Corel PaintShop Pro: A Worthy Photoshop Alternative
PC Magazine|September 2021
Photoshop is a magnificent tool, but many of its users could do everything they need to in Corel’s photo-editing software, PaintShop Pro, without having to pay a monthly tribute to Adobe. PaintShop Pro supports layers and lets you edit both raster and vector image formats—something you’d need two of Adobe’s Creative Cloud apps to do.
MICHAEL MUCHMORE

You miss out on some of the Adobe flagship photo editor’s most advanced tools, however, including 3D modeling, detailed typography, and face liquefy. PaintShop Pro’s Performance is faster than in earlier versions, but in some photo-editing operations, it lags Photoshop. Likewise, while PaintShop Pro’s interface has improved greatly over the years, it’s still not quite as polished and unified as Photoshop’s. If you’re a Windows user who’s not committed to the Adobe ecosystem, PaintShop Pro is a worthy alternative, especially given its low cost.

PRICING

PaintShop Pro 2022 is available directly from Corel or via retail for $79.99 (or $59.99 as an upgrade from any previous version); it’s frequently discounted. The Ultimate edition ($99.99, $79.99 upgrade) throws in more software—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’ll 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. This gets you all updates but no cloud storage, such as you get with Adobe’s subscriptions.

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, when you prepay for a year. Photoshop Elements ($99), Adobe’s consumer-level photo editing software, requires no subscription, but it has more of a hobbyist feel as opposed to the company’s pro-level offerings.

Corel PaintShop Pro

PROS

Photoshop-like features at a lower price. Powerful effects and editing tools. Extensive help and tutorials. Good assortment of vector drawing tools. Automatic noise removal.

CONS

Inconsistent interface. No macOS version. Some operations slow.

BOTTOM LINE

Corel continues to add new photo-editing possibilities to its PaintShop Pro software, making it a worthy Photoshop alternative on Windows for a budget-conscious, one-time price.

GETTING STARTED

PaintShop Pro runs on Windows 10 (recommended version 1903 or later with the latest Service Pack (64-bit editions). 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. After this step, the program asked me 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 with a Core i7 6700 CPU, 16GB RAM, and an Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics card.

WHAT’S NEW?

Corel puts a lot of effort into improving and adding features to the venerable image-editing software, taking feedback from user advisory boards and program telemetry to decide what people want. New features for the 2022 version include AI Background Replacement, AI Portrait Mode, and a much improved AI Style Transfer. Corel also added support for the HEIC and HEIF file types that iPhones use and an updated Welcome and startup experience. New brushes, color palettes, gradients, patterns and picture tubes, and a Frame tool for placing images inside shapes round out the updates.

The Ultimate version adds a Highlight Reel video slideshow-creating feature (similar to the one in Corel VideoStudio), MultiCam Capture Lite for screen and webcam video presentations, and Painter Essentials 8 for simple drawing, sketching, and painting on the PC.

In 2021, PaintShop added a touch-friendly photography mode that includes a split before-and-after view, handy for seeing the effects of your edits. (I’d still like to see a side-by-side option like Lightroom’s.) Also arriving in that version were AI Upsampling, AI Denoise, AI Artifact Removal, AI Style Transfer, and the HDR Studio plug-in. A big tool from this update is the Sea-to-Sky Workspace (only in Ultimate). It applies appropriate fixes to underwater and aerial shots, such as those from a drone.

Other recent updates include a slew of tools. The 2020 version added SmartClone, for blending multiple image selections; Refine Brush, for selecting complex objects like hair or tree lines; new brushes, color palettes, gradients, patterns and picture tubes; Text tool enhancements; and an improved Depth of Field tool. Available within the Crop tool, Depth of Field lets you position the focus area with a five-by-five grid of squares. The 2019 version added 360-Degree camera support, an improved crop toolbar, stylus and tablet support, and a more-customizable UI.

THE PAINTSHOP INTERFACE

PaintShop’s Welcome screen shows your recent files, 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.

The Photography workspace is simple and touch-friendly. You find basic tools including 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. An arrow offers even more tools, such as Local Tone Mapping, 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. You can adjust the text and icon size and workspace colors.

Another thing I’d like to see in this Photography mode interface is an easier, one-button way to get to the program’s more advanced workspaces—Essentials and Complete. You can switch to any mode from the File > Workspace menu, but buttons would be quicker. A minor interface feature I like to see in photo apps is having sliders snap to the default position when you double click.

From Welcome, you can also start with project templates. 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, including 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.

Aside from the simple Photography workspace, the others each take you through an interface tour wizard.

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.

Unlike in Adobe Photoshop Elements, which has a separate Organizer app, you do everything in PaintShop in the same window, but you switch modes for different functions.

MANAGE MODE

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. This is 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.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM PC MAGAZINEView All

TorGuard VPN: Affordable and Robust

REVIEWS/SOFTWARE&APPS

10+ mins read
PC Magazine
October 2021

How to Deal With a Swollen Laptop Battery

Lithium-ion batteries pack an amazing punch for their size. They’re robust enough to run our laptops for hours on a single charge, they’re at the core of the latest smartphones, and they even serve as the power plant behind cutting-edge electric vehicles such as the Tesla line.

8 mins read
PC Magazine
October 2021

HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY FROM THE INTERNET

It’s not just government spying; big-tech behemoths including Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have collected huge amounts of people’s data in order to serve up targeted ads—and then, there’s the personal data that’s scooped up in all the breaches and hacks.

10+ mins read
PC Magazine
October 2021

Framework Laptop: True Modularity

REVIEWS/HARDWARE

10+ mins read
PC Magazine
October 2021

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14: Blazing-Fast Gaming Machine

REVIEWS/HARDWARE

9 mins read
PC Magazine
October 2021

Demand for SpaceX's Starlink Satellite Internet Pushes Wait Times to 2023

Demand for SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband system may push wait times into 2023.

1 min read
PC Magazine
October 2021

HAS A CYBERSTALKER TAKEN OVER YOUR LIFE? HERE'S HOW TO GET IT BACK

Picture this: You enter your house and find a stranger (or an enemy) sitting at your kitchen table chowing down on your leftover potato salad and reading your mail. You order him out, but before long, he’s back.

10+ mins read
PC Magazine
October 2021

HP Instant Ink vs. HP Plus vs. HP Smart: Which Ink Program Saves You the Most?

When you buy and install an HP printer, the setup routine may ask you to make some choices depending on the printer model.

8 mins read
PC Magazine
October 2021

Vilo Mesh: Very Affordable

REVIEWS/HARDWARE

6 mins read
PC Magazine
October 2021

Polaroid Now+: A Terrific Tool

REVIEWS/CONSUMER ELECTRONICS

6 mins read
PC Magazine
October 2021
RELATED STORIES

Adobe Illustrator vs. Affinity Designer

Can the design newbie knock Adobe off its perch?

4 mins read
Maximum PC
October 2021

CorelDraw Graphics Suite 2021 makes life easier for artists working remotely

CorelDraw Graphics Suite 2021 is here with new features for remote work.

2 mins read
PCWorld
April 2021

Personalized Work Environment

Elevating Your Home Office for the New WFH Reality

3 mins read
Home Business Magazine
Spring 2021

Big Shift for Marketers

We’ve Seen the Future and There Are No Cookies

4 mins read
Home Business Magazine
Spring 2021

PRO PHOTO: UNLEASH THE POTENTIAL OF THE IPHONE 12 CAMERA SYSTEM

Apple made a serious leap forward with the iPhone in 2020 introducing a raft of new features like a stunning new design, 5G connectivity, MagSafe charging, and super-spec cameras.

6 mins read
AppleMagazine
AppleMagazine #483

Nacimientos

Every year near the holiday season, Adobe Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, holds its Native American Nacimientos exhibition.

1 min read
Native American Art Magazine
December - January 2021

N.K.JEMISIN

“I BASICALLY HAD A MIDLIFE CRISIS.”

2 mins read
Fast Company
Winter 2020/2021

BLACK FRIDAY SEES RECORD ONLINE AS US SHOPPERS STAY HOME

Black Friday online sales hit a new record this year as pandemic-wary Americans filled virtual carts instead of real ones.

2 mins read
AppleMagazine
AppleMagazine #475

Audacity vs Audition

Battle of the digital audio workshops

5 mins read
Maximum PC
December 2020

Painter 2021

AI and a wealth of creative tools will help you make digital art that’s as good as the real thing

3 mins read
Mac Life
October 2020