The name Paint Shop Pro should be familiar to every Windows Web author, and probably to quite a few others as well. Originally a shareware program, it became popular around version 2.0 as a general purpose image manipulation program. Well, now it has reached its fifth incarnation, and a lot has changed. In this review I'll examine some of the main features of Paint Shop Pro 5.
First of all, what type of program is Paint Shop Pro exactly, and why would you want to use it? PSP is best described as a graphics or image manipulation program. You can use it to construct and design logos, lettering, simple pictures or cartoons, or graphics buttons for Web pages for example. You can also use it to cut, resize, recolour, modify, deform and basically transform photographs, clipart, and any kind of image file. What it's not meant for is creating eye-catching and detailed works of art, for which you would want a dedicated package such as Painter or Macromedia Freehand.
Here's a run down of some of the basic capabilities of PSP, which have been present in the latest versions. PSP can import graphics from TWAIN compatible devices (such as scanners or cameras) directly, and in version 5 includes direct support for Kodak digital cameras. You can also get your starting image from a screen grab function which can go off at a set time or be activated like a snapshot. Once you have your image, you can rotate, flip, invert, crop or move around sections of it, or the image as a whole. You can apply what are called deformations, which involve warping the image to a particular shape or perspective. More interesting are filters, which give the image a special effect, ranging from embossing to blurring to random noise. You can also alter the image using the manipulation tools, which include several different selection tools, brushes, a retoucher (automatically smooth out parts of your image), plus all the usual fill, shape, line and text tools.
Above: how the punch deformation affects tennis player Pat Rafter.
With all these different things at your disposal it is very easy in PSP to do almost whatever you want to a particular image or photograph; seamlessly transport yourself to Paris, picture yourself standing side by side with the model of your dreams, give yourself that golden tan and shining smile that you've always wanted, or cut out your ex from a favourite photo. You can play around with the program happily for hours.
Users of previous versions of PSP will already be aware of the above, so let's move on to the new features which have appeared since version 4. Perhaps the most dramatic improvement is the inclusion of layers in Paint Shop's capabilities. Layers allow you to treat your image more as a three dimensional object. Here's an example. Suppose you create a logo which consists of a multicoloured sphere behind some intricate lettering. Then you decide you want to change the colour of the sphere. In previous versions of Paint Shop, once you painted over the sphere with the lettering, it was very difficult to change what was underneath. You had to go around in all the gaps inside the letters and use the fill or brush tool. In version 5, each object that you place on the image is treated as a separate layer which can be isolated and worked on individually. You can just switch to the sphere layer, change the colour to whatever you want, and then switch back to normal and see your image seamlessly altered.
Accompanying the multiple layer facility is a long overdue Undo History. PSP now keeps a record of all changes you make to your image and allows you to undo any individual change. Previous versions could only undo the last thing you did, which became very frustrating.
You can now also use what are known as picture tubes. These are basically brushes based on a pre-created image or set of images. For example, select the butterfly tube and paint all over your image, and you get a stream of multi-coloured butterflies of different shapes and sizes. You can also create your own tubes. This feature allows you to create some interesting effects in a short space of time.
Above: An example of the "coin" picture tube.
A by-product of the new features is the new PSP file format. This proprietary image format is the only one which will keep intact all the layers and settings in the images you create. Other new but minor features include CMYK colour separation, an improved browser with Windows Explorer interface, support for even more file formats, and support for the massive number of Adobe Photoshop plug-ins which are available from the public domain.
Above: The GIF Animation Shop allows you to create groovy "Mail me" animations like this one.
The most welcome addition to the program for us Web authors is probably the inclusion of GIF Animation Shop, a new program which makes it easy for you to create your own animated GIFs. The best way to make them is using the Animation Wizard, which takes you through a few easy to answer questions about your animation's size, transparency settings, frame positioning and looping. Obviously you need to have already created the individual frames for your animation, perhaps in the main Paint Shop program. Once you finish the wizard, your animation is ready to be viewed and saved for addition to your Web pages.
Paint Shop is no longer a shareware program. You can download an evaluation version from the JASC Web site (http://www.jasc.com), but you should actually register the product with any of the various international distributors. This costs US$99. Taking this into account, should you buy it? It really depends on who you are. One of Paint Shop's only downsides is that despite all its new features, it is still not as advanced as some of the other professional packages on the market, such as Photoshop. If you are a professional graphics designer you will probably be better off with one of these programs. However, if you are on a fairly tight budget and don't need that kind of power, PSP might be for you.
|A great program for those who can't afford or don't need a more professional package.|
|If you think Paint Shop Pro might be the product for you, you can purchase the full version online from Beyond.com at the special discount price of $67.50. After entering your credit card details, you can just download it straight to your hard drive! Just click on the icon to your left to jump to the order page.|