Monday, April 13, 2015

Corel PaintShop Pro X7...still not worth using

I am in the process of finishing up a reinstall of Windows on shiny new hardware. During my adventure, one of the pieces of software I've been needing to upgrade or replace for some time has been Photoshop. I've got CS3 Extended (picked it up for about $300 as an upgrade from 6.0) and, while it serves its purpose, the bugs on newer versions of Windows are incredibly frustrating (even for someone like me who rarely uses it). Adobe Creative Cloud is a non-starter for me for a wide variety of reasons that have already been beaten to death elsewhere on the Internets. I fire up Photoshop about once every 3-4 months, so $120/year is pretty absurd. $1,500+ for CS6 is completely bonkers. Photoshop Elements also doesn't have the feature set I need.

Here is what I depend on in order of most-used:

  1. The color picker in Photoshop. The active response while dragging sliders around and the ability to select specific hue, saturation, and brightness values. The ability to copy and paste hex codes as well. I also need the full dialog (especially the alerts), not the cut-down version of Elements (which lacks alerts).
  2. The vector toolset.
  3. The text toolset.
  4. The style box. Mostly for drop shadows.
  5. Layers.
  6. Layer groups.
  7. Polygon selection tool.
  8. Unlimited undo/redo.
Everything else is almost useless to me. I realize my needs are in the minority, which is why my #2 need is going to have most people who use Photoshop to be all like, "Wait? People actually use that? Why not Illustrator? Or Inkscape?" It's the blend of vector and raster that is needed for web development (e.g. icons) and Photoshop still does that best (IMO). I operate on a fixed-size canvas of these things called pixels. Maybe you've heard of them and this thing called the web before (and possibly print). Yeah, welcome to 2015.

But enough about Photoshop. I was looking for "alternatives to Photoshop" and an article came up with a list of alternates. The typical #1 on the list was GIMP [sigh] - the ONLY graphics editing software that still lives up to its name. (It's 2015 and GIMP still doesn't have real vector layer support?) Now that that's out of the way, a few other non-starters showed up as well. Then PaintShop Pro showed up near the end of the list and I went, "Wait...why does that name sound familiar?" I searched for it and then had a nostalgic flashback from the past. I had used PaintShop Pro 3 WAAAAY back in the day when I couldn't afford much of anything, so I just ran the non-expiring shareware version forever. I remember reading that Corel picked them up and then I never heard about the product again.

Until two days ago. PaintShop Pro is apparently "frequently" compared to Photoshop Elements. Finding useful information on the product is scant (at best) but, for some reason, is covered by PC Magazine - one of the most coveted magazines that software publishers want to get into that also somehow still exists. Unfortunately, the current version of the product (X7 - aka version 14) is severely lacking in the core tools I use and is clearly targeted at the consumer market and still failing to miss the mark - maybe find a different target audience? Like me. Target me. Corel, stick me on your beta testing program.

  1. The color picker is woefully useless and inconsistent everywhere for my needs. There's just something basically perfect about the Photoshop color picker. Select the hue first, then saturation and brightness. Get the right color and intensity in a fraction of the time. Now, PaintShop Pro X7 does have some really interesting things going for their picker such as the complementary selection interface, but the online Adobe color wheel is just as good, if not better, and is free. I am actually a bit surprised to see that fairly advanced feature in PaintShop Pro because it targets people who understand color combinations...a topic that only a very specific group of people understand and had to specifically be trained on. Which makes the next failure utterly confounding.
  2. The vector toolset is broken in a critical way. I use the pen/point vector tool in Photoshop, which is essentially a mashup of PaintShop Pro's freeform and bezier curve tool. (The GIMP pathing tool does it right except there is no way to make a vector layer in GIMP, which makes it a completely useless piece of software.) With Photoshop, I make polygons that sometimes have bezier curves in them. PaintShop Pro's bezier curve tool terminates drawing once a point is placed after a curve is placed - it's really weird and I really did try for several hours to make it work but it is broken. Photoshop and GIMP allow "mixing" the two operations together. The PaintShop Pro vector toolset is not terribly responsive to common keyboard usage either. At this point, my hopes were crushed in finding a reasonable, up-to-date, affordable piece of software (anything under $100 is pretty affordable). On the plus side, text is able to follow an existing vector path, similar to later versions of Photoshop that I don't have access to. So there's that going for it.
  3. Photoshop seems to have better font rendering and adjustment options than PaintShop Pro. Selecting a font in PaintShop Pro X7 is about on par with Photoshop CS3. That said, selecting a single font out of hundreds of fonts for a specific purpose is a time consuming and annoying task that no tool, to date, solves with ANY elegance. And with THAT said, TrueType Fonts (TTF) are a disaster because there aren't any actual Standards for creating fonts that I can see. When I say size "20" in a program like PaintShop Pro or Photoshop, I expect all fonts to fit in the same box on the screen and follow the same rules as all other fonts. Whatever 20 actually means, no one agrees on it, so the end result is that every program renders the same font differently and font authors seem to get to choose what it means to them. And don't get me started on spacing - spacing between letters is so random in most fonts, it makes me wonder if font authors actually test the fonts they make. This is stupid. We should scrap the clearly broken TTF format and start over.
  4. PaintShop Pro's drop shadow dialog leaves a LOT to be desired. Big, heavy, ugly drop shadows. The dialog itself looks like they bolted it onto the side of the product to copy Photoshop back in the late 1990's and never touched it again. Also, the layer styles are buried under a tab. The other styles are limited and need work too.
  5. PaintShop Pro's layers aren't actually that bad. I'm not sure why they have so many types of layers. Maybe for performance reasons? I would only end up using vector and some raster layers, so I guess "hooray" for the extra layer types. I really like the expandable option of vector layers into the individual vector drawings. That's a nice-to-have feature but not absolutely necessary. The thumbnail images seem to be nearest neighbor instead of bicubic scaled.
  6. For some reason I was unable to create a layer group until a few seconds before writing this because the option was previously grayed out (not sure why that was the case). Now that I see them, I'm on the fence because layer groups look just like a regular layer and there could be confusion - but I suspect it would just take time to get used to. Dragging a layer onto a layer group to add it to the group is a bit finicky. However, Photoshop groups are equally finicky. No one, to date, seems to have figured out drag-n-drop support for layer groups which seems odd because groups are very useful and drag-n-drop, from a programming perspective, has existed since Windows 95.
  7. There is no raster polygon selection tool in PaintShop Pro X7. Uh...okay. That makes it much more difficult for me to cut a unicorn out of a picture and slap it on a different background while it holds a heart-shaped spatula in front of a BBQ grill which I, in turn, print onto a custom Home Depot gift card to give to someone. (Yes, that's a thing. That I do. Don't judge it until you've tried it and seen the expression on the recipient's face. Classic.) Freeform and automated selections are "nice" but polygon selection is MUCH better as it is significantly more refined/accurate while, at the same time, requires fewer mouse actions and thus saves my wrist and eyes from cutout tedium. UPDATE: Apparently I missed this functionality. It's hidden in a dropdown box called "Selection type" and called "point to point"...because that's apparently intuitive to Photoshop users. Video of some guy using the point-to-point tool after he basically admits that most of the other tools in the dropdown selection box are not particularly useful.
  8. I didn't test how much undo/redo there is in PaintShop Pro, but thank goodness multiple Ctrl+Z presses means a real undo operation. This is the only area where PaintShop Pro beats Photoshop, which requires doing the finger dance of Ctrl+Alt+Z (aka absolute bologna) to do undo to multiple levels. In Photoshop, Ctrl+Z does a single undo and then another Ctrl+Z undoes the undo - dude, that's what Ctrl+Y is for. The only thing better would be fully rebindable keys so that people could map their keyboard to do whatever is most convenient for them.
The one thing I really love in PaintShop Pro is how files are displayed as a series of tabs instead of the archaic MDI method of display (multiple windows in a window, which is what Photoshop does). I'm a huge fan of tabbed editing in my text editors, so to me it makes sense for image editing too. IMO, Crimson Editor does tabbed editing correctly (among countless other things that it does right). You can keep IntelliJ, Notepad++, Eclipse, Sublime, Emerald Editor (Crimson's failed successor), and the rest of those disasters of text editors. MDI interfaces like those in Photoshop serve little to no purpose. On the tabbed UI front, PaintShop Pro beats Photoshop hands-down. If you need to see two images side-by-side, it is easy to turn off the tabbed interface (Windows -> Tabbed checkbox). Maybe a newer version of Photoshop does the same thing, but the Elements 13 screenshots and videos I've seen don't indicate that anything has changed there.

Anyway...as I said earlier, PaintShop Pro X7 doesn't have a sufficient vector toolset to do serious work in. Their target audience seems to be the consumer crowd. That's a shame because the (rather large) target audience that isn't being catered to by either Corel or Adobe is the web designer. I make do in Photoshop, but with the vector toolset near the bottom of the list of tools and the way it feels when using it, it is clear that Adobe doesn't care about it. Same with PaintShop Pro X7. Vectors seem to take an unfortunate backseat in raster graphics packages. Partly because people don't understand what to do with them (education issue) and partly because the tools are rather weak to manipulate them in what are largely raster programs (a problem which feeds back into the education issue). When you marry vectors with powerful post-processed raster styles (drop shadows, borders, etc.), you get something rather unique: Mostly scalable raster objects that generally look really good at any size. That sort of thing resonates with the web designer and application developer in me.

3 comments:

  1. Pretty much all of your gripes appear to be a direct result of either not looking very hard for the functionality you are seeking, or maybe a stubborn refusal to use the online help search box.

    In particular (and I'm using an old version (X3) so I can't verify if all of these are identical in the latest version)...

    (1) Erm, the default color picker is exactly what you describe as perfect. The first (and default) color picker on the materials palette has a hue "ring" which you click once for hue, and inside that a rectangle to jointly pick saturation/brightness in one click. What color picker were you using exactly!?

    (2) It is very easy to get the behavior you seek. Click Pen tool, click bezier mode, ensure the "Connect Segments" and "Show Nodes" boxes are checked. Click for straight lines, drag for curves. You can drag the nodes around until "Applied". Right-click and select Apply to close.

    (3) Possibly font rendering is not as good as Photoshop (I don't have it so I don't know), but there are a hell of a lot of text rendering options available.

    (4) There are two methods for creating drop shadows, from effects menu or as a layer style. The effects menu is less flexible (though certainly easy to change size and opacity so definitely not restricted to "big ugly heavy" shadows. Using the Layer styles method is a joy however (double-click layer in Layers palette, select Styles tab) as you are able to apply a variety of glow, shadow, reflection etc. effects in tandem.

    (7) Yes there is. Select Freehand selection tool, set Selection Type to point to point.

    (8) Yes, there is unlimited undo/redo history.

    It certainly isn't perfect and certain things about it bug me from time to time, but you are simply misrepresenting it as a "Consumer" level product which lacks basic functionality, as all of the "major" gripes you have are unfounded.

    It is a remarkably powerful piece of kit.



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    1. 1) Oh it is definitely NOT the Photoshop style color picker. Not even close. And I need the color palette alerts, which are non-existent in Paint Shop Pro. The color picker in Paint Shop Pro is a joke. Reading over what I wrote, I realize I wasn't as clear as I am now. This is a showstopper.

      2) I used the toolset. Paint Shop Pro X7 is missing critical vector tools. You have no idea how much I rely on the vector toolset in Photoshop. I realize that the vector toolset is not how most people use Photoshop and the Photoshop toolset is rather weak from my perspective but I put up with it because I need the blended raster/vector world and Illustrator is a virtually useless tool for me. That said, Paint Shop Pro X7 is lightyears behind the Photoshop vector toolset and completely unusable. This is a showstopper.

      3) I don't remember the exact details but I do recall that Photoshop does font rendering better. Font issues for me are usually spacing related. One letter being off by two pixels in its spacing from other letters will drive me nuts. Photoshop has extremely refined controls because TTF is an extremely broken font format that needs to go away. Photoshop, by default, does a lot of additional adjustments to fonts behind the scenes to deal with the offset issues so they are generally better aligned. This is an important issue.

      4) The Layer styles dialog *is* the disaster I mentioned. The drop shadows it generates are hideous. Fire up any version of Photoshop released in the last decade and you'll see the massive difference for yourself. Even barring the ugly drop shadows, the Paint Shop Pro Layer styles dialog contains some of the worst UI design I've run into in ages. This is a showstopper.

      7) This was a relatively low-priority item for me. The other issues had already eliminated the product's usefulness and I appear to have missed the functionality. That said, polygon selection is a tier 1 tool in Photoshop. I've updated the post. Thank you for pointing this out.

      8) Good to know it is "unlimited". Although, how that statement factors in for hi-res print images exceeding 50MB is questionable. Photoshop has disk swapping settings for handling really large PSDs to offset the RAM usage, especially the undo stack. I don't do much print work though except the occasional banner for trade shows but some people work with multi-GB files. Undo/Redo is the only area I actually gave some praise to Paint Shop Pro for not having funky keystrokes to perform the operations. This could be a showstopper for extremely large files. Then again, the audience probably isn't heavy-duty Photoshop users.

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    2. (...continued...Blogger comment limit of 4KB...sigh)

      Also, I did do a bunch of searches for most functionality and generally tried to be observant. Searching is how I found the vector toolset in the first place and how to use it. Mostly, I ran into YouTube videos that were more general product tutorials than showing anything specific. Fundamentally, the product is missing critical functionality for me to switch to it. The lack of a complete vector toolset, that color picker, and the layer style dialog were showstoppers. The other issues were likely to be quite problematic over time. It's really that simple. If it works for you, then great. But the Corel devs need to step up their game if they want to drag in the professional crowd from Adobe products. And the whole Creative Cloud fiasco is the point where people are wanting something else that's viable because the cost for CC is prohibitive. This is the only time that Corel will ever get to steal market share from Adobe and X7, from where I sit, isn't positioned properly. Overall, my general criticisms of the product are legitimate for me because it simply doesn't meet my nor my business' needs.

      This post is to warn others who might be in the same boat as me to be careful as they evaluate other products as well as a reminder for myself about why X7 isn't good enough. If the Corel developers happen upon this post and this lovely response to your response and they fix their product to not be so showstopper-ey, I'll re-evaluate it at that time.

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