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Corel PaintShop Pro 2023 review. Efficient Workflow Strategies in Corel PaintShop Pro 2023.

Photoshop is a magnificent tool, but many of its users can get everything they need in Corel's photo editing software, PaintShop Pro, without having to pay a monthly fee to Adobe. PaintShop Pro supports layers and lets you edit both raster and vector image formats—something you need two of Adobe's Creative Cloud apps to do. You still miss out on some of Photoshop's most advanced tools, but the gap is getting narrower. And while Photoshop still has an undeniable advantage, PaintShop Pro is now faster than earlier versions and its interface has improved greatly over the years. So if you aren't committed to the Adobe ecosystem and are looking to save money, PaintShop Pro is a worthy alternative.

What's New in PaintShop Pro?

The 2023 version of PaintShop Pro has three completely new features: Focus Stacking, AfterShot Lab, and Snap to Objects (more on these new features in a bit). Another three things have been improved or enhanced in the update, including the Frame Tool, real-time blend mode preview, and general performance and usability. That last one includes an updated layout of the New from Template page with refreshed filter and sorting options. The company also claims a "30% performance improvement when using Refine Brush." Some of the additional software that comes with the Ultimate edition has also been enhanced, including MultiCam Capture Lite 2 and Painter Essentials 8.

How Much Does PaintShop Pro Cost?

PaintShop Pro 2023 is available directly from Corel or via retail for $79.99 (or $59.99 as an upgrade from any previous version) and is frequently discounted. The Ultimate edition ($99.99, $79.99 upgrade) throws in more software, including AfterShot (Corel's photo workflow app for importing and organizing digital photos), Corel Painter Essentials, PhotoMirage Express (converts still shots to animations), and more brushes and backgrounds. You need Ultra to get the AI HDR Studio and Sea-to-Sky Workspace (see below), PhotoMirage animation, and more brushes.

PaintShop Pro is available from the Microsoft Store app on a subscription basis at $7.99 per month, which includes all updates but no cloud storage.

The one-time purchase options are a good fit for those who still resent Adobe's move to a subscription-only model for Photoshop, Lightroom, and Illustrator. For $9.99 per month, you get both Photoshop and Lightroom, but Illustrator starts at $19.99 per month if you prepay for a year. Photoshop Elements ($99), Adobe's consumer-level photo editing software, requires no subscription, but that software has more of a hobbyist feel, as opposed to the company's pro-level offerings.

Getting Started With PaintShop Pro

PaintShop Pro runs on Windows 11 or 64-bit Windows 10 (version 1903 or later with the latest service pack). There's no macOS version.

You first install a small downloader program that completes the installation. You have to choose whether you want 32-bit, 64-bit, or both—the last means you'll be compatible with both 32-bit and 64-bit plug-ins. You also have a choice of eight languages: English, Traditional Chinese, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, or Dutch. The program asks you to enter an email to create an account, which only requires confirmation by responding to an automatically generated email.

Corel offers downloadable effect packs, too, such as ParticleShop brushes and ColorScript color effects (for $14.99 and $4.99, respectively). I installed PaintShop Pro on my test PC running Windows 10 Pro and sporting a Core i7 6700 CPU, 16GB RAM, and an Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics card.

The PaintShop Pro Interface

You start up in PaintShop's Welcome screen, which shows your recent images, product news, tutorials, and add-ins for purchase. Pick an image to work on, and the program starts up in one of four workspaces you choose: Photography, Essentials, Complete, and Sea-to-Sky. Only three tabs grace the top of the Complete program window: Home, Manage, and Edit. Aside from the simple Photography workspace, the others each take you through an interface tour wizard to show you what's what.

Photography Workspace

The Photography workspace is simple and touch-friendly. You get to it either from the Welcome Screen's Workspace section or in the File > Workspace menu. I appreciate the ability to use a touch screen more and more as the threat of carpal tunnel syndrome from excessive mouse usage looms.In the Photography workspace, you find basic tools like Rotate, Crop, Brightness, Color adjustments, One Step Photo Fix, and White Balance. You also get some of the fancier tools, including AI Upsampling, AI Denoise, AI Artifact Removal, and AI Style Transfer. There's an arrow offering even more tools, like the useful Local Tone Mapping tool, High Pass Sharpen, Fill Light/Clarity, Vibrancy, and Fade Correction. I'd like to see adjusters for highlights and shadows here, too, but they're MIA. A Fill Light control makes up for the lack of a shadows slider, but the Photography view offers a handy split-screen view to see your edits' effect. You can adjust the text and icon size and workspace colors, as well.

Starting With a Template

From Welcome, you can also start by using a project template. PaintShop's templates are similar to the Create dialog that appears when you first run Photoshop. The New Image dialog's Blank Canvas tab is rich with choices like Photo, Paper, Web, Mobile, and Social. One thing I don't see, which Photoshop has, is a Clipboard choice that sizes your new project to an image you've copied. The New From Template tab, like Photoshop's, offers several document types, including calendars, collages, cards, business reports, and social media. Most of these are in-app purchases—in both programs—though you can create your own custom templates.

Customizable Interface

The interface is customizable when it comes to color and the size of elements such as icons and scroll bars. These options get their own main menu option: User Interface. From here, you can, for example, enlarge menu text so that it doesn't look tiny on a 4K monitor. (It also worked well for my QXD 2560x1440 display). The main window's side panels can also be undocked or dismissed. The program includes sample images, so you're not starting from zero. Additionally, the Complete workspace still includes the right-panel Learning Center, which helps you along with many image-editing procedures.

You can zoom in or out to any magnification you choose, with a simple spin of the mouse wheel. There are 1:1 and Fit Image to Window buttons in PaintShop, or you can zoom simply by spinning the mouse wheel.

Unlike in Adobe Photoshop Elements, which has a separate Organizer app, you do everything in PaintShop in the same window, but you switch between the Welcome, Manage, and Edit modes for different functions. Switching between these modes, however, isn't always instantaneous; performance here could stand improvement.

As its name suggests, Manage mode is where you organize your photo collection. Like Photoshop, PaintShop is not a photo workflow application, even though it includes tools for organizing and outputting. It's especially evident when importing photos; it's more a matter of simply opening photos rather than importing them. PaintShop lacks the big Import button you find in workflow apps such as Adobe Lightroom. You can import content from a scanner, webcam, or previous versions of PaintShop, including not only photos, but also brushes, gradients, and Picture Tubes—as long as it's stored in the standard folders.

For organization and management, you can add star ratings to photos, as well as tags for keywords, people, and places. You can also create collections, including Smart Collections of photos that meet specified criteria, such as date, name, or tags. Smart Collections let you specify criteria, such as text in the file name or image size to automatically create a Collection. PaintShop no longer includes an automatic face recognition feature—a feature Photoshop has also dropped.

On the left panel is source navigation, with folders and collections. In the center is your main content view—thumbnails, full image, or a map showing photo locations based on GPS data. You can double-tap a thumbnail for a quick full-screen preview with options for rating, rotating, deleting, or launching the image in the editor. Images aren't overwritten when you save edits; rather, they are saved in PaintShop's own PSP format.

You can also save in Adobe PSD format (though you lose vector layers and other features), along with dozens of other standard image formats. If you open a PSD file created in Photoshop, layers are preserved, and you can edit them separately to taste. Afterward, your edits are fully editable if you open the resulting PSD in Photoshop. That means if you're working with someone who uses Photoshop, you're able to edit compatibly in PaintShop, but if you start in PaintShop, they only see a flattened version of your file.

Essentials Workspace

Though the Essentials workspace is drastically simplified, it retains frequently needed features, and you can add and remove tools to suit your needs. There are still quite a number of menu choices along the top—14 of them, compared with Photoshop's 11 and Photoshop Elements' 10. Like Photoshop, PaintShop lets you create custom workspaces, though the Adobe product offers six options by default compared with PaintShop's four. Photoshop Elements has Quick, Guided, and Expert modes, which can be thought of as workspaces.

Basic Photo Correction in PaintShop Pro

PaintShop Pro includes auto-correction, along with tools like a histogram with lighting and color controls. The One Step Photo Fix (available in all editing workspaces) corrected lighting problems in many of my test photos. The Smart Photo Fix dialog gives you a lot more control. You can click a neutral spot to correct the white balance and use a Levels slider to balance a lopsided histogram.

Cropping Images

The most commonly used photo editing tool by far is the crop tool. It may seem that there's nothing to it, but Adobe supercharged Photoshop's crop tool, even adding AI-powered auto-suggested cropping (now also found in Photoshop Elements). Corel continues to give attention to its own crop tool, too. It gives you a better idea of your final result by darkening the rest of the image. It offers overlays for composition guides, including golden spiral, golden ratio, and rule of thirds. When you rotate with the tool, the crop box stays put while the image rotates, so you can see the result without tilting your head.

AI Background Replacement

Replacing a photo's background used to be a many-step, hit-or-miss process in Photoshop. That program, and now PaintShop have both flipped the script on that scenario, making it a one-click affair. The AI Background Replacement tool in PaintShop works with human subjects, while Photoshop and Skylum Luminar now have tools for changing background skies in landscapes, too. The latter is still missing in PaintShop.

AI Background replacement is not unlike using Photoshop's Subject Select tool, which instantly isolates and masks a human (or even nonhuman) subject in your photo and lets you put whatever you want in the background layer. PaintShop does simplify the process, however, offering preset backgrounds.

You find this tool in the Adjust > Artificial Intelligence menu, the ninth option down. I'm not sure why it belongs there rather than in the Edit, Image, Effects, or Enhance Photo menu. Maybe an AI Tools panel would help? Note that you won't find the tool in the Photography workspace. In testing, it did a nearly perfect job, selecting me in a photo with a landscape background. You can use a brush to refine, add to, and remove a selected area, as well. You get different view choices to see just how good the selection is, including white, black, or transparent checkerboard.

AI Portrait Mode

I was expecting AI face manipulation tools like those in ON1 and Photoshop, but the AI Portrait Mode is really just for selecting a subject and adding background blur. It works much like the iPhone's Portrait mode. The quality of the result depends on the accuracy of the selection. The selection wasn't perfect for my test shot, but luckily you can tweak it. Since the effect is simulating lens bokeh, it's interesting that you can choose between round and hexagonal apertures. I found that using the latter with less feathering worked best.

Frame Tool

The Frame tool is like a collage tool, though it doesn't include preset layouts into which you can drop photos and other kinds of images. It's more of a custom frame tool that handles layer groups for you. After tapping its toolbar button, you draw rectangles and ellipses and then drop the images onto them. Then, the tool creates the appropriate layer groups automatically. If you're looking for totally predesigned frames, head to the File > New from Template menu option. You can now use text and vector shapes with the Frame tool, but note that I wasn't able to fill a frame while the move tool was selected, and I couldn't use raw photo files.

AI Denoise

The AI Denoise tool assuages one of my peeves about photo editing—having to fiddle with multiple sliders to remove noise. The Corel tool analyzes the image, and though it takes time, the result is impressive, as you can see in the image below (left side is before, right is after). You can drag the background around to position it to taste.

AI Upsampling

We've all had to deal with an image that was just too small or low-resolution for the purpose at hand. The AI Upsampling tool does a remarkable job of removing that blocky effect when you enlarge such photos. The left side in the image above shows those blocky artifacts, while the right side uses Corel's AI Upsampling tool to produce a pleasing, smooth result. The tool offers denoising at the same time, but I was able to get this result without using any. Photoshop offers several sampling options for enlargement, but when I used them on the same image, none of them produced a result as good as this one. They all still showed blockiness and artifact distortion.

AI Artifact Removal

Designed particularly for JPG image compression, the AI Artifact Removal tool seems to use similar technology to the AI Upsampling tool above. Like AI Denoise, it's a one-click tool that shows a creative full-screen animation while it's working. In my testing, the tool only worked with one kind of distortion—blocks resulting from JPEG compression. Blotchier distortion isn't corrected.

AI Style Transfer

AI Style Transfer is an effect that an earlier version of PaintShop called Pic-to-Painting. These effects resemble the Prisma-app craze of a few years ago and have appeared in many photo apps, notably the competing CyberLink PhotoDirector. They use AI technology to generate art from your photos resembling that of specific painters, such as Picasso or Van Gogh.Corel includes a good selection of painterly and artistic effects by default, while CyberLink requires extra downloading and charges extra for some of the effects. You can use a slider to adjust the strength of the effect, for a degree of customization. The Photography interface lets you use the split before-and-after view, seen above.

AI HDR Studio

AI HDR Studio is available only with the Ultimate edition of PaintShop Pro. Corel decided not to fully integrate it with the outer program. It's only accessible as a plug-in from the Effects > Plug-ins menu, and its interface design is different from the rest of the program. It lets you do single-shot HDR effects, though the program supports traditional multi-shot HDR as well.

Focus Stacking

A new related tool is Focus Stacking. It lets you combine photos taken at different focus points to make the whole image sharp. You can get to Focus Stacking from Edit > File > Focus stacking or by right-clicking on multiple photo thumbnails in Manage view and choosing it. You can paint on and erase off areas that you want to keep and remove in the final image, and then you click Blend. When it finishes, you can open the resulting combined image.

Advanced Photo Editing in PaintShop Pro

Once you move into Edit mode, the full assortment of tools comes into play. Just as in Photoshop, you can add layers, manipulate grouped objects, and adjust curves and levels. Layers are much better done than in ON1 Photo Raw, with a more Photoshop-like, clear view of each layer in an optional panel. You can create Vector, Raster, Art Media, Mask, and Adjustment layer types, with all the blending modes you'd expect. An update means that you'll now see the effect of changing the blend mode from, say, Normal to Luminance. It only worked in the right-side Layer panel, though, not in the Layer Properties dialog.The Curves tool is particularly powerful, allowing up to 16 control points, which let me create some crazy effects. The Retro lab makes up for Instant Effects' lack of adjustability in a big way. It lets you adjust blur, diffuse, glow, color, and more.Two selection tools, Smart Selection and Auto Selection, are similar to Photoshop's magic wand. The first did a decent job of letting me brush to create an edge-detected selection. But the Auto Selection is more impressive. You draw a box, and the tool selects an object inside it. In my testing, it only worked with very uniform backgrounds (a clear sky, for example) and objects with well-defined edges. Still, it's a useful tool for plucking a head off and using it against a different background. In the right circumstances, it works quite well.

360-Degree Photo Editing in PaintShop Pro

When you first try to open a 360-degree image file shot on a camera like the GoPro Max, a dialogue asks whether you want to edit it as 360-degree image or to open it for adjustments and effects. The latter doesn't affect the geometry of the photo. Instead, you can manipulate just the lighting and color effects, as though it were a warped 2D photo. Doing so keeps it in 360 format with your lighting corrections, so you can still upload it to Facebook or other 360 viewers. Corel helpfully includes a few sample 360 files for experimentation.

Opening an image in 360-degree mode presents a separate editing window and an explanatory dialog showing what you can do with the file type. There are really just four editing options: Straighten, Remove Tripod, 360-to-Panorama, and Planet effects. The last two convert the image from 360 to a standard format, such as JPG, after applying the effect.

The most useful tool is Straighten, which worked well in my testing. This option removes the unnatural curves of your 360-degree photo and lets you pick a viewing angle for the resulting image. You can pan around with the mouse or use slider controls for Pan, Tilt, Field of View (zoom), and Rotate. Then you save your work as a standard 2D photo in the format of your choice.

Remove Tripod switches your view to facing down, where a tripod normally would appear. You select the tripod with a circle, a free selection tool, or a square, and then apply Magic Fill to match the surrounding terrain. The Panorama option is mostly just a crop tool—it doesn't convert the image to a natural-looking panorama as the Straighten tool does.

A Fully Stocked Shop

Corel PaintShop Pro is a high bang-for-the-buck Photoshop substitute, requiring no monthly subscription. The app gets points for the sheer number of tools it throws at you, many of which acceptably mimic their Photoshop counterparts, including some advanced tools like content-aware move, gradients, and effect filters. PaintShop also lets you create and edit both raster and vector images, which requires two Adobe apps. Ultimately, Photoshop is truly state of the art so it remains our Editors' Choice, but pros on Windows who need Photoshop's more-common tools are likely to be satisfied with PaintShop Pro.

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