Corel Photo-Paint 8

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A major revamp of interface and functionality sees Photo-Paint come of age as a professional bitmap-editor.

Corel Photo-Paint 8

In the past it's always been difficult to like Photo-Paint, the bitmap-editing module in the Draw suite. It's always seemed to fall between two stools - too complex for the occasional user but too under-powered for the professional. Compared to rivals like Photoshop, or even to Draw itself, Photo-Paint has always been an also-ran - unsure of what it has to offer and following rather than setting standards. While I've always installed the program then, it's mainly been to get at the bundled third-party filters and whenever disk space has become tight, Photo-Paint has always been the first casualty. With version 8 things have changed completely.

The interface has undergone a similar transformation to that seen in Draw with the emphasis on streamlining and interactivity. Features like the context-sensitive commands offered by the property bar and the new ability to resize brushes onscreen, really help simplify complex jobs like mask creation. Photo-Paint also now offers its own set of five docker windows so that it is possible to browse the CD from the scrapbook, for example, or to work with the different red, green or blue components of an image through the channels palette. Again the same criticism can be applied that the idea hasn't been fully carried through - colour and tool settings can still only be managed through roll-ups for instance - but generally the tabbed docker window approach is even more successful within the bitmap environment.

Probably the most useful of the docker windows is the Object Manager. In the past one of Photo-Paint's weaknesses was that its object-based approach to photo-composition was far simpler but ultimately less powerful than Photoshop's layer-based system. Now though it has combined the best of both worlds. It is still possible to select and transform objects interactively, but it's also now easy to create new objects from scratch or to add to existing ones. Photo-Paint also now offers an entirely new category of object - the lens. These act like Photoshop's adjustment layers to apply over 20 different effects ranging from colour correction through to the impressionism filter. The advantage is that, as the effects are dynamic and non-destructive, the lenses can be repositioned and their settings adjusted at any time. Only when the lenses are merged, or the image is finally exported, do the adjustments become permanent. The flexibility for experimentation is immense.

The two final docker windows, the Scripts and Recorder palettes represent Photo-Paint's other great strength - automation. It's possible to record any actions within the program as an editable script that can then be played back at any point in the future. The difference to Photoshop's Actions feature, where only menu commands can be recorded, is huge. The capability to record all brush-strokes and to scale their effect on playback means that it is now possible to open a low resolution version of an image, colour correct and edit it and then, with the Render command, apply exactly the same commands to the original.

Corel has also extended the underlying technology by automatically recording all actions performed on an image to an undo list. At any point - or at least before the file is saved - it is possible to select a previous stage of the editing session to return to. Photo-Paint automatically undoes all the necessary commands. This really is a huge step forward giving bitmap-editing the sort of flexibility that vector-editing has long enjoyed. Picture Publisher has attempted to offer something similar with its infinite undo, but in practice its implementation has always proved too awkward and slow. With Photo-Paint the flexibility offered simply becomes a seamless part of working practice.

As with Draw, the latest Photo-Paint also puts more emphasis on professional output. It shares the same core print engine so offers access to advanced features such as Postscript Level 3 support and the interactive print preview. Web output has also been strengthened. When the Publish to Internet command is chosen a dialog appears where it is possible to check or apply URLs to any objects in the image map. Again, as with Draw, the JPEG option gives the opportunity to preview the effect of compression settings while the GIF option doesn't. At least in this case the omission is made up for by the controls offered when a full colour image is converted to an 8-bit palette. With pre-filtering optimisation, an onscreen preview, batch conversion and even the ability to bias palettes in favour of a selected colour, it's difficult to see what more could be offered.

Photo-Paint also now offers support for the popular web format animated GIF. This is all part of its video and animation capabilities which include the ability to load, edit and convert movie files. Combined with object handling and frame overlay it makes Photo-Paint a reasonable choice for creating simple cel-based animations. Another area in which Photo-Paint leaves other photo-editors standing is in its artistic leanings. With a reasonable range of artistic brushes ranging from felt tips through to watercolours and new features such as brush orbits and symmetry, Photo-Paint might not be able to compete with Painter, but it certainly puts Photoshop to shame.

New functionality is apparent wherever you look in Photo-Paint, but the biggest practical difference is invisible. It's the new raster image processing engine on which the program runs. This has been rewritten to support MMX and in the process it has been streamlined to offer better memory management for larger files - its own footprint being reduced by 1Mb. It's still not as fast as Photoshop but it no longer feels like wading through treacle. The biggest difference is that performance is now snappy enough to enable most correction and filter previews to be viewed live on the original rather than as thumbnails within the dialog - another huge leap forward.

With its streamlined interface, functionality and engine, Photo-Paint suddenly seems to have come of age. Version 8 is not only welcome as a complement to Draw but - for the first time - as a professional bitmap editor in its own right.

Features  

5

Ease Of Use  

5

Value For Money  

4

Overall  

5

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

Dec 1998


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