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Corel PaintShop Pro XI - Improves Your Photos Without Emptying Your Wallet

written by: Marshall Harrison•edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•updated: 2/24/2009
5

You've taken a bunch of pictures of the kids and things you saw on vacation. Now you are home and it's time to view and print your images. Unfortunately, the kids have red eyes and all of the scenic shots have the horizon hopelessly slanted. Let Corel PaintShop Pro XI solve all your problems.

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    Introduction

    I’ve often heard Corel PaintShop Pro referred to as a “poor man’s” PhotoShop but I don’t buy that. While it is considerably cheaper, I think you do it a disservice when you refer to it that way. Most of the same features are present in both packages. However, the interface to those features in Paintshop is different and in my opinion simpler. This doesn't mean that it is less powerful. It is a full-featured program that allows you to import your pictures from your camera, PC, or scanner and manipulate them. It gives you tools for adjusting your images so that they look their best. You can adjust contrast and exposure as well as touch them up by removing blemishes and repair damage. You can add text to your images along with  numerous special effects. Want to make your picture look like it's an old photo? You can do that. Want to print or share it with others? You can do that too.

    Since I was reviewing this package and a few other imaging packages I needed a standard way of testing the software. What I came up with was a list of problems that normal users may find in their images. With that in mind I set out to take some pictures that had problems. After uploading the problem images to the computer, I proceeded to try and fix the images. I’ll be using this same process with the same images for all of the reviews.

    The image problems I settled on are:

    1. Red eye: Since for most cameras the flash is close to the same plane as the lens this problem shows up in a lot in photos. Do you know how hard it can be to capture red eye when you want to?

    2. Green eye: Same type of issue as red eye but this time with dogs and cats.

    3. Crooked horizon: Most people can’t seem to hold their camera straight and you often get pictures with a noticeable slant to the horizon.

    4. Over exposure  and under exposure: Not much explanation needed here.

    5. Blemishes: When you took a picture of your thirteen year old daughter and then noticed a pimple or blemish. I'll discuss how easy it is to touchup portraits.

    These image flaws will be the basis for all of the imaging software reviews that I do. I’ll attempt to fix these flaws and then report on my success. When it will help I’ll also include images of the software in action.

    One last thing, the review will not be a tutorial. I’m not going to give you step-by-step instructions on how to fix these problems. Instead I’ll just tell you if I was able to fix them and how hard or time consuming the process was. I’ve limited myself to spending no more than 15 to 20 minutes solving a problem. I’m sure, given enough time, all of the imaging packages could solve these image problems. However, I’m too lazy to spend that much time and I don’t think most users will spend any more time than that either.

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    Installation & Setup

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 
    Installation was pretty straight forward. I simply downloaded the software from the website and then clicked on the executable to run it. You answer a few simple questions and that’s all there is to it. There is nothing difficult about the whole process.

    What's Not: 
    The only downside is that the executable was 211 Mb in size and it may prove to be an obstacle for people that only have dial up connections.
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    Help & Support

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 
    I didn’t have to make any calls to tech support but I did make extensive use of the help files. The help files were very good and it only took a simple search to find help on anything that I needed. Most of the help topics included step by step instructions as well as images showing you how to accomplish the task. I was amazed at how helpful the documentation was. It almost amounted to having a tutorial on how to accomplish the different tasks.

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    Price to Value

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 
    For the $40 that this software costs you can’t go wrong. Corel Paint Shop Pro XI lets you upload, correct, enhance and print or distribute your images. It does all this quicker and easier than comparable software costing hundreds of dollars.

    What's Not: 
    I realize that it is common these days to just download software and thus not have a hard copy of a manual. However this really irritates me and I think it is a strike against the software. Keep in mind that this is a standard practice for software these days.
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    User Interface

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 

    The user interface is very intuitive though I did have some minor problems in a couple of areas. Most of my problems probably stemmed from thinking I knew how to use the software instead of following the help files. For example when removing some blemishes from a face I needed to select the toothbrush tool to whiten the teeth. The help files referred to it but it took me a few minutes to find it on a toolbar at the top of the page. I now know that when you chose an editing tool from the tool bar at the left edge of the screen the tool bar at the top changes to give you options for fine tuning the selected tool. The problem with the toothbrush was that the number of presets was limited to three and that made it a little less obvious.

    Now let’s take a look at how the interface is laid out on screen. When you first open the program you get a work area at the top (below the menus and toolbar icons) along with an image organizer at the bottom of the screen. To the left of the image work area is the main tool bar containing icons for editing the image. These include a red eye tool, a straighten tool, and a cropping tool along with various brush tools and erasers. To the left of that is the Learning Center. The Learning Center is sensitive to the currently selected tool and will give you instructions on using the tool. It also has links to the help documents for a more detailed description of how to use the tool but I seldom needed the help documents. After becoming familiar with the various tools the Learning Center can be set to auto-hide or turned off completely. The menu at the top of the page also allows you to choose an icon or menus for doing standard things like auto-fixing your image or adding special effects.

    When all is said and done the user interface is very easy to use and the tools (plus the help) are laid out logically and easy to find.



    What's Not: 
    No complaints about the interface.
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    Performance

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 
    I saw no issues with the performance. I ran Paint Shop Pro under Microsoft Vista on a box that has three GB of memory. Speed was no issue at all. The program loaded quickly and all of the image editing that I tried was fast and smooth. Opening a large image and viewing it while panning around the image was fast and smooth. I took an image and at 100 percent zoom I was able to run any of the image enhancements such as posterizing it or turning it to a charcoal or colored chalk drawing in less than two seconds.

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    Images

    User Interface layout
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    Suggested Features

    The only negative thing I can say about the software is that I wish it had better facilities for cataloging my images. It does have the ability to tag images but I would like to se some improvement in that area. I didn’t find it all that easy to use the tagging. You can drag tags to selected images or you can drag selected images to a tag. However, I had problems getting this to work every time. It wouldn’t allow me to select multiple tags so I was unable to view my images that are assigned to more than one tag. Also, there didn’t seem to be any way to see all of my images once they were assigned to a tag. I could only see them when selecting the tag. I would like a view that shows all of my images regardless of the tag assigned.
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    Conclusion

    As I alluded to previously, this software can hold its own with other packages costing hundreds of dollars more. Corel PaintShop Pro XI has been around for many years and it just keeps getting better and better. You can see this maturity in how well the software does its job and in its ease of use. I was able to correct all of the image problems that I tested and none of the problems took more than ten minutes to solve. Some of that ten minutes was spent on trying out different effects just to see the results. The result is that you can quickly and easily make your images better with PaintShop Pro and not spend a lot of money or encounter a huge learning curve.