PaintShop Pro 2018 Ultimate is a terrific package, featuring a powerful photo editor and realistic media painting tools rolled into one. It's a shame some of the brushes can be a little sluggish on less powerful PCs, but you get an amazing amount fo the price, and it's remarkably accessible.
Advanced manual and automatic photo editing
Realistic Art Media brushes
Art Media tools are resource-intensive
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While Photoshop is the industry standard photo editor, and the tool you'll want if you're a professional photographer or graphic designer, PaintShop Pro is far more accessible to hobbyist creatives.
That's not just in terms of price, either (PaintShop Pro is available for a fraction of the cost of Photoshop, with no subscription fee), but also overall design. Photoshop is more powerful, but takes months to master; you can be using PaintShop Pro like an expert in days.
The difference is clear from the very beginning. PaintShop Pro offers a choice of interfaces, with a simplified option for new users and a more advanced one with more tools on show for anyone who's already familiar with the fundamentals of photo editing software.
The full interface is quite busy, but you’ll soon find your way around – particularly if you take advantage of the Learning Center options on the left and Quick Tips presented on startup.
There are also comprehensive help files to guide new users, including video tutorials, which are a welcome touch. If you're not sure how to achieve a particular task, assistance is only a couple of clicks away.
To get started, either open an existing image file or create document from scratch. PaintShop Pro’s selection of brushes and other creative tools make it a good choice for amateur artists (more on that later). You can set a custom canvas size, or take your pick from a huge choice of paper sizes, cards and envelopes, plus sizes optimized for presentations and web use. We were particularly pleased to see profiles designed specifically for social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and even Google+.
Once you're in, you'll find all the usual photo-editing tools. The Warp Brush is helpful for correcting lens distortions (or slimming body proportions, if used judiciously), and there are the usual clone, red-eye and eraser tools for making other adjustments on the canvas.
PaintShop Pro also provides a good selection of automatic photo effects and enhancements, plus some fun extras like the Time Machine. This doesn’t just offer a selection of highly customizable vintage filters, it also tells you how the looks were original achieved using chemical film processing, and when they originated.
Of all the standard tools, crop is particularly impressive. It's essentially a simple tool, but has various thoughtful additions that really help make this everyday task easier and more effective. It offers various options to help you improve your photos' composition, including golden ratio, golden spiral and rule of thirds overlays. The tool lets you export the cropped area as a new image; you specify a print size; and it’s possible to adjust the angle while cropping. They're all relatively minor features, but they combine to make photo editing simpler and more accessible.
Realistic art media
PaintShop Pro 2018 Ultimate incorporates Painter Essentials 5 – a comprehensive toolkit designed to mimic traditional materials. These tools are labelled Art Media can be used on their own or over an existing image as an Art Media Layer.
There are options for both dry (pencils and pastels) and wet (paint) layers, and they can be applied to blank canvas (with a texture of your choice) or over the top of a photo as an Art Media Layer.
It’s not immediately obvious, but rather than the regular brush tool, select the Art Media button at the bottom of the tool palette.
Take your pick from various paints, pastels, chalk, marker pens and more, customize them with the tools menu and apply them with a few deft strokes. It’s all pleasingly tactile, and works particularly well with a stylus.
There’s even a virtual palette where you can paint different colors, blend them with a palette knife, and then pick one of the resulting colors to paint with. Alternatively, you can blend media together on the canvas, or choose not to 'wash' your brush in between colors.
Although this latest version of PaintShop Pro is faster than the previous iteration, it can be quite demanding – particularly when using Art Media. If you have a low-powered notebook, you’ll want to look for something less resource-hungry.
In addition to Art Media, the Ultimate version of PaintShop Pro 2018 also includes intelligent photo adjustments, enabling you to make multiple changes to a photograph with a single click (including 'beautifying' options for portrait photos) and raw image processing for handling images straight from your camera – individually or in batches.
It’s a comprehensive package, and the relatively slow performance of the art media tools on our test PC is our only real complaint. PaintShop Pro 2018 Ultimate is otherwise a superb photo editing and digital painting application that's easy to master and, perhaps most impressively, fun.
Cat is the editor of TechRadar's sister site Advnture. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better)