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In this article, I will review the latest version of PaintShop Pro 2018. I have a unique perspective, having used it over 17 years ago for the first time. Let’s see how it fairs now.
Please note: this is a Windows-only program.
Approximately 17 years ago I was working in retail selling computer hardware and software. A lot of people came in asking for Photoshop and were understandably shocked when they were informed the price was $1500. So being able to offer them an alternative for around $200 meant I made a lot of sales of what was then PaintShop Pro Version 7.
Since then, Corel bought the program and invested in further development. PSP (as it was known in the day) could do quite a bit of what Photoshop did, it had layers and masking, support for graphics tablets, and for the majority of people who just wanted to be creative, was a very cost-effective option. It was laid out in a similar way to Photoshop, functioned very similarly and to a certain extent was just as difficult to learn for a newbie.
Things have changed a lot since then. Now, I have spent the last three years learning to use Photoshop to creatively edit my images beyond straight photography. With a new set of skills under my belt, it’s time to see what PaintShop Pro 2018 can offer once again.
PaintShop Pro 2018 is available in both Standard ($64.99 USD) and Ultimate ($79.99 USD) options, where Ultimate includes some other potentially useful Corel programs. For our purposes here, this review will only cover the Standard version.
Purchase Full version for a new installation, or upgrade if you are a current user.
Please note that PaintShop Pro 2018 is only compatible with Windows operating systems, however, it must also be noted that this is a perpetual license, not a subscription. You only need to pay once and it’s yours forever, which may appeal to some customers.
On starting up PaintShop Pro you are greeted with a Welcome screen and the choice of Essentials or Complete. Each screen is a different color to minimize confusion. At the bottom of each screen is a choice of links encompassing tutorials, free stuff and access to technical support.
There is also access directly within the program to purchase extra textures, software (including an upgrade to the Ultimate version) and lots of different plugins and special effect options.
Creating a new file offers choices from a custom design and several different image or document presets.
The Essentials workspace layout is very simple and clean with the usual central space dedicated to the image, a menu bar at the top, tool bar options to the left and right, and an image browsing interface (similar to Adobe Bridge) at the bottom.
The left tool bar can be moved, docked, floated or stretched out to a single column of buttons. Adding or removing functions is easily done by clicking on the plus (+) at the bottom and selecting from the choices available. It is a pretty extensive list and would likely cover the requirements for most average users.
The right tool bar by default handles the colour palette options and can also be docked by right-clicking and selecting that option.
The Complete workspace layout is a bit more involved with an additional Learning Center docked on the right-hand side. Good news is that if you switch between Essentials and Complete, the program remembers your preferences for laying out the menus so it stays consistent. Layers also dock much tidier in Complete workspace than they do in Essentials – so if you want to use Layers, I suggest using the Complete workspace. There is a fair amount of customization of the visual layout, sizing, and color options as well under User Interface.
Keyboard shortcuts appear to be pretty similar to those used in Photoshop. I tested Ctl+Z (undo), B, and X with expected results.
The system used for testing was an HP Z230 Workstation with an i7-4770 3.4Ghz processor, 12GB memory, and an SSD drive. The performance was quick and responsive. However noticeable lag was experienced when bringing in a large PSD file with around 50 layers. It took about a minute for the program to process and open the file.
Linking to a Network Drive to view RAW files also showed some hesitation while the program did some background processing.
Enhance Photo options are available within both the Essential and Complete workspaces. My preference is for the Smart Photo fix, as you get a large preview window to view the effect of adjustments, plus you have more options and control over the settings. One Step Photo Fix is a “click the button and what you get is what you get”. Smart Photo Fix gives you basic options but with a bit more control.
There are also some Lens Correction options under the Adjust Menu to help counter various distortion problems.
The usual Adjustment layers are available; Brightness/Contrast, Curves, Hue/Saturation, and Levels being the most likely candidates, plus a few unique to PaintShop Pro. One feature I did particularly like was that it offers a preview of the effect from within the editing palette.
RAW images can be edited via a Camera Raw option. It appears to work similar to Lightroom, where you point the navigation at the desired folder and it pulls up the images in a grid view. I have everything saved on an NAS (Network Attached Storage), and the Computer navigation option couldn’t view it, but I was able to add a link to the NAS under the Collections>Browse more Folders option. It took a while for the program to make the network linkage, and bring up the images.
Once you find the RAW file you want to edit, select it and click the EDIT Tab and it will open up a fairly basic panel with similar options to Adobe Camera Raw. It would be on a par with Lightroom version 3 or 4, so quite limited compared to current Adobe options. However, if you do not need the more advanced features, it is quite functional.
Masks are still a bit clunky. When you want to add one, you are asked to choose from three options – if you want it to behave the same way you expect in Photoshop, choose Source Opacity. The default is Source Luminance.
The Scratch Remover worked alright but when I tested it on a textured background, there was an obvious blur visible where it had applied. Object Remover was a bit clunky to use, in that you had to select the object you wanted to remove with one tool, and the background you wanted to replace it with via a separate tool. Once applied it did a pretty good job. Some feathering of the edges, and it would blend in nicely.
Text can be applied, and there are lots of options for texture, paint, brushes (though there is a very limited default range of brushes, you do have the option to purchase more or create your own).
PaintShop Pro 2018 is a program that is clearly aimed at the consumer market. With two levels of control, it caters to the most basic requirements, and still allows enough scope for people who want to stretch their editing capabilities.
For those needing professional or advanced level editing Lightroom and Photoshop, both offer much more advanced functionality, but PaintShop Pro will cater to the vast majority of user requirements. The price is attractive, as is the lack of any ongoing subscription costs. A lot of work has gone into improving and modernizing the interface and there is a lot of flexibility offered as to how you can interact with the program.
It offers a good range of tools and options at a reasonable price and should not be overlooked. It would compare favorably against Adobe Elements.
There are a few historical quirks (like management of layers) that should be improved to make it easier to use. But PaintShop Pro is ideal for a home user who wants a range of features that are not too complicated.
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