If Adobe Photoshop is out of your budget or a subscription for photo editing software is more than you can swallow, it might be worth taking a look at Corel's PaintShop Pro X6. This image editing software has some pretty cool features that can equal Photoshop's offerings or, in some cases, surpass it. But the software has a couple of major misgivings--especially if you like to shoot RAW or use a Mac computer.
Before we get too deep into the review of Corel's X6 software it is important to ask you some questions. First, are you a Mac user? If your answer is yes, then this is not the software for you. Unfortunately, PainShop Pro X6 is for PC users only. The software runs on Windows 8, 7, Vista or XP (Yes, I know. I said Vista. Who knew people still used Vista?) The software has a 32 bit and a 64 bit edition. Second, do you shoot RAW? If your answer is yes then you will want to think long and hard about purchasing this software as your only RAW image editor. Although PaintShop Pro X6 does open RAW images, the reality of this software is that its functionality lags so far behind other RAW image editing software that you would be better off using different software for those needs. Third, are you looking for a low cost alternative to Photoshop? If your answer is yes, then PaintShop could be a great option. The X6 software currently costs $80 for first time users and only $60 for those upgrading to the new version on Corel's website. Finally, are you a regular user of Photoshop? If your answer is yes, then it will take some time to get used to the placement of editing features. On the other hand, if you are new to photo editing software, Corel's PainShop Pro X6 offers intuitive editing tool placement and video tutorial that will have you enhancing your images in no time.
PaintShop Pro X6's user interface has changed very little from X5. X6 maintains much of the same feature and tool placement that was found in X5. If you have never seen PaintShop Pro's interface imagine Photoshop merged with Lightroom. The design of the software makes it visually appealing and easy to use. There are three main function tabs that are located at the top of the screen: Manage, Adjust and Edit. These tabs work very similar to that of Lightroom. You can easily switch back and forth between these tabs if you need to. In the "Manage" tab you can import your images, view EXIF data, and tag people and places. In the "Adjust" tab the interface looks strikingly similar to Lightroom's workspace. Images are aligned at the bottom in a scrolling strip. In this screen you can make changes with white balance, sharpening, and contrast (just to name a few of the many adjustments that can be made). This mode also incorporates a Smart Photo Fix option that can suggest optimal settings. In addition, you can add instant effects to your images just like Lightroom. The "Edit" screen is the equivalent of Photoshop. In this mode you can crop, add layers, dodge, burn, fill, and add text. Actually, the list could be very long if I were to name every tool that was available in PaintShop Pro.
One of the best parts of PaintShop is the "Learning Center" feature that is present by default, but can be turned off and on as desired. The Learning Center teaches you how to use the tool you have selected. It is invaluable if you are new to photo editing. This feature alone makes me recommend PaintShop Pro over Photoshop to new users. The learning curve on photo editing is steep. Any program that teaches a user how to correctly use the tool without having to scan the internet for random tutorials gets an A+ from me. In addition to the Learning Center, Corel also provides their users with video tutorials once you sign up as a member. This is free and requires only a few pieces of information. I think the service is great and totally worth signing up. There is an enormous amount of videos available. They are well made and easy to understand.
New features for PaintShop Pro X6
Corel has unveiled a few new features to the latest version of PaintShop. They are listed below.
64-bit performance (as well as 32-bit) New to X6 is the processing power of the new 64-bit software. Actually, when you purchase X6 you will get both versions. Corel states the processing power of the 64-bit version is fast, that a user can open and edit more large files at once and that the program has more memory management. In use we found that the processing power is indeed faster than previous versions. However, we must admit that the processing power of PaintShop still cannot match that of Adobe's.
Auto Selection Tool This tool allows you to select an object from a rectangle. The program will automatically snap to the object, yet allows you to make further refinements. In real use I found this tool harder to use than I thought it would be. When I made my selection the program did not automatically choose the object correctly unless the subject was extremely different from the background. In the cases where the object and background were different I only had to make a couple of additional selections for the program to select the object completely. I will freely admit, however, that using a selection tool in any program is not my strength. One other thing to note--after I first made my selection and then moved to another tool to refine the selection, the program didn't respond. I clicked the button again because I thought I might not have actually hit the right button. Again, nothing. Then I realized there was a green bar going across the bottom of the screen telling me the program was saving my last step. This just reinforces the concept that the program simply isnt as fast as what I am used to with Photoshop.
Auto selection on the large image was much easier than other images seen in the strip at the bottom of the screenshot.
Smart Selection Brush The Smart Selection tool allows the user to create a selection based on a brushstroke. The program then selects similar areas based on this initial selection. Simiar to the auto selection tool, the program does some of the work for you. In use I liked this tool better than the one listed above. It did a generally good job of selecting an area. Just like the auto select tool, this works better when the background is very different than the object being selected. Also, this tool uses a lot of processing power and takes longer that I am used to with Photoshop.
Video Learning As I mentioned earlier, the new video tutorials that are found in the built-in Discovery Center are a great feature for PaintShop Pro X6 users. In real use these tutorials are extremely helpful for learning how to navigate the program, how to use the tools and other advanced editing techniques. Without a doubt this is my favorite new feature of PaintShop X6.
Other features that were included in PaintShop Pro X5 have been enhanced including Object Extractor, faster HDR tools and Smart Carver. Although these changes were generally immeasurable, it is worth noting that Corel has made adjustments to these tools.
Although the overall performance is still slower than Photoshop, it is improved from the previous generation. Also, we must keep in mind that PaintShop Pro X6 is almost a hybrid of Photoshop and Lightroom making its functionality that much more powerful--especially when we take into account the price.
JPEG Processing Power
In an effort to not sound like a broken record, I will keep this performance section concise. PaintShop is simply not as fast as Photoshop. It's not terribly slow, but it's not fast either. That being said, the processing functionality and adjustment features for a JPEG far surpass those of a RAW image.
RAW Processing Power
Sadly, this is where PaintShop beings to show its most detrimental weakness. The RAW editor lacks the adjustment tools, functionality and usability of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) which is built into both Photoshop and Lightroom. The RAW editor in PaintShop doesn't give users enough control over the image to make it worthwhile. Bottom line? RAW shooters will quickly become disenchanted with PaintShop's RAW editor.
Although I just stated how poorly Corel's PaintShop Pro X6 is at RAW editing, the opposite can be said about editing JPEG images. The program is jam packed with great tools. The user interface is very friendly--especially to new users of photo editing software. In fact, with addition of video tutorials and the built-in Learning Center, I think PaintShop far exceeds Photoshop for teaching users how to properly use the program, how to enhance their images and how to create fantastic imagery in post production.
One of the most obvious strengths to consider about this program is the cost and lack of subscription. The cost of PainShop Pro X6 is only a fraction of the cost of a subscription of Photoshop. For only $80 you can own PaintShop versus having to pay $20 a month for a subscription for Photoshop. That is huge! For newbie photogs and photo enthusiasts that can't see spending the money for Photoshop, Painshop offers so many of the same type of tools and features of Lightroom and Photoshop combined.
So, should you spend your money of PaintShop Pro X6?
Yes, if you are new to photo editing.
Yes, if you want to avoid Photoshop.
Yes, if you are willing to have some patience with a slower program.
Yes, if you want to save money.
No, if you shoot RAW.
No, if you use a Mac.
No, if waiting on an image (with large amounts of data) to process will drive you insane.