It's hard to imagine that Paint Shop Pro started out as an inexpensive shareware program. Although it's no longer shareware, its feature set has outpaced the program's still reasonable $119 price tag. Recently purchased by Corel, Paint Shop Pro is a competent image editor; it has an abundance of tools for pixel editing, along with a moderate crop of functions for vector drawing and Web graphics. Although it's often billed as a low-budget Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro has some features not found in Adobe's higher-priced software. For novice and enthusiast photographers who want satisfactory editing features without paying a premium, Corel's Paint Shop Pro may be the better choice. Although we use Photoshop almost daily for graphic design jobs, we would consider using Corel Paint Shop Pro 9.0 to tweak our digital photos. If you are looking for a capable image editor with a modest price tag, we highly recommend it.
Version 9.0 of Corel Paint Shop Pro adds some convenient tricks to help maximize the main work space, such as roll-away palettes and the ability to minimize open images to tabs. The most important interface addition is the new History palette, which tracks the actions you perform on the active image. The palette lets you undo and redo commands, making it easy to experiment. Unlike in Photoshop, you can undo a single command without affecting any subsequent entries in the list. What's more, the entire history can be exported to a script and subsequently applied to other images.
Also new is the Mixer palette, which emulates the color-mixing mechanics of a real brush and palette. Add dabs of color to the palette surface, swirl them around, and select the exact color you want. The palette was designed to work with Corel's new natural media tools, simulating the tactile experience of analog art without the messy cleanup.
Corel Paint Shop Pro's photo-correction features are among its greatest strengths, containing noteworthy touches you won't find elsewhere. For example, the Automatic Color Balance filter has a slider to adjust for lighting temperature: incandescent, fluorescent, daylight, or anything in between. You can process your photos manually or take advantage of the automatic commands in the Enhance Photo menu. Photographers who use raw formats (unprocessed data from your camera's CCD) will be happy to learn that Paint Shop Pro 9.0 can preprocess and open these images.
Paint Shop Pro has several filters for correcting various lens distortions--barrel, fish-eye, and pincushion--plus a chromatic aberration filter for removing the colored fringing often seen on sharply contrasting edges. The excellent noise-removal tool gave us better results than any comparable tool we've seen in an image-editing program to date. Also, Paint Shop's Clarify filter improved murky underwater pictures. In addition, each filter shows a large preview window so that you can fiddle with pertinent adjustment settings.
On the downside, Paint Shop's Flash Fill and Backlighting filters, meant to correct under- and overexposed areas (respectively) in your digital images, were disappointing. There just weren't enough controls to make these filters work well; Photoshop still triumphs in the exposure correction department.