Corel PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate review

PaintShop Pro 2021 is Windows-only image editing software delivers power and flexibility thanks to artificial intelligence

Corel PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate
(Image: © James Abbott)

Digital Camera World Verdict

PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate is a unique image editing software option in that it provides workspaces for photographers of all ability levels in a single package. Plus, the additional software and plugin that are included make this version an absolute bargain compared to the standard version that’s only marginally cheaper to buy. The main downside to the software is that it’s Windows only.


  • +

    Excellent value for money

  • +

    Workspace organisation

  • +

    Suits beginners and the more advanced


  • -

    Not all automated effects work well

  • -

    Some non-standard keyboard shortcuts

  • -

    Not all AI features are effective

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PaintShop Pro 2021 is the latest version of one of the older image editing software programs available for Windows PCs only, providing a similar editing experience to other software. The latest version focuses on speeding up and improving a range of tasks through the power of artificial intelligence. 

Whether you’re a complete beginner or an experienced image editor, the software is designed to provide levels of functionality and automation to appeal to all ability levels. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this is that unlike other programs where you either buy the full-fat version aimed at professional photographers or the lite version aimed at amateurs and beginners, PaintShop Pro 2021 will comfortably cater to your growing skill level and provide functionality to suit along each step of the way.

This is an interesting approach to software and is achieved through the implementation of several Workspaces that break the software down into modes ranging from almost fully automated effects to intermediate editing to the full version of the software. It’s like having Photoshop CC and Photoshop Elements, Elements Organizer and additional automated functionality in a single package. 

PaintShop Pro 2021 is available with a perpetual license for a suggested price of $79.99 / £69.99. The SRP for PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate is $99.99 / £89.99; the ultimate version also includes the Sea-to-Sky Workspace, AI HDR Studio, Painter Essentials 7, PhotoMirage Express and Corel AfterShot 3.

Download/buy Corel PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate

Corel PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate Essentials Workspace (Image credit: James Abbott)

Key features

Given the cost of the basic version compared to the ultimate version of PaintShop Pro 2021, it makes sense to pay just a little more to take advantage of the additional functionality and several additional software programs. The Ultimate version is an absolute bargain when you consider what’s included.

AI HDR Studio is a plugin that provides HDR style effects to single exposure images – no need to combine bracketed exposures and tone map, although this functionality is available in the Complete Workspace. AI HDR Studio includes several different looks that can be applied at the touch of a button and the overall strength controlled with a slider.

The Sea-to-Sky Workspace has been developed to cater to the growing use of drones and underwater photography thanks to waterproof smartphones and provides four categories of effects designed specifically for underwater and drone photography. The effects provide one-click edits that take the hard work out of image editing and are ideal for beginners who don’t yet know how to achieve similar effect manually. 

Then there are Painter Essentials 7 which is a painting program, Photomirage Express which allows you to add animations to still images, Corel AfterShot 3 is a Raw editing program and finally, there’s the Corel Creative Collection that includes extra brushes, textures and over 100 royalty-free backgrounds. 

Other important features include AI Upsampling for image enlargements, AI Denoise for noise removal, AI Artifact Removal for removing JPEG artefacts and AI Style Transfer for applying artistic effects that work with the image content rather than simply covering it. It’s the kind of effect that’s fun at first though users are likely to quickly outgrow it.

Corel PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate AI HDR Studio (Image credit: James Abbott)

Interface and usability

The interface is broken down into Photography, Essentials, Complete and Sea-to-Sky Workspaces so you can select the one that’s most suited to your ability level or the task that you wish to perform. This breakdown of the software makes it much more manageable from the perspective of a new user, regardless of editing experience.

The Photography Workspace is for quickly and easily applying a range of effects, including the new AI features mentioned above. This provides a split-screen view that can be dragged to show the before and after image and is a great feature more commonly used on websites to show before and after images.

The Essentials Workspace is similar to Photoshop Elements, in that it provides a simplified version of the Complete Workspace that’s not too overwhelming for intermediate users, while the Complete Workspace itself is the fully-featured and most advanced version of the software. In Complete, the Tool and Layers panels are where you’d expect them to be and feature easily identifiable icons, while menus are clear and the design of the user interface makes them comfortable to navigate. 

Sea-to-Sky is the final Workspace, and just like the Photography Workspace it’s intuitive and easy to use, making it ideal for beginners who want to apply powerful effects without any knowledge of photo editing. These two Workspaces are so easy to use that anyone could get to grips with them in just a few minutes. Plus, the Photography and Sea-to-Sky Workspaces are touch-friendly, so if your laptop or monitor is a touchscreen, you can take advantage of this functionality if you wish.

Corel PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate AI Denoise (Image credit: James Abbott)

Quality of results

The results of the automated functions from within the Photography and Sea-to-Sky Workspaces can be hit or miss – success depends on the image being used, but there are strength sliders for some of these controls, as well as one-click effects at different strengths so there is a degree of control. In some cases, the results aren’t as anywhere near as good as what you could achieve with manual control in the Complete Workspace, but this is often the case with these types of effects.

AI Denoise struggled with noise reduction in the tested image where chroma noise remained visible and detail was smoothed out and waxy-looking. Whereas the black & white AI HDR Studio effect worked very well, and the Sea-to-Sky effect added to an underwater image provided clarity to a dull start image – which can be quite common with underwater photography. The key point here is that experimentation is essential to see what works best for you and your images.

From within the Complete Workspace, you can achieve excellent image quality thanks to the Tools, Filters and the general level of control that’s on offer. From within this Workspace, there’s also the Organizer that makes it quick and easy to search your entire computer for images and open them into PaintShop Pro without the need to leave the software.

Corel PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate AI Upsampling (Image credit: James Abbott)


PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate is a unique image editing software option in that it provides workspaces for photographers of all ability levels in a single package. Plus, the additional software and plugin that are included make this version an absolute bargain compared to the standard version that’s only marginally cheaper to buy. The main downside to the software is that it’s Windows only.

In terms of image quality, the more automated effects, like with similar software, can be hit or miss. But when these effects work well they’re truly fantastic and provide advanced editing results at the touch of a button. The full version of the software, called the Complete Workspace, is where you can achieve the best results and have access to the largest number of tools and features. Raw processing is extremely limited, but with the ultimate version you get a copy of Corel AfterShot 3, which is a Raw editing program and another reason to opt for the Ultimate version.

PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate is an interesting and fully featured proposition providing everything you need to edit your images, from raw processing to image editing to image animation and beyond. The sheer amount of functionality is remarkable considering the Ultimate version costs just $99.99 / £89.99 for a perpetual license – something photographers averse to paying for software subscriptions will be happy to hear.

Download/buy Corel PaintShop Pro 2021 Ultimate

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James Abbott

James Abbott is a landscape and portrait photographer based in Cambridge. He’s also an experienced photography journalist specializing in camera skills and Photoshop techniques. He is also a CAA-approved drone pilot and professional aerial photographer.