Photoshop Wannabes: 5 Low-Cost Image Editors

Adobe's Photoshop may be the standard for image editing, but there are other applications out there that can do the same job for a lot less money. We reveal the best of the bunch.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

June 9, 2006

3 Min Read

Corel Paint Shop Pro X
Paint Shop Pro began as a shareware program that took direct aim at the establishment of Adobe. Its rebellious heritage shows in its decidedly different approach to the same graphic problems Photoshop and the family of Adobe graphics programs tackle.

At first glance, Paint Shop Pro X should put any entrenched Photoshop user at ease. It looks familiar -- for example, all the various pallets to control the finer points of brushes, selections, type, and the other graphic elements float on the right side of the screen, much as they do in Photoshop. My guess is it's part of a cunning plan to lure Photoshop users into Paint Shop -- as users begin to feel comfortable, they'll notice there are better ways to do what they've been doing.

Those not inculcated in The Way Of Photoshop will have an even easier time learning Paint Shop's straightforward operations, thanks to the Learning Center. The Center is a column of instructions that hangs off one side of the screen. What stops the Learning Center from being just another help screen is that, rather than explaining how to use this or that tool, the Learning Center guides you in the performance of a task. You learn not how to manipulate and change the size of a paintbrush, but rather how to whiten Aunt Millie's teeth -- in fact, a Makeover Tool exists specifically to whiten teeth, banish blemishes, and give people a healthy tan.

Some of the wonderful toys in Paint Shop Pro are oldies but goodies, such as the tubes that let you spray flowers, grass, butterflies, or anything else you may devise in profuse varieties of shape, color, and size. Other tricks are relatively new, such as Paint Shop's ability to correct for pincushioning and barreling lens distortions that turn architectural photos into candidates for Fun House mirrors by, respectively, squeezing in and ballooning out the otherwise straight lines of buildings.

Throughout Paint Shop Pro X, you're confronted with the same task oriented approach, which includes immediate feedback so that you can see instantly the results of what you do. For example, instead of using a stock piece art, such as the sailboat used for all filter examples in Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro applies the filters to dozens of thumbnails of the image you're editing so that you will know the effects they'll have where it really counts -- in your photos.

The use of thumbnails is consistent with the other ways in which Paint Shop makes your editing life easier. Although it has several one-click fixes, Paint Shop is honest enough to admit that often more than a single click is needed to do the job. That's why it groups tools -- so instead of making you first fix the hue, then call up a saturation dialog box, followed by another tool to fix the brightness, Paint Shop combines these features into a single arsenal that can be used without constantly having to run back to get something else from the armory.

Paint Shop is so transparent in its use that it's understandable why some Photoshop users may not rank it as a "serious" graphics editor. After all, how serious can a program be that is this easy? But if you dig deep enough into the workings of Paint Shop Pro, you'll find the same detail of features and resources you'll find in Photoshop, just more pleasantly coated.

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