Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Corel PaintShopPro X2 Observations

A high-level review of Paint Shop Pro 12, followed by a technical discussion on how to best install and use some of the features.

On a friend's recommendation last year, I reluctantly tried Corel PaintShopPro XI (version 11), this after being a long-time Adobe Photopshop user. Now that I've used PaintShopPro (PSP), I have abandoned Adobe's product, partly on cost and partly because PSP is doing a good job.  For about $70, you will find a powerful photo-editor.

As much as I liked the previous version, PSP 11, it had several bugs. Things like tool-bar menu's not opening properly (especially the line-draw tool), or pop-up context menus not appearing at the cursor position. It also had problems building TIF files properly. In the end, all had simple work-arounds but they were irritating. Then, along comes version 12 ("X2").

2012.01 Update: 
Since this article was written, Corel released X3, and then later version X4.  All versions are similar.  The X4 version is now my recommended version.

Program Patches masquerading as New Versions

Version X2 (12) has fixed some, but not all of the issues; however, I am still recommending the newer version because it is clearly improved. In addition to my cosmetic bugs, the errata-sheet indicates they fixed about 70 other problems.

This, of course, brings to mind this observation: In year's past, Corel would have numerous maintenance releases with their existing products. But starting with older versions of WordPerfect and PSP 11, they essentially stopped maintaining older products and now only maintain the current version. If you are a version or two behind, be prepared to buy in order to fix bugs. I can understand their reasoning; it is hard to maintain two separate development staffs and testing environments, but this does make owning a program more difficult.

As-if to prove the point, PSP X2 has a new skin (colored background) but the program is nearly identical to the prior version. I am being somewhat cynical because most of the menus and toolbars operate exactly as before. There are new features, but these are really add-ons to the original product; the main program is essentially the same.  But, there is something to be said for a program that improves its base product without making a lot of changes for change's sake.

New Features:

There are new features including a promising multiple-exposure HDR blending tool (see this imageLiner.blogspot.com article), better black and white conversion and a nifty "express lab" which lets you rifle-through a new roll of pictures, making basic editing changes in a thumbnail-view. I especially like the cropping tool, which takes the guess-work out of selecting the correct ratio for a 4x6, 5x7, etc., print. This new version also supports most 35mm DSLR RAW modes, including Pentax.

The program also comes with a CD-based video tutorial by Lynda.com. This tutorial is fairly good, although some sections are a little windy and it takes the narrator too long to get to the point (the previous version of this tutorial seemed tighter). If you are not familiar with photo-editors, layers, or grouping, then you will find the tutorial helpful; it is certainly nicer than a help-file.

How I use the Program:

Although I use the photo-editor as intended, I mostly use it for technical illustrations for a C-sharp programming book that I'm writing. Interestingly, PSP has turned out to be a good tool for this type of work. For example, here is a technical illustration and a typical screen shot (Click to see full-sized resolution; click Back to return):

Here is a sample screen shot-illustration (screen artifacts are caused by the compression algorithm used by this blogging tool):

Final Conclusions:
This is a good, high-quality photo-editor, but is not for a novice user.  It also can be used for simple technical illustrations.  Although it was not intended as a technical drawing editor (see examples above), it is adequate, but do not confuse this program with a high-quality vector-drawing program.

New purchase price: apx $70, mail-order.
Upgrade Price: apx $40, direct.

When I purchased the upgrade from Corel.com, it also came with a free copy of WinDVD 9, Media-One (a movie-maker program), and a library of Special Effects filters written by a third-party. 

Technical Discussion:

The following are technical discussions on how to setup and use PSP. This is not part of the program's review.

Especially if you use Roaming Profiles or if multiple user accounts use the same computer, make these changes when installing PSP 12. This will keep your profile from being polluted with hundreds of megabytes of junk.

1. Using Windows Explorer, create these three directories:
- C:\Data\Prefs\PSP.
- C:\Temp\_Cache\PSP.
- C:\Temp\_Cache\PSP\Undo.

2. At Install, choose "Advanced".
3. Change the (user file location) from C:\Documents and Settings... to C:\Data\Prefs\PSP.

After restarting the PC and launching PSP, continue with these changes:

4. In File, Preferences
- Change the Cache directory to C:\Temp\_Cache\PSP.
- Change the Undo directory to C:\Temp\_Cache\PSP\Undo.
- Consider changing the Undo size to a smaller number, such as 50 steps and limiting the disk space.

5. If you do not need Color Management (and this has caused problems, where PSP 11 corrupts TIF files; not yet tested in version 12), consider the following:
- Under File, Color Management; un-Enable "Color management"
- Then, when saving a TIF (or possibly other formats like JPG), create an image, File-Save; Choose Options.
- Mark as "Uncompressed" and "do not store color-correction" with the file. Once this change is made, all future images inherit these settings.

Text On Images:

PSP has some difficulty making simple, readable (straight, clean) text on an image. If your text has outlines, fill-color, and other artistic enhancements, especially if the text is relatively large when compared to the image, it does a swell job. But if you want type-set-quality, plain black-text in a normal 11 or 12-point font, you will have to fiddle with the Text Toolbars (see illustrations, above for example text).

Here is how I set the Text toolbars:

See this article for complete details:  PSP Fuzzy Text Fix

1. Depending on the image, you may need to set the font-size to 4 or 5 points in order to get "normal-sized" text on the image. Try 11-points first; if too big, try 4-point. Typing a "4" in the font-size box takes some practice because the editor will try and shift the size to "48". Type the 4, then tab out of the field and click your mouse in the text-box editing window.

2. Set the "Stroke Width" to 0.00; this is the key.

3. Set the Forground/background colors backwards from what you'd expect: use White for the foreground (there is no stroke-width) and use Black for the background color (this is the fill-color).

4. For best results, if your point-size is 11 or 12 points, use anti-aliasing. If smaller, do not use anti-aliasing.

5. Stick with a simple Ariel font, if possible. If using Times, you will almost have to use anti-aliasing at all point-sizes.

Related Articles:
Windows 7 and Paint Shop Pro Not Working
Using PSP to Crop Images respecting Aspect Ratios
PSP Fuzzy Text Fix