End-User Software

Paint Shop Pro broadens its scope

The pool of non-designers who need to create graphics for company Web sites and related materials has grown into a huge, relatively untapped market.

These employees have a critical role to play in producing business graphics, despite not having been trained in graphics design or the use of complex graphics-design programs such as Adobe Illustrator.

Jasc Software’s Web-graphics tool, Paint Shop Pro, has successfully catered to this market of middle users for years. However, Paint Shop Pro, Version 6.0, released in September, has added advanced features that may outpace the very middle-user market the program helped to create. Nevertheless, Paint Shop Pro remains a very good Web graphics tool. It’s even starting to rival the best graphics software out there, including Illustrator.

Powerful New Tools

The biggest change in Version 6.0 is the addition of vector drawing tools, node-level drawing, and layers.

Although unsophisticated users may need training to master them, these features provide greater control over graphics and make updating images much easier. For example, because each element in a vector drawing can be created and manipulated independently, you can change one part of a graphic without affecting the rest. To illustrate, imagine you are a mapmaker who has just completed a six-month project mapping North America, when a huge earthquake drops California into the ocean. Now what? With a raster (or bit-map) image, you have to start over again. But with a vector drawing, you simply remove the California elements and adjust the coastline where needed.

In fact, with the improved layering tool, raster layers can be placed over vector layers and vice versa, allowing the designer to use the best format for each element. For example, when drawing a fish, the background might be best done as a raster layer, while the fine points (eyes, gills, scales) might be done as vector layers. By taking advantage of layers, the designer could change the colour and shape of the fish with only a few clicks.

I also liked the slew of filters and effects, including a multicolour gradient tool. These tools are very useful for making interesting graphics without requiring a lot of time or skill, especially when working with an existing digital image, such as a photograph.

Perhaps one of the most useful new features for Web designers is Paint Shop Pro’s capability to lay text along a path. Using the new vector tools, I was able to create shapes and lines, and then enter text that followed my shapes. If desired, the shape itself can then be eliminated, leaving only a string of text following an imaginary line.

Discerning the Audience

Paint Shop Pro offers powerful new features that may outstrip the skills of the traditional user, and yet it lacks wizards that these less-skilled users might appreciate. Nevertheless, the program’s manual offers detailed and clear instructions for using the sophisticated new features.

Paint Shop Pro continues to be a valuable tool for users that need to create good graphics without the expense usually associated with that endeavour. However, users must know what they want and not mind opening a manual to help get the job done. If Jasc Software continues along its current development path, I can only assume Version 7.0 will have Adobe feeling the heat, while intermediate users will be left looking for a simpler application.

Jefferson is a freelancer who resides in his native Hawaii.