Workflow Tabs - PaintShop now features three separate, yet integrated workflow interfaces, designated by tabs across the top of the program window. The Photo Organizer in previous version is replaced by an Organizer palette which is available from all three workflow tabs.
- Manage is where you browse, review, and rate your images, edit metadata, and create collections of photos. Double clicking a thumbnail brings you to a full-screen review with an unobtrusive toolbar to help you quickly delete, rotate and rate your photos. One feature I would have liked to see here is a filter for hiding JPEG or RAW copies when your camera outputs both formats.
- Adjust is where you make photo adjustments such as color balance, brightness/contrast, fill light, clarity, tone mapping, noise removal, and sharpening. Tools are also provided here for cropping and straightening, removing red eye, cosmetic touch-ups (makeover tools), and cloning. To save time, edits done here can be captured and applied to multiple images for those times when an entire batch of images requires the same kind of correction, such as setting the camera to the wrong white balance.
- Edit is where you get into the nitty-gritty of pixel-level photo editing, drawing, painting, creative layout, and so on-- the core of PaintShop Pro.
I think Corel finally hit on a good workflow model with the way this is set up. I just wish that switching between the three modes was smoother. Switching modes resulted in a lot of screen flashing and file save prompts which I found disruptive.
Photo Sharing - The Organizer panel now includes Email, Flickr and Facebook posting options so you can share your photos from anywhere in the editing process.
HDR Exposure Merge - This is for combining multiple exposures of the same shot to create a high dynamic range photo which can display a higher tonal range than what the camera is capable of capturing in a single exposure. PaintShop's exposure merge offers a good range of tools for creating HDR for both natural and surreal results, but it could really benefit from some anti-ghosting technology.
Photo Blend - This tool helps you merge the best aspects of multiple photos into one photo. This is often used for group shots when you have some people with eyes open and some with eyes closed, or to remove distracting objects from a static scene, but it can also be used for creative results as well.
Selective Focus - This tool helps you create the trendy "tilt-shift" or miniature effect. It also provides a radial blur mode for creating depth of field effects. Too bad there's no rotation function--planar blurs are limited to horizontal.
Vignette - This specialized tool makes it easy to create soft-edged border with control over dark/light, blur, feathering, and glow. Though you could achieve the vignette effect with other tools before, this is one case where a specialized tool makes sense and doesn't feel extraneous.
Fill Light and Clarity Controls - This dual purpose tool allows you to brighten shadowy areas without damaging other image areas, plus fine-tune detail by sharpening or softening the image.
- A new highlight recovery option in Camera RAW Lab lets you correct overexposed areas in your raw digital negatives. Camera RAW Lab also has a larger preview and improved histogram.
- More than 20 tools have been upgraded to support 16-bit images.
- With dual monitor support, now you can edit your photos on one screen and mange them on another.
- Speed is improved so that more effects can be applied in real time and you can spend less time looking at progress meters.
The saving grace for PaintShop's UI is the excellent Learning Center panel which not only offers integrated help, but also provides direct access to the tools and features of the program, making it more of an interactive context-aware tutor to assist you through your tasks.
It looks like the dark "graphite" user interface can no longer be reversed, yet some dialogs open with the old light gray shading, which is visually jarring. Corel also did not accommodate the difficulty of reading reversed (light on dark) type by making text labels and menus larger.
PaintShop Pro X4 is quite a powerful graphics and photo editor for home or business use, offering loads of flexibility at an affordable price. Given the stability issues that have haunted the software in the past, I would advise taking advantage of the 30-day trial to try it on your system before buying, but there is a lot to like in PaintShop Pro X4.