Article by Kevin Savetz

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Copyright © by Kevin Savetz

Paint Shop Pro 8
$99 download; $109 box; $49 upgrade
Jasc Software
Rating: 5 out of 5

The latest incarnation of Paint Shop Pro makes an already great image-editing application even better. Version 8 heaps on useful new features and imaging effects that will please seasoned pros and graphics-editing newbies.

This latest version of Paint Shop improves color-balancing functions and adds tools for correcting lens distortion, such as fisheye views and perspective errors. A Straighten tool makes aligning an image as easy as drawing a line. In addition, the program works with more than 50 file formats, including such staples as GIF, JPG, and PNG; new formats such as JPEG 2000, en-hanced EPS PostScript 3, and wireless bit map; and old formats such as Amiga and MacPaint.

There are plenty of new filters for enhancing images in the program, including Soft Focus, Halftone, and a Magnifying Lens effect. A new Effects Browser lets you quickly preview the results of applying any of the program's hundreds of filters to your image. Automated Productivity Scripts let you batch-process images, applying filters or converting file formats to a complete directory of files in one fell swoop.

The program can also import images from most digital cameras and scanners, preserving EXIF (which stores details about f-stop, resolution, and other photo information). Digital camera users--even those who can barely crop a photo--will find they can dramatically enhance images after just a few minutes of exploring the program. The automatic contrast-adjustment tool clears up muddy photos, the scratch remover helps repair scanned photos, and the sepia effect can change an image's overall cast.

Scripts, which automatically perform a series of complex manipulations to an image, can turn even casual digital camera users into Rembrandts. The Watercolor and Pencil Sketch scripts, for example, can transform an ordinary photo into a work of art. PSP doesn't store and sort images, though, which are features prolific shutterbugs may miss. Image archiving, storage, and advanced sharing features are included in Paint Shop Photo Album 4, a separate $45 program.

Advanced users will have familiar and important functions at their disposal, including a clone tool, layers, and masks. A new Background Eraser function makes it easier to pull a foreground object from a cluttered background, but it's not magic: Some skill is required to do it right. In addition to raster graphics, PSP has full support for vector objects and text.

Web designers will find ample graphics tools, too. There are functions for creating image maps, rollover text, slicing images for Web browsers, adding digital watermarks, and optimizing files for the best balance of quality and download speed. A Pattern Generator, new in this version, helps create seamless tiled images for Web page or presentation backgrounds. The package also includes Animation Shop, a standalone program that specializes in making animated GIF images for the Web. Animation Shop lacks the polish of Paint Shop but can be useful for creating animated logos and banners.

Paint Shop Pro does a lot, and as a result, the interface is densely packed with menus, toolbars, and palettes. There is a learning curve to climb, but there's plenty of help along the way, including a 400-page printed manual (in the boxed version), detailed online help, and a Learning Center that walks you through such tasks as straightening an image and making a photo look old. The menus and toolbars are very configurable; you can create your own menus and move toolbars to create a work environment that suits you. You can then save the settings in customized Workspaces and switch between them.

I did encounter a few problems with Paint Shop Pro, including occasional cryptic error messages when executing scripts, and a mode in which using the mouse's scroll wheel left cursor artifacts on the image. These minor problems don't distract from the power of the application as a whole. Considering its price, Paint Shop Pro is a winner for anyone, amateur or professional, who works with digital images.

Reprinted with permission from Computer Power User magazine.

Articles by Kevin Savetz