Adobe Photoshop rules the world of 2-D imaging software with an iron fist. But that hasn’t kept Corel from launching a direct challenge to Adobe’s image-editing powerhouse. Corel Photo-Paint is an interesting contender, offering much of Photoshop’s functionality and adding some unique features that will appeal to artists, such as the ability to handle animation files directly. However, the program suffers from instability and sluggish performance, both of which are serious problems for graphics professionals.
When you launch Photo-Paint, you immediately notice how different it looks from Photoshop. A Microsoft Office- style toolbar along the top of the screen provides access to key functions, and a context-sensitive Property Bar lets you choose common settings for the selected tool. One of Photo-Paint’s strongest features is the ability to customize the screen layout and menus. You can even load a configuration that rearranges menu items to mimic Photoshop’s layout.
In many respects, Photo-Paint surpasses Photoshop’s capabilities. For starters, Photo-Paint can handle a greater number of image file formats. These include native MetaCreations Painter files and a variety of vector formats, such as AutoCAD. As you would expect, the latter convert into bitmapped images when imported.
Photo-Paint also offers strong layering functions. As in Photoshop, you can use transfer modes to determine how layers interact with each other, but you also get some modes not available in the Adobe package, such as logical OR, AND, and XOR operators. In addition, you can apply Add and Subtract transfer modes to layers; these are available as part of Photoshop’s Calculations function, but not in that program’s Layer Options dialog box.
Some of these transfer modes are more useful than others, but all are welcome. For example, the logical operators, which will be familiar to Macromedia Director users, are great for certain types of special effects.
Photo-Paint’s Color Mask command improves on Photoshop’s similar Color Range function, which allows you to create masks by selecting colors from the image. Unlike the Photoshop tool, Color Mask lets you select multiple colors simultaneously, with a visual display of each selected color range.
The list of downright cool functions in Photo-Paint is long: built-in brush symmetries that let you paint in multiple places with a single stroke, the ability to copy and paste from closed documents (unique to Photo-Paint among Macintosh graphics applications), and an HSB color mode (long missing from Photoshop). Photo-Paint also offers a diversified set of brushes reminiscent of those in MetaCreations Painter.
Some Photo-Paint features are not typically associated with image-editing software, such as the ability to create multiframe animations directly within the program. This is especially useful for Web designers creating animated GIF files.
Even in documentation, Photo-Paint has the edge: The package includes an excellent third-party tome that makes the Photoshop manual seem insubstantial by comparison. You also get a wealth of bundled software, including Xaos Tools’ Paint Alchemy and Terrazzo special-effects plug-ins, Diamondsoft’s Font Reserve 1.02 for font management, and Cumulus Desktop 4.0 for media management.
Ready for Prime Time?
In some cases, major additions to Photoshop 5.0, such as the History palette, are not implemented as well in Photo-Paint as they are in the Adobe package. For example, Photo-Paint’s Undo List dialog box is modal, in contrast to the preferable nonmodality of Photoshop’s History palette. Photo-Paint’s Local Undo tool, which lets you selectively restore an image to its previous state, is no match for Photoshop’s History brush, which can restore the image to any state in the History palette.
However, Photo-Paint’s biggest failings are in performance and reliability. Painting in the program is sluggish regardless of brush size, and a small JPEG file that took less than five seconds to open in Photoshop 5.0 took a whopping minute to open in Photo-Paint (thankfully, file saves were more on par with those in Photoshop). Slow performance also marred RGB-to-gray-scale mode conversion, as well as Photo-Paint’s unique ability to preview a file, make a selection, and open only that portion of the image.
On a more disturbing note, Photo-Paint crashed frequently on a Macintosh with plenty of RAM and scratch disk space. Many crashes were not consistently reproducible, making it difficult to create workarounds. This raises serious concerns about the program’s usefulness in a professional production environment.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
There is much to like about Corel Photo-Paint. It’s the first program we’ve seen in years that could potentially go head-to-head with Photoshop (especially since the street price is almost half that of the Adobe package). However, the bugs and slow performance in this first Macintosh version give us reason to hold out for an update. When that happens, Adobe should take notice.