PrintLife 3 review: Virtual print shop update shines despite early release bugs

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At a Glance
  • Chronos PrintLife 3

Anyone who owned a personal computer in the ‘80s will have fond memories of The Print Shop, the original consumer-centric desktop publishing application. Initially conceived as a companion for early dot-matrix printers (remember those?), the software became insanely popular on every platform it was released on, including Mac.

The Print Shop is still with us three decades later, but less relevant than ever in the wake of stiff competition from rivals like Chronos, who recently upped the ante with a major new—but not yet perfect—update to its own virtual print shop application.

printlife 3 templates

PrintLife 3 includes more visually rich templates than competing software, including additional freebies downloaded online.

What’s the occasion?

At first glance, PrintLife 3 doesn’t deviate much from The Print Shop playbook, combining clip art and templates with powerful and intuitive software that allows users to design printable content for nearly any occasion. But this isn’t your father’s application: This bundled clip art is more refined, the templates more elegant. 1,000-plus templates are included, and others can be downloaded online free of charge.

Whether it’s a greeting card, photo collage, flyer, invitation, or certificate, PrintLife pretty much has you covered; there are also slick templates for home business users to create letterhead, invoices, envelopes, or file folder tabs. The latest release adds direct integration with Photos and iTunes—designers can search by faces, favorites, or places with the former, or insert playlists and album art for CD labels or jewel cases from the latter.

printlife 3 artwork mode

PrintLife 3 includes a full complement of artwork elements to embellish whatever printed material you might need.

The big news with version 3.0 is a major user interface overhaul, which consolidates design tools into a trio of inspectors that reside inside a single sidebar at right. This not only makes PrintLife simpler to use—and easier on the eyes—but is also thoughtfully designed with today’s smaller MacBook screens in mind.

Chronos also hasn’t forgotten about iMac owners or those of us with external displays: From the View > Format menu, extra display real estate can be used to call up standalone Style, Image/Text, and Arrange inspectors. The toolbar across the top also allows switching between Design and Preview modes with just a click, so designers can see their work in a cleaner, trimmed view, free of UI distractions.

printlife 3 3d text

3D text is one of the many new features in PrintLife 3, with complete control over every aspect of the look and feel.

All that glistens

Chronos also amped up the visual flourish of PrintLife 3, carrying over most of the special effects features introduced earlier this year for its companion software, iScrapbook. Designs can now include 3D headlines, with full control over lighting, perspective, materials, and reflections in just a few clicks. This feature tends to become border on the gaudy when overused, but it’s great to have another powerful tool available, and the implementation here is nothing short of fantastic.

PrintLife also now includes built-in texture overlays and photo effects like vintage, vibrance, or line art, along with special effects such as sunburst, sparkle, or water stains that can be dragged onto designs. Although PrintLife’s glitzy additions barely impact overall application performance, some aren’t yet entirely compatible with the latest OS X El Capitan update.

printlife 3 texture bug

The new textures in PrintLife 3 look great, but tend to make photos smaller after being applied—the picture of the boy originally filled the entire frame.

I experienced repeated crashes whenever I clicked the new auto-enhance button on imported photos, while adding textures to placeholder images caused them to be reduced in size for no apparent reason. Likewise, applying filters caused many photos to suddenly ignore the assigned rotation, presumably falling back to however my iPhone was held when the picture was originally taken.

These (hopefully temporary) bugs aren’t show-stoppers, but they certainly hinder an otherwise well-crafted application. Chronos offers a 30-day free trial from their website, so I’d recommend downloading that first to see how much these issues impact your own workflow.

printlife 3 rotation bug

Applying one of PrintLife 3’s new photo filters occasionally made images rotate back to the way they were when first shot.

Bottom line

PrintLife 3 introduces a vastly improved UI refresh and loads of new ways to embellish content, but could use a minor update to squash lingering bugs with photos and textures on OS X El Capitan.

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At a Glance
  • Chronos PrintLife 3

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