I would like to to clean up damage to and retouch under/overexposed scanned slide images, prepare the digital images with copyright symbols for use on web pages and add tags to allow image files to be 'searched' on a website under key words. I read a lot about Illustrator and that seems the right software to get on a budget, but Adobe keep pushing Photoshop CS6, which is too costly for me right now. Is Illustrator what I need to look at or is there other comparative non-Adobe software I can get that is just as good?

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    If you are absolutely on a budget you need to put hardware first. If you don't have one get a Wacom tablet. I use an Intuous 3. You can use it with Gimp if you can't afford Photoshop, but quality restore work is very difficult without pressure sensitive input. – Phil Sep 4 '12 at 17:13
  • @Phil a graphics tablet is unintuitive to some people - some are very good with a mouse and are better off using that. Additionally, for me a graphics tablet never worked well on my laptop while on my desktop it is usable. In theory a graphics tablet is just a "different mouse" but somehow it is a tad more demanding... – DetlevCM Sep 16 '12 at 16:10
  • @Kris Besides Photoshop CS there is Elements as well which possibly does most of what you want to do, but would lack Bridge which is very useful for easy CameraRAW control. Exposure and colours can be corrected very well using Lightroom, some light scratches possibly too, but nothing "heavy". Depending on how important pixel level work is to you, Lightroom may be a good choice. – DetlevCM Sep 16 '12 at 16:11
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    @Kris And finally, Adobe Illustrator isn't so much an image editor as a vector graphics design tool to create for example posters. – DetlevCM Sep 16 '12 at 16:12

I don't know where you're getting your information about Adobe Illustrator, but you've been misled.

Photoshop costs about the same as Illustrator at the moment on Amazon.com, so I don't see how Illustrator is the "budget" choice. Maybe you're comparing with Photoshop Extended, but there are no features in Extended relative to standard Photoshop that you need for this.

Even if Illustrator were a lot cheaper than Photoshop, it would still not be something you should be considering for your task. Illustrator is powerful software, and it can certainly be made to do at least some of what you want, but only in the same sort of way that you can drive a nail with a Crescent wrench. It simply is not the right tool for this job.

Someone suggested Lightroom as a possible choice here, and it seems you're thinking that, too, from the [lightroom-3] tag you added to your question. It's a fair choice for this. There are two limitations in Lightroom that make it less than ideal for your application however:

  1. Lightroom has no built-in way to talk to a scanner. Most image editing programs support WIA, TWAIN or both, so that you can scan something straight into the application. Not Lightroom. You'll have to scan with separate software and import that into Lightroom somehow.

    There are ways to automate this scan-and-import procedure so that it works mostly like WIA or TWAIN. For example, if you use VueScan as your scanner software, you can configure it so that its scan-to-file directory is the same as Lightroom's auto-import folder.

  2. A much bigger problem is that Lightroom's ability to remove dust and speckles is limited compared to a full-blown pixel editor like Photoshop. Lightroom's quick heal tool is fine for removing small dust specks, but when you get fibers and such — very common when scanning slides, if only as sheddings from the cardboard frame — the inability to heal non-circular areas means you have to enlarge the tool to cover much more area than is strictly necessary. Sometimes you can get away with this, but other times the limitation effectively prevents you from fixing the problem within Lightroom.

    Lightroom lets you configure it to work nicely with an external photo editor, and of course it works especially nice with Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.

If you find yourself needing a pixel editor, there are many choices that will cost you less money than Photoshop. In fact, every alternative I'm aware of costs so much less than Photoshop that you can get Lightroom as well and still pay less for the combination. Examples:

(I've listed only Windows software on purpose, since you mentioned the Windows-only Paintshop Pro in another comment. Other platforms have additional alternatives.)

Photoshop is more powerful than all of these, by a considerable margin. You will find some people online who will try to tell you that Gimp is just as good as Photoshop, but these people clearly have never used both for extended periods. The others are even less powerful than Gimp. Nevertheless, you can do all of what you ask with all of them.

It's a question of what other features you need. If your question lists every feature you will want from a photo editor, you can pick any of them that you like. If you need other things, or expect to need other things, look at the feature lists and decide if you're willing to pay the asking price to get those features.

Something to consider about Photoshop is the ecosystem. You will find more books, more training, more plug-in software, etc. for it than for any of the others.

If I had to select something for you, knowing nothing else about you, I'd choose Photoshop Elements. (Optionally coupled with Lightroom.) It's about $65 online, it will do everything you ask, and it will likely do everything you need for quite some time. If the time comes that you outgrow it, you can directly transfer your skills to "real" Photoshop. The user interfaces are somewhat different, but the tool sets are the same, the keyboard shortcuts are the same, the file format is the same, etc.

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    Good point about Lightroom's limitation in dust removal. It struggles with black and white film scans for this reason, in fact scratch and booger removal is about all I use Photoshop Elements for these days and it is a royal pain in the neck. For positive and colour negatives I find that the scanner's infrared dust removal does such a good job that my need for manual dust-spotting in post is very limited indeed. In fact, if there is so much gunk on the (non-B&W) negative that Lightroom can't deal with it after this one really should physically clean the film and re-scan. – Staale S Sep 4 '12 at 19:51
  • @StaaleS: There are two problems with automatic dust removal. First, our OP may not have a scanner with this feature. Second, even when you have it, it's not something you want to turn on all the time, because it usually results in a softer scan. Unless time is tight or you don't need large output, I'd recommend turning automatic dust removal off, cleaning the film as well as you reasonably can before scanning, and fixing what you can't brush off in a pixel editor. Yes it takes more time. The results may be worth it to you, however. – Warren Young Sep 4 '12 at 20:23
  • I must say I disagree - provided the scanner provides proper infrared dust removal. (If not - get one that does!) Spotting individual dust grains off a slide or negative takes forever. – Staale S Sep 4 '12 at 23:20

Its unclear, can you rescan the photos with a tool that can eliminate dust at scan time? Both VueScan and SilverFast can use a special IR scan on most slide scanners to remove scratches directly.

I've used both Aperture 3 and Lightroom4 to fix images after they have been scanned. Both work. And they are, of course, great for post-processing photos when you don't need the full blown Photoshop.

Photoshop, of course, in the right hands, can do anything.


Sounds like a poster-boy case for Adobe Lightroom to me.

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    Thanks for the response. I compared Lightroom features to Paintshop ProX4 just now and the Paintshop seems to have a whole lot more functionality, what's your opinion on the Corel product? Any experience using it? – Kris Sep 4 '12 at 15:34
  • You are comparing a school-bus and a dump-truck. Different beasts, even if they both have four wheels and a motor. – Staale S Sep 4 '12 at 19:41
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    Argh, pressed Enter... Anyway: Photoshop CS or Paintshop Pro are general purpose image editing programs. They do all things for all people, where "people" probably mean graphics artists. Lightroom is a highly specialized single-purpose editing and organizing tool for working with photos for photographers. It does 10% of what the others do, but those 10% it is very, very, very good at and those 10% are exactly what you need - for photos. I frankly have not even started up Photoshop in any variant for the past year, but use Lightroom all the time. – Staale S Sep 4 '12 at 19:44

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