PaintShop Pro X6: Best PC Photo Editor

This is the best value PC Photo Editor, Corel Paintshop Pro X6, and here are the reasons why.corelpp6advantage

The Edit Tab of PaintShop Pro is where most advanced photo finishing is done.

Notice this is the best PC [not Mac, Linux, Android, nor Online] photo editor. But it gives Aperture on Mac, GIMP on Linux, Pixlr on Android and iOS, and PicMonkey online a run for their features and money. But there is also a 3 sided value proposition in favor of PaintShop Pro X6. These are Sophistication, Ease of Learning, and Value Proposition. Right now at a bargain half price of $40, Corel PaintShop Pro is a clear best value as a Photo Editor. And it all starts with Windows 8 powered graphic sophistication.

Sophistication

Tablets and smartphones have brought two winning touches to photo editing – touchscreen operations and, with a reasonable camera on board, being right in the middle of the picture-taking workflow:

Camera ==> Photo Editing ==> Distribution of Pictures.

But  those two  mobile advantages change with Windows 8. The new OS  matches smartphones and tablets  not only with touchscreen operations but also with PC ultrabooks and convertible laptops  which deliver better on board still cameras,  light portability plus long-battery life for picture taking and picture processing on the go.  But even more important to Corel PaintShop Pro X6 is the fact that Windows 8 supports the best set of touch screen operations and devices. Windows 8 supercharges painting and photo editing not just in PaintShop Pro X6 but most other

So now bear with me – the logic for Windows 8 graphics now being superior to any other OS is based on the simple  fact that PC users can use touchscreen, full feature mouse, keyboard,  Kinect-like wands, pressure sensitive styli plus voice commands to  do their photo editing. Compare this with MacOS  which has a limited mouse and  no touch screen support.  Or consider  smartphones and tablets with no keyboard nor stylus nor mouse nor magic wands except  possibly as special extensions which app software may or may not work with. In the case of  Linux, the choice of  user interface devices is more limited than for PCs. In sum, Windows 8 graphics software is now  at the top of the ease of UI operations.

And on the desktop, PaintShop Pro X6 exhibits a sophisticated range and depth of features that other photo editors are hard  pressed to match. First consider the architecture of PaintShop Pro.
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Manage for Image Files Organizing  operations

Paintshop Pro is really three applications wrapped in one program:
1)Manage for Image Files Viewer and Organizer as seen in the screenshot just above;
2)Adjust for single Image File edits in the style of Apple Aperture or Adobe Lightroom [see the next screenshot below];
3)Edit for the full photo editing with multiple images in use and a gamut of features including masks, layers, vector drawing, HDR, RAW, and photo merge processing among simple to sophisticated photo editing operations [see the screenshot at the top of this review for a view of the Edit Tab in PaintShop Pro].

This threefold architecture works well because key UI elements cross among the Tab  operations. Thus the  thumbnail grid in the Manage workspace works like the the Organizer in the Edit workspace. Same drag and drop or double tap operations.
This 3 part architecture makes photo editing very straightforward as users switch quickly between the basic editing operations. This beats other photo editors even  Photoshop where these are really 3 separate programs and the transition is either clumsy and/or often slow.

What really makes this attractive in PaintShop Pro X6 is the new speedier  and more reliable performance.  This performance improvement has been enabled in part by the move to 64bit processing and in part by changes to the underlying interface routines. In contrast, with  PaintShop Pro X2 or earlier this user winced with various very slow operations in the both the Manage and Edit sections or system crashes. Those slowdowns and crashes  simply have not been seen  at all in our testing of PaintShop Pro X6.

Consider again the popularity mobile apps which  are in the middle of the picture taking workflow.  But this advantage falls by the wayside because PaintShop Pro X6 also can deliver via email or social media connections allowing  users finished photos to be quickly delivered wherever desired. This same situation applies to ease of use of mobile and tablet apps. Now that PaintShop Pro supports touch screen operations, the limited feature set of many

But this is changing with Windows 8 hybrid and convertible PCs whose on-board video cameras now have enhanced still picture taking capabilities. As for links to social media, PaintShop Pro offers a variety of links to social sites like Facebook and Twitter or to Cloud Services like Sky Drive.  But of even more impact, is the much broader feature  and speed of processing possible with  PaintShop Pro X6.

This reviewer does a series of  free presentations on fixing Dirty Dog images. These are the most frequently occurring photo miscues. Dirty Dog  Photos are not bad but they need cleaning up for their miscues.  These problems  include under-exposures, horizon-line out of kilter shots, subjects lost in the frame shots,  noisy images, various mis-tints, over-exposures, and blurred/out of focus images. For the latter two problems, over exposures and blurred shots, there is not much users can do unless they have a camera raw image and a program capable of processing RAW images. And that is what PaintShop Pro X6 is  capable of while most mobile and online photo editors are lacking. In fact this is a consistent trend.

For example,  PaintShop Pro X6 has tools for rule of thirds cropping plus resizing and   straightening out of kilter shots plus making lens distortion corrections which few mobile apps have. Likewise the choice of and precision of tools for correcting under-exposures, mis-tints, and blurred images is much broader and more capable than  many photo editing apps. Even in the arena of special effects, where most mobile apps have some unique and innovative tools, Paintshop Pro has not only its own set of special effects but also can draw on a huge set of 3rd party plugins which extend their processing capabilities in amazing ways. Plugin capabilities is one of the critical success factors for a competent photo editor.

But when you consider the other side of photofinishing, photo composition using two or more images plus vector drawing – this is where PaintShop Pro leaves  many mobile and PC apps trailing well behind. Layering, sophisticated mapping, touch-up tools, HDR multiple same image processing,  and  vector drawing are capabilities found in PaintShop Pro X6 but often missing elsewhere. And even if they have these features, many apps are pressed to match range of editing options and  the speed of processing available to desktop photo editors.

To summarize, PaintShop Pro 6 with the help of Windows 8 and the latest Intel Haswell chips,now performs like mobiles but brings the sophistication of much greater speed,  breadth and depth to photo editing. This is the basic sophistication advantage of  PaintShop Pro X6 . Given its  broad range of touchscreen and mouse operations, PaintShop Pro  outperforms Mac based photo editors. But even with the sophistication advantage, PC photo editors inevitably give up a simplicity and ease of use advantages to their mobile and online counterparts. Let see how this plays out in the case of PaintShop Pro X6.

Ease of Learning

Simplicity and ease of touch screen operation are dual edged swords. First, PaintShop Pro in Windows 8 now matches most tablet and smartphone apps touchscreen operations. However, as just seen, PaintShop Pro offers a wealth of editing operations which are superior by their richness and options. But tablet apps especially can claim ease of operations and learning. PaintShop Pro addresses this ease of operation by providing the Adjust Tab with its simplified photo editing and a overall dedication to Ease of Learning.

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 Adjust workspace for editing a single image in PaintShop Pro X6

Manage Tab:Organizing Photos for Editing

In the Manage workspace one can organize images from  an outing, rate the photos, rotate the images,  perform a set of batch edits on a group or tray of images, do a photo blend taking the best from 2 or more shots, do Raw conversion processing on one or more images, do HDR processing on a RAW image or a set of tripod mounted shots – same composition different white balance and exposure settings. And this is just for starters.

Manage allows users to prepare all the files needed for a photo editing session. For example, users can quickly add copyright and other IPTC data to a group of photos by selecting the group [just CTRL+mouse click or CTRL+A to select all images in a folder]and then typing in the values. Ditto for image tags and descriptions plus Location data. One can also create trays in the Manage Image Browser which contain thumbnail links to many images   from several different folders. This is a convenient way to collect together all the photos required for a composition or other processing. The images and any edits done to them are linked back to the image’s containing folder.

Mobile app vendors say  photo editing sophistication is not important but rather the most important aspect is touchscreen operation and associated ease of  use.  And if one  take a look at the screenshots of PaintShop Pro ‘s major workspaces – they certainly are complex and intense, especially for the legions of new users that have come to photography with  compact and smartphone  cameras. These users can be intimidated by the complexity of all the menus, icons and paraphernalia of photo editing.  Hence the importance of PaintShop Pro’s 3 part architecture.

Corel has taken four steps to address ease of use   while retaining its rich feature set and superb photo processing capabilities. Corel has made  Ease of Learning and practical use  paramount. First, its 3 Tab architecture of Manage image files, Adjust single images, and Edit advanced multi-image photo compositions  – these fit well into photofinishing’s  major workflows.

The real advantage of Corel PaintShop Pro X6 is that these major tasks now are a)well integrated with common drag and drop or right mouse click operations and b)they are fast. Moving between the Tabs is so fast if I need to to get another image or do some added adjustments I simply do not hesitate to flit among the Manage,  Adjust, and Edit tabs.

The second Ease of Learning step has been to put a Learning Center right in the program as a major panel as can be seen in the screenshot at the top of this review. The Learning Center does three things. First, it provides an overview of how to use the program for the most important tasks. Second, its topics reference and link to the other PaintShop Pro help resources like the 200 page PDF User Guide, the Visual Tutorials, the full online Help System [this reviewer would prefer that would be available locally because online connections are not always available] and the Getting Started Popup help Guides. Third, the Learning Center is my security blanket – its the place to go to find where help resources are located.

The third Ease of Learning step is PaintShop Pro’s Discovery center. This is the video and written tutorial source for the program.
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One can find at the Discovery center dozens of videos and over 70 written tutorials about all the major features of the program plus good tips on taking better photos. Just click the above screenshot to go to the Discovery Center to see what learning resources are available. Let me recommend the written tutorial on Creating Transparency Regions in PaintShop Pro.

The fourth Ease of Learning step is a double. In 8 cases Paint Shop Pro  has a combination of a Getting Started popup tutorial in front of the wizards that control some of the most difficult operations in the program. Here is the one for HDR Exposure processing:
corelppcgettings

And here is the PaintShop pro wizard that guides users through the 3 step process of creating a fine-finished HDR image:
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In fact there are 3 separate wizards for 3 the  major types of HDR processing, guiding users through the many options every step of the way. Thus the Getting Started screens, which automatically popup every time you use the a complex  function like HDR [but that auto popup can be turned off], provide not just immediate insight and help but hand off to some excellent wizards that  carry users through an involved photo-finishing process. Excellent support.

And Corel’s commitment to Ease of Learning does not stop here. Users are encouraged to join the Discovery Center weekly email alerts which keep users up to date on new material in the Discovery Center. Also users can become members of the Paint Shop Pro support forum where there are discussion on the latest photofinishing methods. In sum, PaintShop Pro has simplified the complex parts of photo finishing while providing several resources to ease the process of using their program while providing some very creative photo finishing ideas and tips.

In sum, most of the steps in using Paintshop Pro’s  Manage  and Adjust Tabs are easily learned and users can be very productive in a short period of time. The more advanced  Edit Tab with its many and admittedly complex photo-finishing commands  has a great series of learning resources including the very helpful getting Started popups and processing wizards which not only explain the process but also the design benefits of using its tools. This is how Ease of Learning can trump ease of use.

The Value Proposition

If one goes back ten years in ThePhotoFinishes.com reviews, one can see that Jasc PaintShop Pro was a serious challenger to Adobe PhotoShop and PhotoShop Elements. But when Corel originally bought Jasc they inflicted a reverse Midas touch on PaintShopPro as PaintShop Pro X2 and X3 had ambitious plans but also some serious performance problems in speed and reliability. But also Adobe added some great new photofinishing features which PaintShop Pro failed to match such as touch up tools like the healing brush, patch tool, and smart cut tool or smart blur and  smart sharpen.

But for this user the most telling deficits were in  masking operations. I could forgive Adobe’s wasted new 3D tools because Photoshop provided a Smart Selection Brush and Refine Edges. These two tools along with Quick Mask Mode allowed one to do refined selections and masking that even plugins like Mask Pro could not match. However, improvements in PaintShop Pro X3, X4, and X5 to RAW image processing, cropping capabilities, HDR processing, healing brush and patch tool,  a Smart carver, vibrance, adjustment layers and enhanced fill flash finally lured me back into the PaintShop Pro fold at X5.

However,three things happened to change the Value Proposition decisively towards PaintShoip Pro X6. First, X6 introduced the combo Auto-Selection and Smart Selection brush with enhanced feathering. Second, the improvements in speed of processing in X6 with X64 support were dramatic. Now one could work much more quickly across the full set of PaintDShop Pro commands and masking?selection operations were much more elgant and quickly accomplished. These two improvements were a tipping point that found me using PaintShop Pro much more often.

But like in Tennis, Adobe has committed some unforced errors that have added to PaintShop Pro’s value. First, the Creative Cloud initiative effectively raises the price on Photoshop software – particularly if you don’t update every year.  But also the Creative Cloud update process can be  intrusive with Adobe insisting on some update downloads   when Adobe and Murphy want the update done. Not good. Third, many of the new advanced  features of Photoshop are really beta – just take a look at some of the 3D processing  commands for a telling example. Finally, Adobe has had its computers hacked for the second time with over 150 million  user IDs on Adobe compromised. This user has spent the last two days getting that issue hopefully  straightened out. Again, not good.

So lets look at the Corel PaintShop Pro X6 value proposition. PaintShop Pro  has all of the Dirty Dog  essential editing features  and with its ability to save presets for all its commands it surpasses Photoshop which is still adding preset saves to its editing commands in a will nilly, slow one-by-one fashion. In addition, PaintShop Pro offers preview and/or side by side comparison for all of its commands that Photoshop fails to match.

In other Dirty Dog Editing tasks, PaintShop Pro has now improved significantly its masking operations with X6’s  Auto Selection and Smart Selection Brush tools. PaintShop pro still lacks the Refine Edges and Quick Mask Mode features of Photoshop but the improvements in masking particularly  the speed of Auto Selection are quite useful. In the case of Photo Composition tools, Photoshop has a someadvanced  layer  and vector drawing features that PhotoPaint Pro lacks; but the overall position of PaintShop Pro with its own unique vector drawing capabilities makes PaintShop pro a strong Photo Composition tool much like Xara Designer Pro – each offers its own advantages so all three tools remain in my photo finishing toolkit.

Now consider Price. I update my photofinishing tools about once every 2-4 years depending on update features. This is important because now Adobe Photoshop  and Lightroom are on a yearly update and payment cycle. You are renting Adobe software for a year.  Until Dec 2nd Corel Paintshop Pro X6 cost $39.99 [$79.99 there after] while the Ultimate edition adds Athentech’s Perfectly Clear plugin [read this glowing review which is right on] and FaceFilter Studio 3 [read the review here] – all for $49.99 [$99.99 there after]. But these tools are your in perpetuity. And if you buy either before Dec 2nd, Corel throws in Painter Lite [read another glowing review on Painter lite here].  In comparison Photoshop and Lightroom cost $60 for one year but the price will go up to $240/year thereafter and may not include Lightroom.

In sum, PaintShop Pro X6  is now the best value PC Photo Editor with its feature set, pricing, and Windows 8 powered UI goodies. Get in before the bargain sale ends on Dec 2nd.

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