Image Programs Shootout Part 2
14th March 2005 · Last updated: 5th October 2016
In this second part, I'll be looking at Paint Shop Pro 9 released in 2004, seeing how it compares to the earlier version 7. Like the first part of this post, I won't be giving a full review of the program, as it contain a lot of features - to go through them all would take many pages. Instead, I'll be listing the main issues I've found, along with screenshots of the main menus and workspace.
Paint Shop Pro 7 ("PSP7") is an excellent program for editing images, but when version 8 came out, I didn't buy it. I had fallen in love with Photoshop Elements 1 ("PSE1") instead. However, the two programs offer a different array of features. So it's worth keeping both on your hard drive.
Paint Shop Pro 9 ("PSP9") was released last year in two flavours. The full package, along with a less-capable cheaper version called Paint Shop Pro Studio. This appears to be competing with Photoshop Elements 3 ("PSE3") as the price is the same - just under £70. Otherwise the full version of PSP9 is dearer at £100. That was another reason why I did not upgrade from PSP7 at the time. Now I have, getting PSP9 for half the usual price in a recent shop sale. And very good it is too.
Everything about PSP9 feels right. Drop-down menus have been tweaked and now come with a different set of icons. (See the comparison menu screenshots later.) Filters often have more options and their control windows can now be enlarged if the filter previews are too small - a nice touch. There is also a smart filter browser, which groups each filter by type. (See example screenshot.)
Images can be saved in a bewildering range of formats, including JPEG 2000, which offers better compression than standard JPG, including a lossless function. The digital camera RAW format is also supported. PSP9 can even open .PSD (Photoshop) files, preserving the layers! (Though one I tried generated an error.)
Both PSP9 and PSE3 can optimise files (when saving them) to a set file size. PSP9 doesn't have PSE3's "Save for Web" option, instead (like earlier versions of the program) it offers a set of dedicated optimisers. These are for saving JPG, GIF and PNG files, allowing you to tweak many options, helping enormously in getting the file size down. (See example screenshot.)
PSP9 also seems better than Photoshop Elements 1 ("PSE1") at opening images. I had a problem with some corrupt files. They appeared to be intact, but PSE1 would not open them. They were saved as BMP and PNG files. Luckliy I had backups that worked. However I found that I was able to open them in PSP9. If I hadn't had any backups, that could have proved vital.
Actions can be recorded and played back - ideal for repetitive filter and sizing tasks. Or just use the built-in list of ready-made actions.
Clicking an icon on the side toolbar opens up an extensive row of options on a horizontal toolbar below the main one. This makes it easy to tweak the many options from there.
Picture tubes are a feature young users may love - paint with a random series of photo-realistic shapes. Select a twirly shape and it rotates as you paint. It's easy to get carried away using these effects! I'm not sure if they are of much real use, but great fun the first time you discover them.
Custom settings for many options can be saved straight from the control windows. Ideal if you reinstall the program and don't want to lose your settings.
- One thing I don't like about the program (which I can't find a way to turn off) is that images are now anti-aliased when zoomed in or out. In PSP7 the prorgam misses out pixels in the image if it is smaller, which keeps it sharp. Here, the image appears fuzzy, yet retains overall detail. It's something you either love or hate. A pity there's no option to choose how the program handles zoomed images.
- PSP9 has merged the zoom icon with the hand icon. Quite why, I'm not sure, but it seems counter-productive to me. Luckily there are several zoom icons that appear below the main toolbar, when the hand is selected.
- Altering the canvas size causes an eye-dropper to appear off the control window. The programmer doubtless felt this was a neat idea, but in practice it merely serves to annoy the user. The fact is, the eyedropper's small pop-up yellow note of values that accompanies it everywhere on the screen often overlaps the control window you're trying to use. It often hides vital information you need to be able to see, at least until you move the pesky thing out of the way. It's not even something you need to use every time, so a better option would have been to only make it appear when necessary (ie: when you want to choose a colour).
- I noticed some control windows and buttons don't use Windows ClearType to smooth the fonts.
- There's a mistake in the Add/Remove menu - an accented 'e' character is shown as a box and a capital 'E' instead.
- There's no Copy icon on the main toolbar!! Unlike PSE3 though, I'm sure it can be restored. (The toolbars allow you to add and remove any buttons you find useful. These include a wide range of features, not just the basic set.)
PSP9 makes it very easy to come up with great results. It also has enough depth to satisfy the most technical user. A great program. Die-hard Photoshop fans will scoff at it, but PSP9 is a serious image editing and painting program with a lot to offer. The makers have continuously improved it over time, with each new version clearly better than ever. It remains to be seen whether they can keep this quality up, or cave in to market temptations and try to copy Photoshop's budget version too much. (Spot the quick-fix photo tools, the photo browser... all very familiar.)
There's a lot more to this program. To be honest, I have barely scratched the surface. It will take time to unearth all its secrets. It still has loads of unique features that made older versions well worth buying, like the Arithmetic and Kaleidoscope filters. In my next related article, I'll be looking at the latter, showing how it can be used to amazing effect with photographs. Plus how you can make great shapes from very simple starting graphics. I'll also take a look at the impressive effects you can get with fonts and textures.
|Description||Paint Shop Pro 7||Paint Shop Pro 9|
|Default workspace*||PNG 1024 x 708 (55Kb)||PNG 1280 x 994 (37Kb)|
|File menus||PNG 458 x 610 (16Kb)|
|Edit menus||PNG 551 x 304 (12Kb)|
|View menus||PNG 553 x 416 (15Kb)|
|Image menus||PNG 479 x 520 (14Kb)|
|Effects menus||PNG 377 x 386 (7Kb)|
|Adjust menu||PNG 248 x 358 (7Kb)|
|Colours menu||PNG 281 x 433 (7Kb)|
|Layers menus||PNG 502 x 594 (17Kb)|
|Objects menus||PNG 429 x 394 (11Kb)|
|Selections menus||PNG 553 x 411 (14Kb)|
|Masks menu||PNG 216 x 253 (4Kb)|
|Window menus||PNG 429 x 329 (10Kb)|
|Help menus||PNG 462 x 306 (9Kb)|
*I added a couple of icons (Select All and Paste As New Selection) which I always use, before I took these screenshots.