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Want an easy, simple and well laid out editing program without paying through the nose? Then you need to get Paint Shop Pro.
I've had Paint Shop Pro X (here on referred to as PSP) since Christmas 2005, a few months after it was released. I was hoping to get Photoshop as this is what I used in my idle school lunch hours to 'edit' photos and make pretty pictures (unashamedly, of horses, and various other animals) for use on various web games but my parents saw the £500+ price tag and firmly put their foot down on that idea! After a tip off from a friend about PSP, we looked into it and my Dad got me a copy from Amazon for about £70 - as you'll appreciate, a huge price difference. I've never looked back!
The one thing that I truly love about PSP is that it is really, really easy to use. I'm not just saying that because I've been using it for 4 years, but because it's true. Photoshop was not taught to me and my skills on it were somewhat limited but I did pick some things up; it took me a good few months to do it though. For instance, pasting an image as a new layer on an existing image - I can't even think where to begin in Photoshop, but in PSP it's a simple Ctrl and L shortcut! The ease of this product is quite astounding for the effects you can get out of it. You can pretty much download anything you want as a plug-in, brush or texture etc. that you don't get with it standard off free internet sites (all perfectly legal) which is also easy and quick to do!
I don't want to go into all the features that PSP has, because simply, it has so many that I'd be here for ages. It has basically everything that Photoshop has - minus a few textures which can be downloaded anyway - including brush shapes, effects, raster/vector/bitmap/etc layers, history, cloning, transparency and many more! The biggest worry I had was that I'd be limited in the things that I could do because I hadn't heard the wide range of features it has. It turns out to be the thing that I love the most about it! You can use your mouse to draw or select etc. or you can use a graphics tablet if you have one - great for if you draw digitally or fancy being a little bit more professional! Some people also find it easier to use a graphics pen to smarten up their images. Personally I use a Bamboo One graphics tablet and have never had a problem with it and PSP working together.
Compared with Photoshop, the obvious advantage is the price tag. You can pick up the latest version of this for under £100 - probably closer to £50. Which, when you consider you'll probably end up like me and be using it years down the line for every single image problem you have, from opening an image to adjusting an image, it's very good value. I found Photoshop ultimately hard to use and dare I say it, a little 'snobby', whereas PSP is definitely engineered with it's audience of semi-pro or casual users in mind. There is of course, the free program 'Gimp' available, if you really don't want to pay anything, but it's again in the same vein as Photoshop and as such, similarly hard to use. I could probably get the hang of using them if I had to given some time and an instruction manual - but when you can open up PSP and immediately do something that needs a page long tutorial on in Gimp or Photoshop, it seems a bit time consuming!
PSP isn't all smiles and roses though, it does occasionally crash and crashes hard - Make sure you save your images (preferably as a seperate file to both the compressed final image and the original) as you're working on them, particularly if you're using layers or importing/pasting a lot onto one workspace. It also takes a little while to load up the brushes and textures sometimes, and if you try to open more than about 7 files at the same time it does have a bit of a paddy! These are all things though that you just have to accept and work around; it doesn't crash very much (mine has only really crashed about 20 times in the 4 years I've had it, and I use it at least twice a week, if not everyday) on the whole. The longevity of the PSP series is something that I have tried to impress upon you in this review; I can not recall anyone telling me that they have kept the same version of Photoshop for 4 years +!
Overall this is a fantastic, easy and well thought out little graphics program that is often overlooked for the colossus that is Photoshop. If you want an editing program that is well worth the money, then go for PSP (though you might want to try getting a more recent version than 10!)