Corel Paintshop Pro
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There have been many versions of Paintshop Pro, originally developed by JASC and now overtaken by Corel. Users of earlier versions which were developed by JASC sometimes complain about the additional features and design that Corel has introduced, but as a long time user of Paintshop Pro version 5, the GIMP and Photoshop CS (old version 8 from 2003) I find the latest Paintshop Pro versions to be extremely powerful and in most cases well designed.
If you have tried working with Adobe Photoshop and get annoyed with the keyboard shortcuts, then PSP is definately for you ! Generally I find PSP much easier to work with. It is well worth downloading the latest trial version (fully functioning for 30 days), and giving it a rigorous test. It can be found here:  http://www.corel.com/corel/allProducts.jsp

At the time of writing the current version is Corel Paintshop Pro X4 so this is the version I will be referring to when describing some of the features and tools, unless otherwise stated.

One of the complaints from the PSP community on the Corel internet forum is the colour of the workspace / user interface, which from PSP X2 has been a charcoal black colour with I think, and option to revert to the old style of silver grey. When Vesion X4 was released it came with a black user interface and white icons, which caused a tremendous amount of complaints especially from those people who hated the dark interface and no longer had the option of the classic style, and also those people who liked coloured tool icons. Corel responded by issueing an update... Service pack 1 which addressed many of the complaints, and offered the choice of dark grey, medium grey and blue workspace /interface colours.

Ok, lets have a look at the PSP X4 Editor.
1). After Installation.
Ok PSP is installed and now it is best to first go to the "File" menu and select "General Preferences" and run through the configuration options. When you are satisfied with them, the next thing to do is to go to the "View Menu" and select "Toolbars" and also "Palettes" and make the toolbars and palettes that you will be using most.... Visible. Most Palettes can be dockable to the sides of the workspace, or floating. Or a mixture of both. Once you have sorted out how you prefer your workspace to be, then go to the "File" menu, and click on the "Workspace" menu item and choose "Save" you can now save your workspace as you have set it up, remembering to give it a name. Now if anything should get changed or you end up loosing a tool or palette, you can restore the workspace again. Obviously you can also design workspaces for certain types photo editing. I would definitely recommend having the Materials palette and the Layer Palette visible and docked at the side of the screen.

2). New to PSP or new to Version X4......
The Learning Centre.
I would suggest that it will be helpful to make the "Learning Centre" visible in the "View" ----> "Palettes" menu. If it is floating on the desktop you can right click on the top of the Learning Centre palette and then select "docking" from the menu that appears.At this point the Learning Centre palette may spring over to the right hand side of the workspace and dock on the side of the Materials and Layer palettes if they are already docked there. This reduces the space available for the photo or drawing that you will be working on, so I suggest that you drag it over to the left hand side of the screen by the side of the Tools Palette. As you drag it, some arrows will appear, drag the palette toward the left arrow and as your cursor moves over the arrow, let go of the mouse button and the Learning Centre Palette should spring over to the left and dock by the side of the Tools palette. Now, on the top of the Learning Centre you will see 3 small symbols at the top of the Leaning Centre Panel on the right hand side. The middle one is a thumbtack and clicking on it will set it to Auto Hide. When it has disappeared, moving the cursor over the Learning Centre Tab will roll out the Learning Centre Panel. Of course you can make it dock where ever you want !

3). Using the Learning Centre.
Open a photo in Paintshop Pro, and select a tool, for example the Straighten tool. Once it is selected move your cursor over the Learning Centre tab or make the Learning Centre visible and you will see that there are instructions on its use and useful tips. This can be used for all tools on the Palette. If you need even more help, the the help menu goes into even greater depths.
4). The Materials Palette.
This can be a bit confusing at first, as there are a few options linked to the Materials Palette.
Firstly the colour palette on the left, has 3 small tabs on the top. Use these to choose how the colour palette is shown. To the right od the colour palette are 2 squares black and white. These are the colour properties for the Foreground  and Stroke, the lower Square being the properties for the Background and fill. The 2 smaller squares to the right, are the colour setting for each square. As you will see, under the larger squares there are 3 small boxes with symbols. Clicking on the left one will give you the options of using a colour, a gradient or a pattern. The middle box is for toggling texture on and off, and the third is for toggling transparency. Clicking on the two way arrow reverses the Foreground and Background properties and colour. To paint with the foreground colour use the left hand mouse button, to paint with the background colour use the right hand mouse button. To change a colour click on the smaller boxes and a dialogue box will appear where you can choose a new colour. To change either the colour, texture, gradient or pattern of a tool, click one of the larger colour squares and a more advanced dialogue box will open. You can also click on one of the boxes and when the dialogue box appears, you can select a colour from an open photo by moving the cursor (which is shown as a pipette) over the area with the desired colour, clicking one more time sets the colour setting to the selected colour !  I recommend permanently docking the Materials Palette on the RH side of the PSP window.
5). The Gradient Palette.

    To explain how to set this up and make your own gradient sttings would probably take me a few chapters of explanation, so we will just look at the basics.

    When using a gradient, the first thing to do is to choose the style of gradient you wish to use, linear, retangular, sunburst or radial, from the 4 style buttons. After this is done left click on the square showing the current gradient. A series of pre-installed gradient tiles will drop down. Lets imagine that you find a pre-installed gradient that suits your needs. Click on it and the gradient is now selected and set in the materials palette. Left clicking on the "handle" in the gradient square allows you to adjust the angle of the gradient.You can now apply the gradient to an area using the brush tool or the fill tool.
    Now if you are not lucky enough to find an appropriate gradient, you will need to select one that is as close as possible, and then edit it. This is where it gets more complicated, and hopefully Corel will at some point provide a dedicated gradient tool that is simple to adjust.
Click on the "edit" button and the click on the "New" button. Choose a name for your gradient and click" OK".

In the gradient editor window, under the list of gradients, you will see three small gradient buttons.... "Fore"..."Back"..."Custom". To the right of these, you will see the a bar, with 2 other bars below it. Below the top bar are 2 markers. Clicking on the "Fore" button will change the marker colour to the colour that is currently set as the foreground colour in the Materials Palette. Thus clicking on the "Back" button will use the clour set as a background colour. As you can see from the picture of the gradient editor, I have selected the "Custom" button. Clicking on the lefthand marker and then clicking on the oblong colour indicator box to the right of the "Custom" button allows me to select a colour for the lefthand marker, in this case a pink colour. Clicking on the righthand marker and clicking the colour indicator box allows you to change the clour of the righthand marker.

Now if you want 3rd colour in the gradient, then all you need to do is click underneath the middle of the bar and another marker will appear, set the desired colour as was done with the 2 other markers. You can add as many markers as you wish. If you left click on a marker and hold the mouse button down, you can slide each marker back and forth until you get the desired gradient effect.

The second bar is used for adjusting transparency, each marker can be set to a certain percentage of transparency, and as with the colour gradient bar, extra markers can be added and the markers positions dragged to the desired position.

OK, now you have custom made a gradient, before you can use it, you need to save it. When you click on OK, you will be asked if you want to save the gradient. If you started by setting up a new gradient, you will be asked if you want to save it. If you think "wehat's the point of saving it, I only want to use it once THINK AGAIN.... If you don't save it, it will be GONE...wiped out ! YOU HAVE TO SAVE IT !!!! Which I find a bit annoying ! If you didn't start by creating a new gradient, but modified a pre-installed Corel gradient, BEWARE... You will have to save the new gradient under a new name, otherwise you end up overwriting the original pre-installed gradient !!!!!!!
6. The Layers Palette.

This is another palette that I recommend to have permanently docked on the righthand side of the PSP window, as it is extremely useful and often used a great deal. When you open a photo in PSP it shows up as a background layer. You can make adjustments to the background layer, but often it is useful to add an adjustment layer and make adjustments to that without affecting the original background layer. In fact if you want to add text to a photo, as soon as you click on the text tool and click on the photo to add the text to a certain area, PSP automatically creates a new "vector" layer. If the background layer is a photo, then it is a raster layer. Text and drawn objects  exist on vector layers, where as photos and painted objects exist on raster layers (that's a basic explanation anyway !).

Layers are particularly useful when one selcts and object from a background of one photo, and superimposeses it onto another photo.
Layers can have their transparency adjusted by clicking on a layer to select it, and then adjusting the percentage in the box at the top of the layer palette. They can also be made invisibible. They can also be rearranged so that an object on one layer can be "moved" under another object, this is done by clicking on a layer, holding the mouse button down and dragging above or below another layer in the layer list.
OK, that's a basic run through the main palettes, which will be used most in PSP. There are others, but I will leave you to experiment with them. The next page will take you through some of the photo adjustment features which are very effective at enhancing photos, especially those photos that come out a little bit too dark or rather dead looking !