PhotoImpact 12 isn’t on par with Photoshop, but it’s knocking on the door, in terms of its features. It also works great, and costs less than $100. Beyond that, it includes features that make high-end graphics work accessible to average users. Think about Photoshop with its high-end professional set of features, at a comparably high price. Then there’s Photoshop Elements, a stripped-down version of Photoshop for less-professional or beginning users. PhotoImpact does in one software package what Adobe does in two versions of Photoshop.
As with any program that has such a large variety of features, you’re faced with a big learning curve. When trying out PhotoImpact for the first time, it’s best if you’re not in a hurry and if you have someone with a bit more experience to tap on the shoulder for some help at times.
Price to Value (4 out of 5)
For its $89.99 price you get an outstanding package of image-editing features for a Windows XP system, from the well-respected Ulead brand. It installs without issues, runs well, and is value-packed with features that would take years to fully explore and learn. The software nicely balances the needs and skills of new users and prosumers/professionals.
Installation & Setup (5 out of 5)
After purchasing, Corel sends you an email with links to five downloadable installation packages, with the serial number/key. Although the files are large, the downloading and installation is easy, straightforward, and goes well.
- The main setup file is a 92 MB one. Run it first and the serial number applies to it and the remaining packages.
- Add Cool 360 (XP only) by running the 10 MB setup file.
- Album and GIF Animator are added by running the 9 MB file (XP only).
- Photo Explorer is installed by running the 29 MB setup file (again, for XP only).
- The largest package (225 MB) is the PhotoImpact 12 Content Pack.
After installing those packages, get and install the Service Pack build 188.8.131.52 of January 17, 2007 from
https://www.ulead.com/tech/pi/pi_ftp.htm, a 10 MB file. Installing the patch fixes some things on an XP system, and updates the PhotoImpact 12 package on Vista systems to the level of being certified as “Works with Vista.” The patch won’t update the trial version. Apply it only after installing the purchased software.
What’s Not: The Photo Explorer, GIF Animator and Cool 360 features are not yet Vista-compatible.
User Interface (4 out of 5)
Going down my personal checklist of what I expect of a Windows app, PhotoImpact 12 supports them all: dragging a file to the desktop icon to automatically open the file, dragging and dropping files into the workspace from a file manager, copying and pasting files into the program, showing the name of the open file in the working window, including the full file path in the image properties, and saving the working file to return to later (here, you save to a .ufo file) .
The software feels very stable–don’t be afraid to just click around on things as you learn.
Quick Command and Batch managers (little buttons at the lower left) are quick ways to access the myriad of image enhancing options.
There’s lots here for everyone from the beginner, the novice, the prosumer, and even the expert. By all means, toggle between the ExpressFix and Full Edit modes with those buttons at the upper right. An expert Photoshop user might be pleasantly surprised at the ease and power of the ExpressFix mode’s features.
Product Features (5 out of 5)
Photo projects are template-driven and work slickly. The disc-printing project is one (see image). ExpressFix mode is a easy way to start learning about image enhancing. The features are easy to use and the results powerful. New users will come up to speed easily, enjoyably, and quickly. The SmartGuides “How-to” help is all you need–in addition to a friend to bounce an occasional question off of.
Enhancing pictures can take many forms. Adding the moon or sun is a wizard-driven process. The wizards are good ones. A few of the more impressive features are:
- Split-screen and white-balance adjustments.
- The Duotone effect (see image) is one of many choices for enhancing a picture.
- Curves for color corrections.
We found ourselves using Photoshop as the benchmark. That might be unfair to PhotoImpact 12, but it’s complimentary. Some of the areas it falls a bit short in are:
- Frames: Pretty good; simple, not sophisticated.
- RAW images from a camera: Checking using NEF files from a Nikon D40x. Good options, but not up to the level of Photoshop’s choices.
- Red eye correction: Hard to do. Other software works easier and better.
- Warping: Small screen, with three grids to choose, giving you the choice of manipulation points. If you can see what you are doing with the small screen, the results are very good.
Performance (5 out of 5)
When working in most features, PhotoImpact was really snappy and felt good. Here’s just a small sampling of features we were impressed with:
- ExpressFix gives you the opportunity to choose any of the presets for areas like color cast, exposure, saturation, etc. After choosing a preset you can customize it further by adjusting the custom sliders for the fix, something that works very well.
- CD face print worked beautifully using a template.
- The web slideshow feature was fast, automatic, and looked good.
- Web page was the same.
- Photo Explorer 8.6 was great.
Creating 360-degree panoramas using Cool 360 was awesome. I gave it 18 scanned snapshots from the top of a glacier in Switzerland. They didn’t meet the overlap suggestion for best results. With no manual adjustments on my part, the result is the best I’ve seen from such a stitching-together utility.
Another option is to save it is a panoramic quasi-video clip (of the MOV file type) that you can move around inside of in a QuickTime Player. Making video clips from still pictures is right up my alley.
What’s Not: In contrast to the snappiness of most features, things dragged in the PhotoImpact album on one of my XP systems. I’ll just note this quickly and move on, as I’ve had other issues with the computer recently, and the same feature worked great on another XP system. Other features of the PhotoImpact Album worked quickly and well, such as making a set of web pages from a dozen selected images.
Help & Support (3 out of 5)
Forums, email, online info, built-in help files, and other support are outlined and accessed from https://support.corel.com. The Help menu provides step-by-step instructions on how to use the software, and user guides are included.
What’s Not: There are many online newsgroups at cnews.corel.com, but I didn’t see one devoted to PhotoImpact.
I expected, or maybe wished for, more synergy between various major parts of the software suite. For example, when I selected the 18 sequential images of the Alps for the panorama, I was in Photo Explorer. By switching to Cool 360 at that point, I’d hoped to see the new panoramic project started with those pictures already in it. It didn’t happen that way, so I had to browse for and open them again within Cool 360. I wouldn’t have been disappointed if I hadn’t hoped for it.
As Photo Explorer, GIF Animator, and Cool 360 features are not yet Vista-compatible, you might want to check the latest from Corel/Ulead if those are key parts of your decision to purchase the software.
If you’re like most people I know, you have a fairly new digital camera, use the USB cable and basic image software that came with it to get pictures from the camera to the computer, and then email selected ones to family and friends. Those more advanced users might well upload selected pictures to online services that show or print them for you.
But you might still be overwhelmed with the learning curve needed to move on to doing what few do: fixing or manipulating pictures with software such as Photoshop and Painter, calibrating monitors to correct for colors, printing on large-size paper or canvas. Those things might be best left to the professionals. (Maybe not, as the professionals I know are feeling the pressure from those amateurs who are taking on the learning curve to build new skills.)
If you’ve already selected your high-end software, you’ll probably continue with it. If not, I strongly recommend considering Ulead’s PhotoImpact. The dollar cost is minimal considering the investment in learning time. Go into it in two steps. Start with the wizards, templates, and guides that make things so easy for beginning users. Use ExpressFix to the fullest. Then take full control of the many features and settings. It’s never too early or late to start. You’ll love what you can do.
Photoshop, Photoshop Elements