Corel PaintShop Pro X5

by Stan Sholik

Box Shot Courtesy of Corel

November 15, 2012

While Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop/Bridge remain the imaging softwares of choice for most professional photographers, photo enthusiasts on the Windows platform have many options that likely fit their needs and budgets better than those programs. One in particular that offers enthusiasts many of the features of Lightroom and Photoshop/Bridge—and adds several that these lack—is Corel PaintShop Pro. The latest version, PaintShop Pro X5, adds even more functionality to further separate it from its competition, which includes Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 and Serif PhotoPlus X5.

PaintShop Pro X5 (PSPX5) combines image browsing and image editing using either the Computer tab for browsing or the Collections tab for adding images to the PSPX5 database for editing. These are found in the Navigation palette of the Manage workspace. Adding image folders to the database is quick and easy, and thumbnails appear almost instantly. PSPX5 is very fast in performing all of the operations I used, faster in many ways than the competition despite still being a 32-bit application. PSPX5 also imports video files and allows playback, but provides no other support for video.

But I found it strange that you could not import photos from a camera card. You can import directly from your camera or a scanner, but not from a compact flash or SD card. You must use Windows or the camera manufacturer’s software to import your photos to your hard drive, and then import them into the PSPX5 collection. It is unusual, but certainly workable, once you are familiar with the workflow.

PSPX5 retains the attractive and functional Graphite workspace that Corel introduced in version X2 and the tabbed navigation between the Manage, Adjust and Edit workspaces introduced in version X4. The interface in each tabbed workspace seems almost infinitely customizable. Palettes can be docked or floating, and you can set them to be hidden or to auto-hide and reopen on mouse-over. Each palette header has three tools to control this function, and there are menu options and keyboard shortcuts too. 

But the addition of new and enhanced features in all three workspaces makes PSPX5 worth the upgrade for previous users and worthy of consideration by non-users.

The new Map mode feature in the Manage workspace is integrated with Google maps to locate your photos based on location information. For photos containing GPS information, the process is automatic. 

For photos lacking GPS data, reverse geocoding is possible. Simply navigate to the location in the Map mode and drag your photos onto the map. If you use a GPS device that produces a tracklog, you can also import the KML file and the photos will be positioned along it. Corel actually does its pricier competition one better by including altitude and direction data in the GPS readout when it is available. However, I would like to be able to view the map much larger than PSPX5 allows.

Once the GPS data is added to your photos, PSPX5 adds that location to the Places tag in the Collections tab of the Manage workspace Navigation palette. This allows you to quickly see all of the photos taken in a specific location, or quickly find the vacation photos you took. If you are concerned about privacy when posting photos online, you can easily delete the location information.

Facial recognition is another new feature in the Manage workspace and it is the easiest to use that I have found in Windows programs. Once you open a folder in the Collections tab and select the People icon, PSPX5 automatically sorts photos of people in multiple folders with similar facial characteristics into groups. The groups are visible in the thumbnail mode of the Manage workspace. Once grouped, you simply name the group with the person’s name and PSPX5 applies that tag to each photo. 

The newly tagged group is added to the People section of the Collections tab in the Navigation panel. By clicking on the person’s name in the People section, PSPX5 displays all photos of that person wherever they occur on your computer, as long as you have tagged them. You can also manually tag any person, or ignore people you don’t wish to tag. And you can sync your social media contacts with PSPX5. Using this feature, your friends and family are automatically notified whenever you upload a photo in which they appear. 

The high dynamic range (HDR) tools introduced in PSPX4 are enhanced. The Batch Merge option now allows you to apply HDR presets to speed your workflow. New to the HDR toolset is the ability to create a pseudo-HDR image by splitting a single RAW capture into three exposures and then recombining them. You set the EV interval for the exposures and you can even change the exposure value of the middle (original) capture. Once the HDR image is created, all of the HDR tools in PSPX5 are available to fine-tune the image.

Camera phone apps allow users to instantly apply visual effects to their photos. PSPX5 includes two new features, Retro Lab and the Instant Effects palette, that can do the same, but with far more choices and far more control. Retro Lab includes effects inspired by LOMO, Diana and Holga cameras, with sliders that allow you to adjust the effect to your liking and save it for future use.

The Instant Effects palette is available in both the Manage and Adjust workspaces. It is organized into Artistic, Black and White, Film Styles, Landscape, Portrait, Retro and Traditional categories. Each category includes representative thumbnails of the various effects. Unfortunately, they are applied to a generic image, not the one on which you are planning to use the effect. 

There are other new features and many enhancements in PSPX5, such as the new Layer Styles button in the Layers palette that makes it easier to access the many layer styles. For users frustrated that they can run Photoshop actions in Photoshop Elements, but not create them there, PSPX5 allows you to create and run multiple scripts (actions) in sequence or to a batch of photos. There are also some enhanced art media tools that seem to have been carried over from other Corel products that simulate watercolor, oil paint, chalk and other media.

All of the above are available in PaintShop Pro X5 with a MSRP of $79.99. But wait, there’s more! For an additional $20 you can have PaintShop Pro X5 Ultimate, which adds Reallusion’s FaceFilter Studio 2 portrait enhancement tools, Nik Color Efex 3.0 filters and a collection of royalty-free images, brushes and textures. Any one of these additions are worth more than the price difference between the Pro and the Pro Ultimate versions.

I found the new FaceFilter Studio particularly interesting. After you adjust a few markers on important facial features and adjust eye and skin color, you are presented with a group of presets. These presets are human expressions that are labeled with names such as Confident, Kind, Elegant, Sexy, etc. When you select one, the preset is applied to the portrait. The results can range from the useful to the weird (try Sexy on a baby), but they are quick and there is a small amount of user control on the final screen. You can only use the program, which installs as a standalone, with JPEG, BMP and GIF images, but PaintShop Pro X5 outputs and images in these formats, so that isn’t really an issue.

The only issue I had with PSPX5 was coming to terms with its workflow. It is taking me a while to adjust from the Adobe way of image enhancement to the Corel way. For example, in PSPX5, most adjustments and edits require a new window to open with a “before” view on the left and the enhanced view on the right. To adjust white balance, you click the eyedropper on a neutral in the left window and the right window changes. The Corel way is perfectly usable, but just takes getting used to.

Copying and applying adjustments from one image to others in PSPX5 is not particularly elegant. You must save the adjusted file in the Adjust or Edit workspace, and then move to the Manage workspace to apply the adjustment to other images. Overall, there is far more saving and navigating between workspaces to perform edits than I am accustomed to.

And while PSPX5 can be used as a non-destructive editor, you must make this choice in preferences at least the first time you save your first image. If you want to save your original after making adjustments, a new copy is saved in a Corel Auto-Preserve folder that PSPX5 creates as a subfolder to the existing image folder. This method works, and means that you needn’t process the image later, but takes disk space. 

A fully functional 30-day trial version of Corel PaintShop Pro X5 is available for download from Corel’s website so you can see for yourself the power and versatility of the program. In fact, the Corel website,, is loaded with support possibilities. These include tutorials, tips and tricks, free downloads, an extensive knowledge base, member discussions and more. 

Minimum System Requirements

Microsoft® Windows® 8, Windows® 7, Windows Vista® or Windows® XP with the latest service packs installed (32-bit or 64-bit editions) 

Intel® Pentium® 4 or AMD Athlon™ 64 or later (multi-core processor recommended)

1.5 GB RAM (2 GB or higher recommended) 

1 GB of available hard-disk space required (2 GB or greater recommended) 

1024 x 768 16-bit color display
(24-bit recommended) 

DirectX® 9 or higher 

Internet connection required for online features and tutorial videos 

Windows® compatible CD/DVD drive for installatio

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, CA, specializing in still life and macro photography. His latest book, Lightroom 4 FAQs, published by Wiley Publishing, is now available.

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