In the world of photo editing programs, Paint Shop Pro has always been the leading alternative to Adobe Photoshop, for those who are unable or unwilling to afford the hefty price of the market-leading product. Originally launched by Jasc Software in 1992 as a bitmap and vector graphics editor, it has grown to become a powerful photo editing and organising suite with a wide range of powerful functions, many of which rival those of Photoshop. Jasc was taken over in 2004 by Corel Corporation, and the new owners have invested serious development and marketing resources into Paint Shop Pro, adding many new features and promoting the product to take advantage of the growing popularity of digital photography and home photo editing.
The previous version, Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo XI, was launched in September last year and has proved to be very popular, so just a year later a new version has been launched, named Paint Shop Pro Photo X2. Apart from demonstrating a limited understanding of the Roman numbering system, the latest version introduces several new features, improves some existing ones, and adds an attractive new interface theme.
There has always been a certain element of "keeping up with the Joneses" between Corel and Adobe, so it's no surprise that some of the new additions mirror features recently added to Photoshop. One of these is HDR Photo Merge, a subject which I covered in a recent tutorial. This is a function that merges together series of two or more photos taken from the same position but at different exposures, in order to produce a composite image with greater shadow and highlight detail than a normal digital camera photograph. It is a feature that was added to Adobe Photoshop with version CS2, launched in early 2006, so Corel has clearly been playing catch-up in this area. Another feature that will be familiar to Photoshop users is Layer Styles, in which filters and effects that are added to a layer can be edited independently within that layer, without having to undo half the image in order to make adjustments to previous changes. Again this is a feature that also appears in Photoshop CS2.
There are several features that are unique to Paint Shop Pro however, and which reflect its more consumer-oriented market. One is the improved photo loader, which will automatically detect when a USB mass storage device such as a digital camera or memory card is connected to your PC, and will prompt you to download image files from that device. Many consumer image editing programs, including most of those supplied with digital cameras, already do this, and most are enormously irritating, automatically loading photographs into the default ‘C:' drive My Pictures folder, which can be a complete pain if you have multiple hard drives with different drive letters. Fortunately the Paint Shop Pro photo loader is more versatile, allowing the user to specify the folder into which photos are transferred, and also to batch-rename transferred photos automatically with date information or a specific title. It's the first photo-loading program I've seen that I might actually use.