Corel PaintShop Pro 2023 verdict
Paint Shop Pro 2023 offers a lot of features for not much money, but only on paper. In use it’s clunky, dated and often counterintuitive – to me, at least. The image organization tools are adequate and no more, while the RAW processing, courtesy of the ‘integration’ of After Shot Lab, is a similar story. The editing and effects tools are all right, as far as they go, but it’s clear that Corel is pitching Paint Shop Pro at a beginner/crafting/value market rather than serious photographers.
+ You get a lot for the money
+ Plenty of help for beginners
– Basic organizing tools
– RAW processing only adequate
– Old and inefficient workflow
– Small incremental improvements
PaintShop Pro is one of the longest running photo editors for Windows users, starting life years ago as a shareware tool and then evolving first with JASC software and now Corel, into a broad-based image editing suite.
PaintShop Pro 2023 Ultimate is actually the same as the regular PaintShop Pro 2023, but bundled with a whole lot more extras, in true Corel style. These extras include MultiCam Capture 2.0 Lite, which is a kind of video creation tool (I haven’t tried it), 50 free fonts, Painter Essentials 8 (a cut-down but still useful version of the full Painter package), PhotoMirage Express for animating still images (it’s a bit of fun), a Highlight Reel for automated slideshow and movie creation, a Sea to Sky workspace for enhancing aerial or underwater shots, and a Corel Creative Collection containing brushes, textures and over 100 royalty free backgrounds.
The standard edition costs £69.99/$79.99 and the Ultimate bundle above adds just £20/$20, taking the price up to £89.99/$99.99. The Ultimate edition sounds great value, then, but it includes a lot of stuff you might not want or need which comes with its own separate installers.
For this review, I’m just looking at PaintShop Pro 2023 itself, to see how it stacks up in today’s photo editing market and who it might be aimed at.
The PaintShop Pro 2023 workflow
PaintShop Pro 2023 can be used in Simplified and Photography modes, but I’m reviewing the Complete mode which makes all the tools available. I’m using the free 30-day trial version, hence the ‘Purchase’ button on the toolbar, but it’s not restricted in any way.
In the Complete workspace, PaintShop Pro 2023 has two windows: Manage and Edit. The Manage window is where you browse, organize, search and tag your images, while the Edit window is the photo editing mode.
In between, if you’re working on RAW files, is the After Shot Lab. After Shot is Corel’s RAW processing, organizing and editing tool, which previously operated separately to PaintShop Pro but was needed for more advanced RAW tools. In PaintShop Pro 2023 it’s now been ‘integrated’ as the After Shot Lab (though it still runs in a separate window), so that you can open a RAW file from the Manage window, make your changes and have it opened in the Edit window for regular editing.
PaintShop Pro 2023 Manage window
Here you can browse your images using a regular Windows-style directory tree, but there’s also a Collections panel where you can add specific folders to the PaintShop Pro 2023 catalog to make the images they contain available to the software’s searching and tagging tools.
This is a long, long way from Lightroom, though. PaintShop Pro 2023 does have Collections and Smart Collections, but only for images in folders you’ve bookmarked. It does offer tags (keywords) but only in a simple linear list, and pointer to show you’re sucessfully dragging at tag on to an image or vice versa is so small as to be nearly invisible.
Neither does it offer any non-destructive editing tools. This is left to AfterShot Lab or the Edit mode. All you see in the Manage window is images edited or saved elsewhere It has no editing or quick-fix enhancement tools of its own.
This is PaintShop Pro 2023’s equivalent of Adobe Camera Raw, acting as a RAW processing go-between for RAW files in the Manage module that you want to work with in the Edit module. There are other options. You can process RAW files with PaintShop Pro’s own Camera RAW Lab (simplistic and not really recommended) or a generic auto-decoding RAW converter that you don’t need to do anything with (also not recommended).
AfterShot Lab does have some useful RAW processing tools, though not a huge selection. It doesn’t have Curves, for example, or Clarity, Dehaze or perspective controls. Neither does it have the vas array of one-click presets you find in Lightroom and other programs. It does have automatic lens correction, noise reduction and sharpening tools.
The adjustments you make to RAW files in AfterShot Lab are non-destructive – you can go back later and change them – but it’s part of an old-school linear process-then-edit workflow and not like the seamless non-destructive and organizing tools in more modern rivals.
PaintShop Pro 2023 Edit mode
The Edit mode is very much like Affinity Photo, Photoshop or Photoshop Elements – a classic ‘destructive’ photo editor with layers and masks, adjustments and effects and retouching tools.
It has AI Denoise and Artifact removal tools and has an AI Portrait mode and AI Background replacement. It can stack and merge HDR images and this latest version adds focus stacking.
There’s a lot to experiment with here, and the Learning Center panel can get you started – though it’s more a series of text-based instructions and links to the online help. It’s not like the Guided Edits in Photoshop Elements.
And PaintShop Pro 2023 isn’t just about photography. It can also work with shapes, text and vector layers to produce more complex illustrations and projects. This where its target audience becomes more apparently, including business users (a big focus of a PaintShop Pro briefing I had a couple of years back) and home users looking to create keepsakes and gifts.
In the end, though, there’s nothing here that isn’t done just as well (typically better) in other programs. One example that comes to mind is ON1 Photo RAW, which is far more accomplished and up to date than PaintShop Pro, or Luminar Neo which, for all its scattiness and constant updates, takes AI editing to a whole new level. I think I’d rather use Photoshop Elements than PaintShop Pro, too.
Is it worth upgrading to PaintShop Pro 2023?
Let’s look at what’s new. The integration of AfterShot Lab is definitely worthwhile, even if it’s not the best RAW processing too, and while the Focus Stacking feature is new, PaintShop Pro 2023 is only catching up with what other software does already. That definitely applies to the new real-time blend mode preview for layers – something we should be taking for granted these days.
Other changes are an enhanced Frame tool (for putting photos in vector shapes, for example) and usability and performance enhancements. I didn’t see much evidence of the latter – PaintShop Pro proved somewhat sluggish on my Windows laptop (Ryzen 7, Radeon graphics, 16GB RAM, SSD) and hung a couple of times too. I also tried masking a layer with a large brush and it couldn’t keep up with even the slowest mouse movements.
I don’t think these changes come close to warranting the 75% upgrade fee. If you already use PaintShop Pro and you’re determined to stick with it, I’d suggest skipping this version and seeing what 2024 brings.
PaintShop Pro 2023 verdict
Some people may prefer its traditional workflow, but to me PaintShop Pro 2023 is just a creaky old throwback. It does what Corel says it does, but in a very old-fashioned and often complicated way. It doesn’t offer the seamless cataloguing and non-destructive editing workflow of most modern programs, and while it’s not genuinely bad, it’s not a program I would ever use from choice.
I am aware that some reviewers rate it quite highly, but I’m afraid I’m not one of them. It’s clear that Corel is busy adding modern features, but it’s like they’re being bolted on to an old and inflexible platform. You do get a lot for your money, but I would rather spend a whole lot more on software that’s faster, simpler, more efficient and more inspirational. And there’s no shortage of choice, either.
5 PaintShop Pro 2023 alternatives
- Adobe Lightroom Classic: It doesn’t have PaintShop Pro’s layering or project tools, but for seamless non-destructive cataloguing and editing it’s in a different century
- ON1 Photo RAW: Another all-in-one photo organizer and non-destructive editor, but one that easily surpasses PaintShop Pro’s capabilities
- Affinity Photo: If you want a photo editors that actually is a professional tool and doesn’t just say it is, this is it. And it’s cheaper
- Exposure X7: Twice the price of PaintShop Pro 2023 and four times as good for photographers who want fuss-free cataloguing and evocative film-like looks
- Capture One 22: A Lightroom alternative that costs twice as much but so it should. Superb RAW processing, presets and editing tools