NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
Paint Shop Pro 5
A Review by Dale Oliver, April 99
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It has been a long time since I have enjoyed using a software package as much as Paint Shop Pro 5. Since I spend an average of about ten hours a day wrestling with computer systems for a living, typically the last thing I want to do is go home and sit down in front of another computer. Reviewing Paint Shop Pro 5 (which I will abbreviate as PSP5) has broken this pattern, however. In fact, I have sat down at the computer countless times intending to write this review, and have somehow managed to end up finding more fascinating features that keep me occupied with PSP5 for hours on end, only to realize that the article didn't get finished yet again.

What I hope to convey with this review is a brief explanation of some of the more noteworthy software features. I could literally write a book about the software after only using it a month, but I will be mindful of your eyes and Bill's newsletter space. If you are not familiar with PSP5, and if you were not fortunate enough to attend the excellent February presentation, the product allows you to view, import, export, edit, modify and even create all kinds of computer images from scratch. It even has built-in support for TWAIN-compliant devices such as scanners and digital cameras so that you can enhance photos or even repair old antique family portraits.

One of my first initial impressions was the ease in which the software installs. You simply put the CD-ROM disk in the drive and close the door. The setup program loads automatically, and you even get to listen to some nice relaxing jazz when the installation program runs-a neat feature. Just point and click on the installation choice and follow along with the setup wizard to complete the installation. Very painless.

From the slick packaging to the documentation and finally to the software itself, it is apparent that this is a quality product which was well thought out and designed. One of the main things that impressed me which is usually somewhat lackluster in even high-end software programs is quality documentation. The PSP5 package comes with a PSP5 User's Guide, an Animation Shop User's Guide (more about this later), and an aftermarket Sam's book entitled "Teach Yourself Paint Shop Pro in 25 Hours." All are well written and easy to follow. The PSP5 User's Guide includes a section which walks you through eight separate tutorials that let you work with supplied sample images to help you understand basic software concepts and operations. The Sam's book contains 24 separate lessons, each about an hour in length, to help you learn more in-depth features one-by-one.

The online help system is also very informative. Hotlinks to the Jasc Web site are a mouse click away. There is even an online Web support feature which is accessible by simply clicking a menu choice (provided you have Internet access, of course). A lot of thought has gone into making the product as effortless to use as possible. For example, you can click a button on the Web site that will check your current software version, and if there is a newer update available, you can automatically download it for free. You don't even have to know what version you are using-it will check for you!

Not only is the Jasc Web site exceptionally well done, there are also very helpful and appropriate links to other PSP5-specific information and "goodies" located on other sites across the Web.

A really fascinating (and FUN!) feature is called Picture Tubes. Picture Tubes let you paint with pictures instead of brushes. A really neat idea! You simply pick the type of design you want, then wisk the mouse pointer around on your "canvas," and magically create all kinds of beautiful and colorful images such as Christmas motifs, animals, bugs, trees, rocks, cars, airplanes, candies... you name it. And if you want to add more Picture Tubes designs to PSP5, you can go to the Jasc Web site or follow other hotlinks to obtain literally hundreds of different (free) Picture Tubes. In fact, there is even a feature that will allow you to create your own picture tubes.

As with most graphics programs, PSP5 supplies you with a number of textures to paint with so that you can create stunningly realistic wood grain, marble, fruit peel, parchment, etc. Just select the texture you want and paint it on. You can tile a small texture pattern to create Web page backgrounds and all kinds of things.

Probably the best ease-of-use feature of PSP5 is the ease of undoing things you've accidentally done. If you have used products like Microsoft's Paint program, you know how frustrating it can be when you have to choose between undoing either the last five minutes of work or choosing to just not undo at all. With PSP5, each individual brush stroke can be undone in reverse chronological order by successively pressing the Undo button. And you can even undo an Undo by using the Redo button. In addition, a small history window details all of the changes you have made during the current editing session, so that you can select the particular step you want to undo.

One of the most powerful software features offered in PSP5 involves working with image layers. Layers allow you to work with individual image elements and manipulate them independently of the rest of the image's objects. For example, you can superimpose National Enquirer style images where you put two people together that don't even know each other, but make it look like they are best of friends. Just cut, paste, and move the individual image layers around and presto! Instant blackmail. (Did I really say that?) Or you can use this technique to "clone" your children in a photograph for tax deduction purposes, like our PSP5 presenter did as a spoof during his demonstration. Or you can also take a picture of yourself and place it on a Caribbean beach scene (even if you were never there and just heisted the beach image from the Web somewhere). Or create a picture of you with your long-time friend, Robert Redford (as far as anybody can tell). You can even adjust the transparency level for each layer, creating "ghost" images, reflections, or making picture backgrounds appear to be nearer or farther by simply adjusting the transparency level. Layering in such a manner is a very powerful technique that I am just beginning to learn about.

Over the past number of years, I have had the chance to use some expensive graphics programs, and PSP5 keeps up with the "big boys" when it comes to the number of file formats supported. In fact, no less than 70 raster type images, and 12 meta and vector type images are supported. Bottom line: It will probably read any image file you can find. Of particular interest to Web site creators--and anyone wanting to save hard disk space--JPEG images are supported along with variable compression ratios that can be set by the user for each individual image. For a specific example, I took a very colorful, detailed image of a butterfly fish that was 880 KB in size when using the .PSP image format (Paint Shop Pro's proprietary format). After experimenting with various JPEG compression levels, I was able to save an image that was almost visually identical when compared side-by-side on the screen, but the compressed JPEG image was only 23 KB in size.

Included with PSP5 is a nicely done thumbnail browser that lets you preview miniature representations images prior to opening them. This thumbnail browser also lets you rummage around on your hard drive for any type of image files that might be out there. I was surprised at how many image files I had that I had completely forgotten about. Ah, the joys of cavernous hard drives. The thumbnail browser uses an interface very similar to the Windows Explorer interface that allows you to click around on the different folders you want to browse through.

Speaking of the Windows Explorer, you can even drag image files from your Explorer or My Computer window directly onto the PSP5 window and drop them there to open the file. Too easy!

A neat feature for Web developers is a feature that lets you select a portion of an image to use as a starting point, and PSP5 will automatically turn it into a seamless pattern for use as window borders, etc. For example, if you had a leaf pattern that you wanted to tile or place end-to-end to use on the left hand side of a Web page, simply highlight the section that you want to repeat, click a menu choice, and PSP5 will create the edges of the image for you automatically so that each "tile" will perfectly match when placed end-to- end. Wow, what a time saver!

Included in the package is a neat utility program called Animation Shop. This little utility allows you to take a number of image "frames" and assemble them into a single animated image, using a concept similar to the old flip-type cartoons. Just create (or copy and paste) the different frames, assemble them together, and save in the appropriate GIF format. It's fast and easy to create animated graphic images just like you see all over the Internet now.

Another utility that is very handy allows you to capture Windows screens or selected screen areas and then paste them into an image, a document, etc. You can use this screen capture utility to take a snapshot of something you are looking at that you want to incorporate into another image, such as a background sky, a colorful sunset, etc.

I know I should find something to complain about to balance the review, but I haven't found anything that I really don't like yet! In my opinion, the bottom line is that you won't find a better software bargain anywhere when it comes to a powerful, intuitive graphics program that will do more than anyone but a hard core graphics artist needs. Amazingly, the retail price of the software is just $99.00 and our presenter was kind enough to leave coupons with Joe Schork (NWA-PCUG Vice President) that allows club members to purchase the software directly from Jasc for $59.00. How can you lose? If you want to put some fun and excitement back into your personal computing, I highly recommend that you consider purchasing a copy of Paint Shop Pro 5.

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