Ulead PhotoImpact XL

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Ulead PhotoImpact XL
PIXL is a decent image editing suite for beginners wanting to spice up their photos or Web designers looking for an affordable imaging solution. Read our Australian review.

With PhotoImpact XL, Ulead targets digital photographers, Web designers and graphics producers at home or in a small office environment. The software will set you back AU$189 for the boxed version or AU$119 for the upgrade. It is relatively cheap for a graphics editing suite and certainly packs a punch for its price.

The main image editing application in the package is PhotoImpact XL (aka PhotoImpact 8.5). The "XL" part has (wittily to the Ulead marketers) been added so the product's acronym forms PIXL, similar to the photographic term, pixel (picture element).

Initially, the amount of toolbars, menu items and floating palettes in PhotoImpact can seem overwhelming. The reference guide gives a good overview of what you'll need for your own purposes and the through the panel manager, palettes can be simply clicked on or off to regain some valuable screen real estate.

After getting rid of the clutter, we find the majority of the screen is taken up by the canvas area--the work space area to hold your photo. To the left is the docked panel for tools, which contains frequently used items such as paint brushes, erasers, selectors, croppers, and zoom tools. The floating panels are on the right hand side give you access to colour controls, layers and saved selection areas.

The EasyPallete is once such panel that centralises the available effects and visual elements, such as photo-objects, to drag-and-drop onto your canvas area. Beginners will see this as a boon as it is intuitive and you don't have to trawl through the intimidating menus. However, more proficient users are able to customise this palette with their own elements and the menu provides more powerful and flexible editing tools, including JavaScript rollovers and pop-ups, 3D graphics tools, slicing for Web graphics and drawing tools to create vector objects.

We gasped to see the typical installation take up 700MB but we were impressed with the mammoth-sized effect galleries and object libraries that consume a lot of this disk space.

The effects gallery allows users to play around with a myriad of stylistic elements to add a bit of excitement to photos. In the lighting department, a few clicks or a drag-and-drop can introduce lasers, fireworks or a meteor shower, for example, into your photo. With the animation gallery you can combine these elements as animations to save as GIF files. For instance, fireworks can be added to explode in the sky behind you in a photo, bubbles can float up the photo or you can add a signature to the image with animated writing.

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Although they may be fun, during out tests we found these to be time consuming when working with photos taken on a Canon G5 (around 2MB in size) on a mid-range Athlon system. While clicking through the effect menu is fast, the long processing time to apply an effect can be tedious, although this may vary depending on your specific system setup.

There is also a range of other effects such as the beautify skin function so you can retouch those in need of a makeover, or painting effects simulating oil on canvas or a finger-painting. A new feature to XL is ExpressFix, a wizard which analyses and guides you through fixing common photographic errors, such as white-balance, incorrect colouring, and out-of-focus shots.

Unfortunately PhotoImpact XL is only available on the Windows platform, a baffling limitation bearing in mind the majority of the design industry's entrenchment in Mac.

Bundled with the box set is a bonus CD which includes a heap of software. A ten-chapter video tutorial is included for beginners to learn the basics of PhotoImpact. The CD also contains Photo Explorer 8.0, an application to acquire, view and organise your photos. Ulead's popular GIF Animator 5.0 is on there, to compose animations frame by frame--especially useful for Web developers. An application called COOL 360 that can transform a series of photos into 360 degrees panoramic scenes. PhotoImpact Album XL, which provides another way to group and view your photos. Finally, there are another 5,000 royalty-free images and a bunch of bonus filters.

While PhotoImpact XL isn't in the same league as the king of graphic design software, Adobe's AU$1,399 Photoshop, it certainly offers a decent alternative to others suites around this price mark, including Paint Shop Pro from Jasc Software and Adobe's Photoshop Elements. A 30-day trial version is available for download from Ulead's Web site.

Ulead PhotoImpact XL
Company:  Ulead
Price: AU$189 boxed edition, $119 upgrade
Distributor:  Selected resellers

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