quick fix options, similar to Photoshop Elements’ new design. One thing I’d like to see in PaintShop is a simple Revert button, for when you’ve gone beyond the pale with editing and need to start over. An optional History panel shows all your previous actions, and can even run scripts.
Importing and organising
Importing is a weak point for PaintShop Pro. It adds a “Review Photos” entry to the AutoPlay dialog that pops up whenever you plug camera media into your PC. However, I had to navigate down to the folder where the captures resided, while Photoshop Elements found them for me. PaintShop does have an Import menu choice, but while it found my iPhone, it didn’t find the photos on an SD media card. Of course, you could just use Windows’ pretty good photo importer, which even lets you tag pictures on the way in, but Adobe Photoshop Element’s import capabilities beat PaintShop’s.
The app’s documentation claims that you don’t really need to specifically “import” images – PaintShop will enter any photos you open in its database, keeping track of changes and optionally keeping a copy of the original. But this isn’t helpful when you’re viewing photos on a memory card. It also means you have no way to preview raw camera photos before importing, or to select only some for import as you can with rival packages. Though I could do this with my iPhone photos, once I hit the import dialog’s Get Pictures, I received an error message saying the file couldn’t be written.
Once you’ve got images in, the Quick Review, summoned by double clicking a tray thumbnail, shows your photos in full screen, with controls at the bottom for rating, discarding, zooming, and moving to the next or previous image. Doing the latter with large raw camera files was still slow when they were on the SD card, but was faster when they were moved to the hard disk, and that made quickly deciding on photos’ merits a smoother process.
PaintShop Pro gives you the usual ways to organise images – star ratings from one to five, and tags that can be easily set from a sidebar Info panel, though not from a control that appears when you hover the mouse cursor over the image, as with Photoshop Elements. An Auto Group option lets you keep photos shot within a specified time frame together. You can also have the program create Smart Collections, specifying parameters like date range, name, caption, size, or tags. You can easily zoom in on the thumbnails or even beyond 100 per cent size in Manage mode, which for some reason Elements’ Organiser doesn’t allow.
Now added to the usual organising tools are face and place organisers. To get started with face recognition, you select some photos in a collection and hit the head icon, then choose Find People. This doesn’t work if you’ve selected photos from a computer folder – only from a collection. I scanned all my 1320 image files for faces, which took about 7 minutes. Once it was done, I could either attach a name to a photo’s full preview, or switch to thumbnail view to see groups of found faces.
As with all face detection, non-faces (shrubs and such) were misidentified, but it seemed like more were tagged wrongly here than with most applications. Also, the same person’s face would often appear in multiple groups, and there were a lot of ungrouped photos that contained the same faces that had a group.
The program doesn’t have as clear or effective a system for “learning” a face as other apps do, though when you click in the name box, occasionally a previous name appears. But if it doesn’t, even when you start typing, suggestions from previous names you entered don’t show up. Another problem is that the grid view doesn’t zoom into the face, so if there’s more than one face in the photo, you don’t know which you’re naming.
Once you’ve face tagged, you can select a person’s name from the Collections panel to show just photos containing the named person’s mug. But after that, there are no fun options like collages or face movies.
Maps and location
PaintShop Pro’s new mapping capability does include a nifty sharing project, called Share My Trip, but first let’s take a look at the basic location feature. It can use embedded GPS data in photos, or you can manually place them on a map integrated into the program, or import a KML file.
The easiest, automatic way is if you have GPS data embedded in the photo files – usually the case for smartphone pictures. With those, you don’t have to do anything; the program creates Collections based on location, which you can filter through. You can also import locations from your Facebook check-ins. In Manage mode, one of the main view options along with Preview and Thumbnails is Map Mode. This shows a map with pins for each photo’s location. A search box even lets you find specific locales.
Now for the Share My Trip feature. The sharing comes courtesy of Facebook and Dropbox – yes, you need an account with both for the online sharing, though you can create your geographical pictorial locally, too. You select applicable photos in the tray, and then run through a wizard, logging into both services for web sharing. The results are attractive, with a filmstrip across the bottom and a map with large thumbnails at each location. You can also simply view a small slideshow of the geo-tagged photos. The production values aren’t as high as iPhoto’s Places slideshows, but they’re good enough.
- Lots of powerful editing tools
- Offers geo-tagging with maps
- Weak importing
- Overly cluttered interface
- Lacking overall usability