NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2005
Paint Shop Pro 9
An Incremental Review by Bill Moeller, Vice President
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Hard on the heels of Joe Schork’s excellent presentation on this fine piece of software, here are my thoughts—

Much has been written by many people about the Paint Shop Pro line of software, and you have heard me remark more than once on both its strengths and weaknesses. In this brief article, I want to comment on some significant improvements in the product when compared to Version 7, which is the version I was working with before upgrading my computer recently. My focus, with sincere apologies to the graphic artists among us, is, as usual, on digital photography.

The first thing that struck me about this version of PSP was that the manual is much more photographer-friendly than earlier versions. When I first started working with PSP 4, the manual read to me like a foreign language; I had to translate all of the instructions into familiar terms before I could understand what they were talking about. It was a tough hill to climb. Over the years, the manuals have changed for the better in this regard, and the current manual actually reads as if a photographer had something to do with writing it. (Either that, or I am beginning to learn to speak this new language.)

The second thing that struck me is that this is one big upgrade—one that clearly justifies the cost ($66.00, including shipping, upgrade price), and climbing a new learning curve. Where I used to split my work between PSP 7 and Adobe PS Elements 2.0, it now looks like PSP is clearly the superior of these two products in all respects but one—the “contact sheet”—and I will be using it almost exclusively to process my images.

I was uneasy when I called JASC, now a unit of Corel, one Friday afternoon. (I had heard some uncomplimentary things about Corel.) The sales rep who answered was not as knowledgeable about the PSP line as the JASC folk had been, but he was very pleasant, had immediate access to my history as a customer, and shipped the upgrade right out. I received it sometime on Monday. Total cost $66.00, including shipping. Excellent service, in my opinion.

Installation was uneventful, and the program interface is similar enough to PSP 7 that I was able to get up and running without having to do a lot of homework before firing it up. All of my favorite tools were there, some of them greatly improved, along with some new tools and features which I have since come to love.

The Crop tool is right where it used to be, looking pretty much like it always has, but significantly enhanced by one of the new features—“Presets.” One of the nagging annoyances of using these tools has always been setting all of the parameter values correctly so that the tool will do what you want it to do. This was particularly true of PSP because its greater power and flexibility meant more parameter values to set. Now, once you zero in on a set of parameter values to deal with a particular situation, you can save those settings as a “Preset” which you can call up and apply any time you want. No need for notes, no need to hire an elephant.

The Histogram Tool is also right where it used to be, but significantly improved by including a real time display of the modified histogram as an overlay on the original histogram. In the past, this real time comparison of before-and-after required opening another window to display a separate Histogram display. This was a nuisance in PSP 7, and impossible in PS Elements 2.0.

The third of my three favorite tools—the Clone Brush Tool—is there too, and like the Crop Tool, enhanced by having Presets available when you need them.

All the other useful and powerful, although less often used, tools such as Curves are there also; but the big news is in the one-click quick-fix tools that very often are all you need for image correction. The names are pretty self-explanatory, and I have often found myself clicking on these first because when they work (which is a surprising amount of the time) they are a real time saver. Then, if I think I can do better, and am ready to spend the time on a particular image, I call up the heavy artillery and do it myself.

Like earlier versions of PSP, Version 9 has an impressive Layers capability. An improved Layers Palette not only allows selection of the active layer and which layers will be visible on screen, but also will display a thumbnail of any layer in the palette when you drag the cursor over its icon. These “Productivity” features are actually causing me to use layers more than in the past.

The new History Palette is another nice improvement. PSP has an impressive Undo/Redo capability which for all practical purposes is limited only by the capacity of your computer. The PSP 9 History Palette displays the entire set of operations performed on the current image since the last time it was closed and reopened, and permits undoing any of them (or redoing any of them which were previously undone) with a single mouse click. Further, and this is really rocket science, you can select any sequence of operations in this set and save them as a “Script.” Again, no need for notes and you can fire the elephant. Next time you want to run the same set of operations against this or another image, just open the image, select the script, punch the go button, and it all happens automatically.

I have always preferred PSP for printing my images regardless of how or where they were processed. Resizing to the correct size and resolution for printing, sharpening to compensate for the effects of interpolation in the resizing operation, and positioning the image(s) on the page for printing was simply more precise and easier using PSP than the other software I own. Now it is even easier. One click of the mouse will resize and sharpen the selected image, without having to set all of the resizing parameters, and when the image is dragged onto the printed page it snaps into position in a template which I have created and stored rather than demanding that I very carefully position it by eye.

But all of these improvements would not be enough to persuade me to use PSP as my primary image editing tool were it not for one next-to-hidden feature that even the Corel Sales Rep could not confirm—the preservation of the camera’s EXIF metadata when the image is modified and saved. This is so important to me that I found myself using Photoshop Elements 2.0 rather than PSP 7 because I did not want to lose these data. Now I use PSP 9 for everything except contact prints. PSP 9 does not, as far as I can tell, have the ability to produce a sheet of what computer folk like to call “thumbnails” of anywhere near the clarity and resolution, with anywhere near the ease and flexibility of Photoshop Elements 2.0. If and when PSP gets this capability, I plan to uninstall and toss Elements 2.0.

You might have noticed one big omission above. Professional photographers are very critical of the absence of advanced color management capabilities in PSP 9, and consider this to be a fatal flaw from a professional point of view. They are also critical that it uses the more limited sRGB color space rather than the Adobe RGB color space which can display a broader spectrum of color. I have not found this to be a problem personally, and feel that this is a very powerful piece of software that can do the job for both novice and advanced amateur alike, at a price that all can afford. I recommend it, if you have the need and the interest.

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