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Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3 review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £66
inc VAT

Lots of new features, but all in all there’s a lot of useful stuff here for an impressively low price.

The veteran image editor PaintShop Pro has just had a makeover and, unusually for creative software, it’s a pretty significant update – though the overhaul still needs some work with numerous bugs and a few glaring omissions.

PaintShop Pro finally gets its own RAW-processing engine. Camera support is reasonably comprehensive, although certain recently launched cameras such as Sony’s A550 and Pentax’s K-series aren’t currently compatible. Sadly, handling of RAW files is atrocious. The controls are hopelessly basic, with no picker tool for custom white balance, no highlight or shadow restoration and not even a contrast control.

Worst of all, zooming the preview to 100 per cent magnification reveals glaring blocky artefacts (we suspect the demosaicing and anti-aliasing algorithms are at fault). Thankfully, this problem disappears once the image is sent to the main application for further editing, but it makes a nonsense of the noise reduction and sharpness controls.

In the main application, you can use the new Smart Carver tool to stretch or compress photos into different aspect ratios, while defining areas to protect or discard. It’s ideal for making photos fit a picture frame without having to crop the edges, and also for removing a stranger, or an ex, from a photo. It works better than Photoshop Elements’ similar Recompose tool, being both easier to use and producing better results. In addition, a new Vibrancy tool boosts colours without spoiling skin tones, and is great for livening up dull photos.

Object Extractor provides a new way to cut out objects, but this isn’t very successful, with little built-in intelligence and an insistence on pasting the result into a new document, which isn’t always helpful. Images can be batch processed but only using the basic controls in the Express Lab, and it still manages to be unwieldy. It’s finally possible to type text directly onto an image rather than via a dialog box.

Most of the other new features appear in a pair of bundled applications. The brand new Project Creator offers various destinations for your edited photos: Facebook and Flickr, prints (either locally or via online services), collages, calendars, HD video slideshows and PDF albums. A bug meant that we had to copy pictures to the desktop before the software could import them, but otherwise the interface is friendly and inviting.

The slideshow function includes the ability to incorporate existing video clips, although there’s no option to trim them. It includes animated transitions, music and you can even add narration, although in our tests this played back a few seconds out of sync. Slideshow export options include Facebook, Flickr and YouTube, but here we experienced a glitch which skewed our photos’ aspect ratios.

Project Creator shows promise, though, and once these bugs are ironed out it will be a valuable addition to the package. However, it would have made more sense to incorporate these features into the Organizer rather than as a separate application. There’s not even an option in the Organizer to send photos directly to Project Creator.

Also included is Painter Photo Essentials 4, a simplified version of Corel Painter, which specialises in simulating brush strokes and other artistic media. This version can only work from an imported photo rather than creating artwork from scratch, but it’s a lot more sophisticated that the Brush and Smear tools found in the main editor. It’s great fun to play around with, and has various practical uses for graphic design. Corel sells this version separately for £39 – a fair price for such an impressive application – so it’s great to find it bundled here. We still have reservations about PaintShop Photo Pro’s core editing tools, which aren’t as elegant as Photoshop Elements’. Brush strokes lag behind mouse movements and many tasks take two or three clicks when one would suffice. However, support for advanced functions, such as layer masks, make it an affordable alternative to the full version of Photoshop. The new features are hit and miss, but the inclusion of the excellent Painter Photo Essentials more than makes up for a lot of problems we encountered.



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