Corel PaintShop Pro X4

Windows Photo Editor Review and Rating

Corel PaintShop Pro X4
Corel PaintShop Pro X4. © Corel

Compare Prices

PaintShop Pro offers a great deal of flexibility with features that rival much pricier photo editors. It's affordable without being overly simplistic or limiting.

While the previous version (X3) was plagued with stability and performance issues, Corel seems to have made a concerted effort to turn that around with version X4, seeking out user feedback from early in the development cycle.

They've also made progress in streamlining and modernizing the user interface. If you were burned by PaintShop X3, consider taking version X4 for a spin--with the risk-free 30-day trial, of course!

Pros

  • Affordable, yet full-featured and flexible; offers a nice mix of fun and serious tools.
  • Combines photo editing, retouching, painting, drawing, and image management into one package.
  • Learning Center and training videos help new users learn the software and accomplish common tasks.
  • Manage, Adjust, and Edit workflow tabs streamline the photo editing process from the review stage to the finished photo.
  • Easily copy and apply multiple adjustments to many photos in a batch process.

Cons

  • Menus, dialogs, and tool options tend to be crowded.
  • User interface is a patchwork of old and new with some aspects of the program not meshing with others.
  • Performance can be slow in some aspects of operation.
  • Menus are crowded with options and some of the tools are gimmicky and unnecessary. (For instance, Add/remove noise has 10 different commands under it.)

    Description

    • PaintShop Pro is an affordable yet flexible and powerful photo editor and graphic design tool.
    • Offers photo enhancement tools for correcting color and tone, red eye, noise, and other common problems.
    • Draw and paint with gradients, textures, and patterns in vector, raster, and art media layers.
    • A mix of fun and serious tools; hundreds of special effects, distortion tools, frames, art brushes, and quick fixes.
    • Integrated photo organizer, camera raw converter, screen capture, optimizer, multiple image printing, and batch processing.
    • Includes Web tools for image slicing, image mapping, and coding image rollovers and buttons.
    • Options to customize toolbars, save personalized workspaces, save effects presets and share them with others.
    • Record automated scripts that can be replayed and shared; batch process, rename and convert images.
    • For Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7.

    What's in a Name?

    In my X3 review I griped about all the name changes which have been imposed on this product since Corel acquired it from Jasc. Once again, Corel has changed the name! However, at least this time they have gone back to the product's roots, dropping "Photo" from the title, and simplifying with PaintShop Pro. Let's hope it stays this way! The standard version of the editor is simply PaintShop Pro X4, but an Ultimate and Video version are also offered, each bundled with some extras.

    • PaintShop Pro X4 Ultimate includes all the features of Pro, plus Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 filters, royalty-free images from Fotalia, a custom photo book from Blurb, a collection of premium Picture Tubes.
    • Photo & Video X4 Ultimate Bundle includes all the features of Ultimate, plus VideoStudio Pro X4 Ultimate.

    Installation and Performance

    I had no issues with the installation of PaintShop Pro X4, and the performance was considerably better than the previous version. I still felt that the start-up time was a bit slow, and switching between the 3 workflows (Manage, Adjust, and Edit) was slow and glitchy, but I did not experience any crashes during my test period. Browsing network shares with the integrated photo organizer was extremely slow.

    Continue to page 2 for my comments on the new features and conclusion...

    Compare Prices

    Compare Prices

    New Features

    I explored most of the new features of PaintShop Pro X4. Here's a summary of them along with my comments:

    Workflow Tabs - PaintShop now features three separate, yet integrated workflow interfaces, designated by tabs across the top of the program window. The Photo Organizer in previous version is replaced by an Organizer palette which is available from all three workflow tabs.

    • Manage is where you browse, review, and rate your images, edit metadata, and create collections of photos. Double clicking a thumbnail brings you to a full-screen review with an unobtrusive toolbar to help you quickly delete, rotate and rate your photos. One feature I would have liked to see here is a filter for hiding JPEG or RAW copies when your camera outputs both formats.
    • Adjust is where you make photo adjustments such as color balance, brightness/contrast, fill light, clarity, tone mapping, noise removal, and sharpening. Tools are also provided here for cropping and straightening, removing red eye, cosmetic touch-ups (makeover tools), and cloning. To save time, edits done here can be captured and applied to multiple images for those times when an entire batch of images requires the same kind of correction, such as setting the camera to the wrong white balance.
    • Edit is where you get into the nitty-gritty of pixel-level photo editing, drawing, painting, creative layout, and so on-- the core of PaintShop Pro.

      I think Corel finally hit on a good workflow model with the way this is set up. I just wish that switching between the three modes was smoother. Switching modes resulted in a lot of screen flashing and file save prompts which I found disruptive.

      Photo Sharing - The Organizer panel now includes Email, Flickr and Facebook posting options so you can share your photos from anywhere in the editing process.

      HDR Exposure Merge - This is for combining multiple exposures of the same shot to create a high dynamic range photo which can display a higher tonal range than what the camera is capable of capturing in a single exposure. PaintShop's exposure merge offers a good range of tools for creating HDR for both natural and surreal results, but it could really benefit from some anti-ghosting technology.

      Photo Blend - This tool helps you merge the best aspects of multiple photos into one photo. This is often used for group shots when you have some people with eyes open and some with eyes closed, or to remove distracting objects from a static scene, but it can also be used for creative results as well.

      Selective Focus - This tool helps you create the trendy "tilt-shift" or miniature effect. It also provides a radial blur mode for creating depth of field effects. Too bad there's no rotation function--planar blurs are limited to horizontal.

      Vignette - This specialized tool makes it easy to create soft-edged border with control over dark/light, blur, feathering, and glow. Though you could achieve the vignette effect with other tools before, this is one case where a specialized tool makes sense and doesn't feel extraneous.

      Fill Light and Clarity Controls - This dual purpose tool allows you to brighten shadowy areas without damaging other image areas, plus fine-tune detail by sharpening or softening the image.

      Other Improvements

      • A new highlight recovery option in Camera RAW Lab lets you correct overexposed areas in your raw digital negatives. Camera RAW Lab also has a larger preview and improved histogram.
      • More than 20 tools have been upgraded to support 16-bit images.
      • With dual monitor support, now you can edit your photos on one screen and mange them on another.
      • Speed is improved so that more effects can be applied in real time and you can spend less time looking at progress meters.

      User Interface

      I've always given PaintShop high marks for what I know it can do, but I've personally never enjoyed using the software myself.

      The disjointed, crowded, and outdated user interface is something I have complained about with PaintShop for quite a while now. There has been significant improvement in this area with version X4. The user interface has been refreshed and modernized with all new tool icons, although there is still some disjointedness and clutter throughout the interface. I also find many of the controls are small and difficult to work with, especially when using a pen tablet.

      The saving grace for PaintShop's UI is the excellent Learning Center panel which not only offers integrated help, but also provides direct access to the tools and features of the program, making it more of an interactive context-aware tutor to assist you through your tasks.

      It looks like the dark "graphite" user interface can no longer be reversed, yet some dialogs open with the old light gray shading, which is visually jarring. Corel also did not accommodate the difficulty of reading reversed (light on dark) type by making text labels and menus larger.

      Conclusion

      PaintShop is certainly powerful, with many unique and competitive tools and features. In the past, PaintShop's strength was its uniqueness, but in recent updates it seems like Corel is merely trying to keep PaintShop in line with the competition, and not always excelling at it. Many PaintShop features introduced in recent versions are gimmicky (thinify--ugh!) or less-capable attempts to replicating features of competing software.

      PaintShop Pro X4 is quite a powerful graphics and photo editor for home or business use, offering loads of flexibility at an affordable price. Given the stability issues that have haunted the software in the past, I would advise taking advantage of the 30-day trial to try it on your system before buying, but there is a lot to like in PaintShop Pro X4.

      Compare Prices

      Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.