Although it’s difficult to say which application is the best, there are some recommendations that can be made for those looking for specific qualities in a photo editor.
If you’re not too concerned with advanced technical editing or universal plugin compatibility, PhotoPlus is worth way more than second look. It’s very user-friendly, has a wide arsenal of creative content and has the best vector support of the three applications examined in this comparison. It may not have the reputation of the other two products we looked at here, but I think that may start to change in the near future. I've found that PhotoPlus has slowly become my "go-to" photo editor whenever it can handle the task needing done, simply because of its faster performance. On the other hand, I can't let go of PaintShop Pro because of its versatility and wide range of functionalities.
Each of the last few releases of Photoshop Elements has shown marked improvement, and version 9 can stand on its own two feet despite still being referred to as Photoshop Lite. While I found previous versions of the application somewhat lacking in the feature department, I’m rather impressed with the latest release. However, I still get a bit frustrated at times because of the slow start up and processing times. Also, I do wish some of the more advanced tools weren’t tucked away so deep in the application’s menu system.
On the whole, PaintShop Pro seems to offer the most in terms of features, stability, and usability. It’s definitely superior as a technical editor, and its creative abilities aren’t too shabby either. Moreover, you can supplement the software with plugins, including many free ones. Many people out there consider PaintShop Pro to be the best Photoshop alternative. I may go a step further and say it’s a better investment than Photoshop when you consider all you’re getting for the cost.
If you want to try before you buy, both Photoshop Elements and PaintShop Pro have 30-day free trials that you can download from their respective web sites. In addition, there is actually a completely free version of PhotoPlus that you can download from the Serif website – it doesn't have all the features and tools that are available in the full version, but it is robust enough to handle many editing needs. Also, trying out the free version is a good way to tell if you'd be happy with the more comprehensive paid version of the product.