Corel/Jasc Paint Shop Pro 9

 

 

Motivation: One of the bargains of the graphics field being a approachable photo finishing programs.
Street Price: $95US   Rating: 9.2 on 10.0
In our review of Adobe Photoshop CS we credit the Photoshop developers with relentlessly innovating and perfecting Photoshop. The developers at Jasc (now Corel as Jasc was bought by Corel in mid October 2004) might be the one group that is out innovating even Adobe. In this review we shall highlight some of the new innovations in Paint Shop Pro 9 and then see how they they fit in the overall paint and photo finishing solution that is Paint Shop Pro

Like Adobe's new features some of the Jasc innovations appear to be absolutely mundane. Take for example the updated Materials palette shown in the screenshot at the left. It has been improved in 3 ways. First there is now a third color picker choice in the tabs at the upper left of the Materials palette - try it you will like it - the old color picker is available for diehards. Second, there is a new swatch small thumbnails option (medium is the current choice) which helps artists who like to view many colors. And third, there is a new pin icon in the Material palette's titlebar that adds new UI behavior to not just the Materials palette but all the palettes(see in the screenshot that the Overview, Layers, and History palettes all have a pin icon too.
Now users have a choice to click on the pin to create a self-hiding palette. It is self-hiding because as soon as the users mouse leaves the palette it collapses down to just a title bar. Hover the mouse over the title bar (no need to click) - and the palette immediately expands out again - ready for use. Very nice and it applies to all Jasc palettes. Another UI improvement - users can turn on or off tabbed images. When Tab View is on the name of the images appear in a tab strip along the top of the canvas just below the menus and toolbars - again, a handy improvement adding to Paint Shop Pro's ease of use reputation.

Working Improvements

Another seemingly innocuous upgrade is the change from History command to History palette. Again - see the screenshot to the left. The History palette records all the operations performed on the current image. The history palette allows users to do 3 main operations:
1)Undo any selected step(s) in the processing of an image:
2)Apply any selected steps to another open image;
3)Save any selected steps as a script for later use.
Typically use 3) when you want to repeat all the edit steps to recreate an image from the original. Often this is done when the original is huge in size (usually 8-40MB images)and the edit operations have been done on a downsized image. But also 2) is quite useful - for fast reuse of a brush or effect settings.

I have always wanted to impose a uniform color look to a set of closely related images - 2)allows me to do so by just opening the images and apply the History palette's Apply to Open Documents command for a selected set of color adjustment operations. However be careful using the History palette to undo steps that are buried deep in the stack of commands done on the image. To undo a buried command all the commands on top have to reversed and then reapplied. this is the attraction of the Art Media and Adjustment layers - because they stand on their own so they can be made visible or transparent individually depending on a look/style you may want to convey. In sum, just as in the case of the new pin icon, there is great richness and ease of use available in the new History palette.

Art Media Tools: A Big Step-up

In the screenshot above there is also the new Mixer palette. The mixer palette allows artists to select colors from the image or the color picker and then mix and blend them together to get shadings of precise hues just like artist do with oils and acrylics. The Mixer palette is important because Jasc has added 9 new Art Media tools and an Art Media layer to support the special properties of these tools. This is an incredibly nice enhancement:
oil brush - wet media, multi-color load, the paint can run out on the brush and then it blends if wet/smears if dry any underlying paint/hue. Finally if the underlying paint is wet it blends strongly with that color;
marker - only wet/dry property, it never runs out of paint. Turn paint wet or dry using Layer | Wet/Dry Art Media, multiply interaction when painted over itself - just like real markers;
chalk - always dry media, one color infinite load; responds to underlying texture and crumbles at edges;
pastel - always dry media, one color infinite load; responds to underlying texture, less edge crumble; thicker hue interacts with oils much more smoothly than chalk;
crayon - always dry media, one color infinite load; responds to texture, no bristles, low interaction to other tools;
colored pencil - always dry media, one color infinite load; responds strongly to texture, no bristles or edge effects; no crumble and very low interaction with other tools - only smears with smear tool not palette knife;
palette knife - wet media, multi color load; responds to texture as hue load runs out; smears if dry, blends if wet;
smear - carries no paint load: smears if dry and blends if wet layer and interacts with all art media;
art eraser
- removes mass then underlying color on canvas - use to correct stroke rather than remove it.
Try the art media tools - and see if you are not impressed with their uncanny ability to mimic a great deal of natural art media. The missing artistic nuances are color build up, impasto and rake effects plus liquid pooling and bleeding effects. It is notable that Jasc does not even attempt a ink or watercolor brush (as available in Corel Painter). But for a first kick at the art media can - this is a very impressive debut. Artist will have plenty to work with here.

Photo Goodies

Paint Shop Pro 9 has added a whole series of photo fix filters under the command Adjust | Photo Fix. The screenshot at the left shows some of the filters in action. The screenshot itself has been deliberately distorted by the Barrel Distortion Correction filter. Use the PinCushion Correction filter to correct this distortion. As well I have applied the Fill Flash filter - but I was disappointed with it and the Backlighting filters - there is simply not enough control over the effect. Using a feathered mask and the Curves and Manual Color Correction filters worked better than the Backlight and Fill Flash filters.

In contrast, the Displacement Map filter under Effects | Distortion Effects is a welcome bit of distortion mischief in the style of Flaming Pair's Twist filter - and thus open to a lot of fun. The radial blur filter is a bit more conventional.

However, in another major improvement, Jasc has considerably simplified use of the vector drawing pen, added 4 new pens including rectangle ellipse, polygon or symmetric shape and preset shapes. So now vector drawings in Jasc are just as easy as in Fireworks or Photoshop. But Jasc still does not have the special styles(Photoshop) or vector effects(Fireworks) to fully match their virtuosity. However, Jasc tools can be extended by the user in two ways: 1) through saved presets for almost all of the effects and adjustment dialogs and 2)by programming or scripting in Python with Jasc providing freely downloadable Python and scripting guide with examples. The result iis that Paint Shop pro commands are consistently easy to use .As well, Paint Shop Pro has finally added vertical display text as an option - which is very useful in many design contexts. Also the printed documentation for Jasc is both comprehensive and approachable. Thanks Jasc for providing good printed documentation - unfortunately becoming a rarity in all software.

Summary

In sum, this version of Paint Shop Pro continues to pile on the improvements, such that the program remains one of the best value bargains on the Bitmap and Photofinishing market. Paintshop Pro Can stand up with Photoshop going toe to toe with brush, color correction, masking, vector draw, layering and filter/effects features. But in ease of use, Paint Shop Pro is a step ahead with great previewing, filter presets settings and , easy toolbar and keyboard customizations. And the new vector pens plus the Art Media tools and layer are worth the price of admission alone. And look at the price of admission, at $95US street Paint Shop Pro is 1/5th Photoshop while only giving away a few Color Management, Layering and Photo output features. But as noted, Paint Shop Pro has added UI improvements (like the tabbed bar of images open for edit or the new stick pin for dialogs) and in general, makes the process of photo editing fun and easy to do. Rate this one very high, better than 9 on ten and thus given $95US street price - this program should definitely be in your graphics toolkit.




(c)Jacques Surveyer also has a website full of Paint Shop Pro enhanced images, see PicsofDetroit.com.

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