Corel’s Paint Shop Pro X; An Old Favorite Has A New Home... And A New Lease On Life

As PCs evolved from the early to the mid-1990s and more and more had color monitors there was a flurry of interest among application programmers to develop and offer paint programs, mostly to provide computer users with a creative opportunity to make digital art. As color scanners became more available in the consumer market these paint applications were also used to input, edit, and manipulate photographic images. That Paint Shop Pro is in Version 10 attests to its inclusion among those early applications, along with names like Zsoft and Micrografx, which have long since faded into oblivion. Paint Shop Pro endured and retained a following, particularly with photographers, because it contained an effective toolset for color correction, editing, and manipulating photographic images. These tools and processes were periodically refined and elaborated.

Not long ago Corel purchased Paint Shop Pro, and now Version X is the first to incorporate some contemporary capabilities from Corel's reservoir of development of high-performance graphic arts applications, including PhotoPaint, which they acquired some years ago from Zsoft. Some of these more contemporary capabilities include support for raw digital camera file conversion with RawShooter Essentials developed by Pixmantec in Denmark. A more professional image quality capability has been assured by the current support of 16 bit per RGB channel editing adjustments.

Histogram Adjustment

Paint Shop Pro X has just about the easiest to use and the most effective Histogram Adjustment to adjust and optimize the gamut of a raw image opened in the application. About the only improvement I could possibly think of is increasing the size of the side-by-side comparison thumbnail images, which most contemporary computers would support without any slowdown of performance.
All Photos © 2006, David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

Pro-Caliber Updates
Most significant, and the reason I have not written about Paint Shop Pro in recent years, is Corel has now provided the full support of ICC-based color management, including the ability to choose and assign a standard RGB working space profile. This assures effective print matching, as well as the ability to provide color matching over time and between different computer systems and other color managed applications. For those artists and photographers using Paint Shop Pro X to do professional and offset print reproduction, the application now supports CMYK conversion and output. And, for PC users who also need to calibrate and profile their monitor to achieve color management control over output, Paint Shop Pro X includes an easy to use wizard-driven utility for calibrating and profiling both CRT and LCD displays.

The program is also good for those new to image manipulation. In addition to a very affordable price, Corel has added on-screen access to a Learning Center to quickly familiarize the beginner with how Paint Shop Pro X's many tools and processes function. Also, to make life easier for photographers in managing photo image files, Paint Shop Pro X includes a new Browser Palette, accessible inside the application's work space. And, attached to and bundled with Corel's Paint Shop Pro X is a full-fledged database supported image management facility. This is a great aid in organizing and arranging a photo image file collection with Corel's Photo Album 6.

Highlight/Midtone/Shadow Adjustment

The Highlight/Midtone/Shadow adjustment dialog is both easy to use and very effective. It can be used to adjust image contrast to its most effective degree while preserving just the right amount of detail in all tone levels across the scale of image values.

Using Corel's Paint Shop Pro X
The program's tools and processes allow you to do just about anything in the editing of a photographic image. And although automated image adjustments have been included, I think the application has kept a loyal following because the dialogs for adjusting image quality manually are comprehensive, effective, and function predictably and smoothly. It should be noted that automated image adjustment is offered with just about every photo-imaging application. But these are generally for typical, ordinary snapshot subjects and seldom provide an ideal adjustment for all images, and certainly don't provide optimal image qualities.

In my tests I selected a wide variety of subjects and types of raw image files, from scans to digital camera output. I color corrected, adjusted, and edited each image individually to see just how efficient the program behaved and how refined the results could be. With every image I was able to achieve a very satisfying result without difficulty or an excessive amount of effort, even though it has been a few years since I last worked with the application. That ease of diving in and getting it done is in part a result of the basic logic of the workflow, a characteristic shared by all successful image editors that have stood the test of time. In this sense, Paint Shop Pro X is consistent with the best practices shared by successful image-editing programs. It makes the application easy to use for any experienced digital photographer, and now with a bundled training CD as well as an easily accessible on-screen Learning Center, it is a good application for beginners to start with, too.

Color Balance Controls

At first glance the Color Balance adjustment dialog in Paint Shop Pro X may look complicated, but it is the simplest and most effective tool I have ever used to get ideal color adjustments. It provides both information that defines the beginning state of the image color balance and simple sliders to enhance the effect with precise control.