My guess is there are a lot of people out there working with older versions of PaintShop Pro wondering whether it’s worth upgrading to the new version – PaintShop Pro X4. People stick with older versions of software not just to avoid the cost of upgrading, but often because they’re familiar with what they’ve been using for years and don’t feel the need for the new features on offer. But new software is about more than just features and the revised PaintShop Pro X4 UI (User Interface) makes working with the application so much easier I’d argue that alone is worth the cost of an upgrade.
Incidentally, there’s been a lot of jiggery pokery with the PaintShop Pro branding since Corel took the helm, here’s the recent chronology if you’re using an older version and want to know how many generations out of date you are:
PaintShop Pro X4
PaintShop Photo Pro X3
PaintShop pro Photo X2
PaintShop pro Photo X1
PaintShop pro Photo X
PaintShop Pro 9
Even if you’re working with PaintShop Photo Pro X3 you should seriously think about upgrading as the new interface design makes life so much easier and help you to better organise your workflow. The new design divides the workspace on three tabs – Manage, Adjust and Edit.
This screen grab shows PaintShop Pro X4′s Manage workspace. There are 4 areas – the Navigation palette over on the left, the Organizer palette in the middle, and the Preview palette on the right with the Info palette underneath it. The Navigation palette has two tabs so you can browse all the files and folders on your computer or organise the Collections tab with only those folders that contain photos. You can also create Smart Collections (saved searches) on the Collections tab. In Preview mode, shown below, the Preview palette moves centre stage and the Organizer drops down below it. You use the Manage workspace to review, delete, tag, caption and otherwise organise your photos. There’s also a Quick review mode (double-click a thumbnail to enter it) that shows images full screen with zoom, rotate, delete and rating tools.
The Adjust Workspace replaces what used to be called Express Lab. Here you can carry out ‘everyday’ editing – rotating, cropping, tonal and colour correcting and even a bit of retouching with the Red-eye and Makeover tools. If you’re not too confident about how to improve the look of your photos in terms of tone and colour the Smart Photo Fix Tool can take care of that for you.
If you’re still working with a very old version of PaintShop Pro, the Edit workspace will be the most familiar to you, but even that has changed a lot. This is where you’ll find all the ‘conventional’ photo editing tools and features – Selection tools, Layers, Layer masks, Adjustment Layers, brush tools, text etc.
These three workspaces provide the opportunity to establish a workflow for your photo editing, but you don’t have to use them. You could just dive straight into the Edit workspace, open a photo from your hard drive and get stuck in, which is probably what you do now if your using an older version of PaintShop Pro.
As I’ve said, I think this division of the PaintShop Pro UI into tabbed workspaces is one of the highlights of PaintShop Pro Photo X4. But there are some other new features you might also be interested in. Here’s a brief tour of the major new features and what you can expect from them.
The old HDR Photomerge has been replaced with a completely redesigned feature called HDR Exposure merge. This is a massive improvement with a new merge algorithm that’s much more effective than the old one and an interface that’s much easier to use and includes a variety of presets. There’s also a new Batch Merge feature that works on multiple bracketed sets of photos.
Revised with a much larger preview area, a histogram and new highlight recovery options.
Fill Light does the same thing as the old Fill Flash tool, only much more effectively. Clarity is a local contest enhancer that makes your pictures pop.
It adds a vignette. Not the most exciting tool in the box, but look at how popular vignettes have become.
Truth be told, PaintShop Pro X4′s new Flickr and Facebook up loaders are quite poor, even for a first effort. You’re better off sticking with the web-based uploaders.
You know that tilt-shift effect? Some people aren’t heartily sick of seeing it everywhere. If you’re one of them you’re going to have a lot of fun.
This is another of the new features that I’m not altogether in love with. The idea is great, you can combine the best bits of several photos to produce one good one. The implementation, sadly, is not cool. It only really works if you have the camera mounted on a tripod and the subjects don’t move around too much. I’ve had very limited success with it on handheld shots, but it might work better for weddings and other situations where people are formally posed.
That’s it for my quick round up of the interface improvements and major new features in PaintShop Pro X4. If there’s anything important you think I’ve left out, or you don’t agree with, feel free to comment. Check back for upcoming tutorials on how to use some of these new features, and look out for the latest edition of my book PaintShop Pro X4 for Photographers due out from Focal Press in February 2012.