For the photo enthusiast, Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3 Ultimate Edition is a bit like Christmas Day in a box. Corel owns a very large number of imaging programs and, rather than giving you just one, spoils you rotten with a compendium of individual applications that go far beyond simple photo editing.
These include the Incomedia WebSite X5 Special Edition website designer and Corel Painter Essentials 4, which allows you to create digital artworks with realistic paints and materials and also includes the ability to easily transform photos into 'paintings' by applying brush strokes and textured papers to your existing images.
Photo editing proper is handled by the main PaintShop Pro application. For many years this has been regarded as a low-cost challenger to Adobe Photoshop and we can see why it is held in high regard. Today it incorporates advanced features such as an image organiser, RAW image support, sophisticated masking and tools to help you with tasks such as cutting out objects from backgrounds. It's also the only package in our recent photo-editing software round-up to support HD video.
Upon launch, the program isn't as immediately friendly as many of its competitors. Although there's built-in help available if you go looking for it, there's nothing to guide the complete novice through the process of cataloguing and organising their images.
Selecting a thumbnail from your photo collection displays a large preview from where you can enter the Express Lab for quick edits or the Full Editor for more precise control. The Express Lab provides everything you'll need for most basic enhancements including a 'suggest settings' button that will have a stab at fixing any problems automatically. It's not difficult to use, but if you really have no idea what you're doing then you may find other simpler products such as Google Picasa more helpful.
The Full Editor is considerably more complicated and uses an array of rather tiny icons which reveal their function with a hover of the mouse cursor. A built-in 'Learning Center' tab also provides plain-English help on each of the functions. It's powerful and works well, but is nowhere near as slick and polished as Adobe Photoshop Elements 9. It does however share its support for advanced features such as layers and non-destructive editing. A separate Project creator application facilitates uploading to online services such as Facebook and Flickr.