Ulead's PhoImpact appeared on the UK market with such discretion that few were aware of its existence. Supplied with scanners and some digital cameras, it tended to be overlooked by the majority who focused on the big names.
That was something of a pity because even in it's early versions PhotoImpact had proved to be a competent performer that offered an overt degree of 'fun' creativity that was lacking in the competition. It was also one of the first packages to acknowledge and provide functionality for creating web imagery and graphics.
Now at Version 6 Ulead promote their flagship product as 'The Best Image Editor for Web' which, to the uninitiated tends to denigrate the appeal to the photographer. Nothing could be further from the truth!
The PhotoImpact interface at first seems to echo the look of Photoshop and PhotoPaint, but on closer inspection reveals some crucial differences. Context sensitive toolbars enable tool options to be rapidly and accurately set and even the standard toolbar can be customised. Such detail can yield tremendous benefits to the power user. But the biggest and certainly most obvious distinguishing feature is, or rather are, the EasyPalettes.
This Ulead innovation provides the cornerstone of PhotoImpact's functionality. Comprising three modes these offer instant access to sixteen galleries of effects, seven libraries of clipart and embellishments and an impressively intuitive layer management system.
The effects comprise the routine (filters, colour correction devices) but also the more unusual - such as fireworks. A simple drag-and-drop philosophy is adopted: drag an effect (from the thumbnails offered in the EasyPalette display) onto your image and it's applied.
The newly enlarged web functionality goes way beyond the provision of web-graphics tools. Infact it is now feasible to create entire web pages from within the program complete with HTML text, rollovers, GIF animations and much more.
It is easy, when seeing the extent of the EasyPalette features, to think of this program as somewhat superficial. Don't be deceived! The tools you would expect in the most demanding of applications also underpin it.
If we were to pick on a particular weakness it would be in the text handling abilities. Though photographers often scorn the inclusion of text features at all, most users are likely to want, at some stage or another, to add text - whether a caption, comment or as part of a graphic. Though PhotoImpact includes a wide range of options including text wrap and text-on-a-curve, there is no on-canvas editing and no option for including passages of justified text.
But for all this PhotoImpact doesn't pretend to be a full blown professional package; it's pitched as a tool for image editors and those who need powerful web graphics (and web pages) without the heartache. It can be summed up as fun and engaging to use.
A comprehensive image-editor is now an equally well-specified web-authoring package for the occasional, rather than the intensive, user.
OVERALL RATING: 8/10
These figures are based on our experience of the respective programs and do not necessarily agree with the manufacturers' recommendations.
Pentium 266, 64MB RAM
240MB hard disc space
Windows 95 or higher, NT4.0 (SP4) or higher.