Adobe PhotoDeluxe Revisited

Bob Leggitt | Tuesday, 23 May 2017
Adobe PhotoDeluxe installation disc

If you’re one of the forward-thinking souls who started working with digital images as a consumer in the 1990s, chances are you’ll remember Adobe’s Photoshop-derived editor PhotoDeluxe. But given that digital imaging's early adopters were a minority, and we are in any case going back two decades (effectively cutting out all under-25s), the probability is that you won't be familiar with this once ubiquitous package. So, what did PhotoDeluxe actually do, and how did its talents compare with those of Photoshop? How much did it cost, and has it even vaguely stood the test of time?

Whilst the product name evokes notions of a grand, all-bells-&-whistles superior to Photoshop, PhotoDeluxe was in fact a ‘lite’ package aimed at beginners and casual amateurs. But don't stop reading yet. There were some powerful features hiding behind the friendly facade.


Like most imaging programs of this age, the main problem in using PhotoDeluxe today is a lack of compatibility with modern computer operating systems. Feature-wise, it’s still perfectly usable, so if you have a retro Mac, or an oldie PC running Windows ME, 98 or 95, be a devil and install it. You can, however, reasonably expect at least some technical issues when you try to run the original releases of PhotoDeluxe on Windows XP or later, as the code in all of PD's main versions predated XP’s launch.


In the UK, Adobe PhotoDeluxe was sold standalone at around £45 – both in the late ‘90s and until its steady demise from spring 2001. This compares with around £500 for the full version of Photoshop during the same period. Most users of PhotoDeluxe would, however, have acquired the editor in a bundle with a piece of photo-tech hardware. I have three official PhotoDeluxe installation CDs, and I didn’t buy any of them per se. This was truly prolific bundleware!

The release of Photoshop Elements, around the end of the first quarter of 2001, impacted heavily on the viability of PhotoDeluxe. But Elements was not, it seems, an intended replacement for PhotoDeluxe. Priced at £69.90, the original Elements was a higher grade of editor than PD, more directly superseding the eminently desirable Photoshop Limited Edition. Elements and PhotoDeluxe were on separate tiers of capability, and clearly aimed at different groups.

Adobe PhotoDeluxe interface

However, that situation was soon complicated by bundle/retail dynamics, and other market readjustments brought about by the arrival of Elements.

In terms of features, Photoshop Limited Edition was the predecessor to Elements. But Limited Edition had been distributed as bundleware, ‘free’ with midrange digicams and film scanners. It had no retail presence. Elements was, conversely, launched as a retail product. Boldly entering the retail domain, Photoshop Elements was quick to draw praise from reviewers. And since its product name incorporated the magic word “Photoshop”, it was always going to be a winner, to the detriment of other packages on the shelves.

Indeed, Photoshop Elements appeared to hit sales of Jasc’s truly excellent Paint Shop Pro 7 very hard, to the point where Paint Shop Pro’s price was almost halved. Inevitably, with the far, far superior PSP7 now costing just a fiver more than PhotoDeluxe’s regular MSRP, the latter could no longer compete.

Photoshop Elements also covered the bundleware role which had previously been played by Photoshop 5 Limited Edition. Meanwhile, other players were muscling in on the lower end bundle territory formerly occupied by PhotoDeluxe. And crucially, digital cameras took over from 35mm film as the market-leading capture medium in 2001, which meant lower demand for clean-up and correction processing. When you bought your Nikon LS-20 film scanner in 1996, PhotoDeluxe’s Dust & Scratch Removal and Instant Fix were invaluable tools. When you bought your Fujifilm 6800Z digicam five years later, such editing features were redundant.


Editing a photo in Photo Deluxe

PhotoDeluxe fires up on initial launch with a simple, novice-friendly interface. It’s set up like a wizard, so new users are walked through the steps of importing and processing an image.

But clicking the Advanced tab on the left of the screen introduces a full menu, which displays both as a ‘professional’ drop-down at the very top of the program window and, beneath that, a tabbed, pictorial representation of select options.

Whilst the whole affair LOOKS pretty tacky, PhotoDeluxe does support…

  • Layers (with a limited number of adjustment blend modes).
  • Auto levels (called Instant Fix in PhotoDeluxe, and automatic only – with no manual level controls. The correction could, however, be faded to taste, by putting it on a duplicate layer and tailoring the opacity).
  • RGB colour variations, brightness and contrast adjustments.
  • HSL adjustments (though only across the whole colour range at once, and not for individual colour bands).
  • Sharpening (including Unsharp Mask and Sharpen Edges).
  • Blurring options (including Motion Blur, but not Smart Blur).
  • De-speckling, dust and scratch removal, and noise simulation.
  • Deformations – both preset and custom.
  • Lots of artistic and style effects.
  • Selection tools, with feathering.
  • Cloning, smudging and erasing.
  • Quick colour switches and background switches.
  • Gradient fills.
  • Simple painting.
  • Comprehensive rezising options (including superb interpolation for upsizing).
  • And plenty more, including one-step processes for monochrome conversion, tinting, and negative-style colour reversal.

The execution of the routines was near flawless. The features may have been limited, but everything worked very impressively.

PhotoDeluxe’s most serious omission was support for Curves. Curves allow a good imager to restructure the greyscale and colour dynamics within a photo. Without Curves, and without individual colour options in the HSL dialogue, there’s a lot for a knowledgeable amateur to get frustrated about. Its forebear Photoshop Limited Edition offered full Curves control and colour-specific HSL options. That put it in a different ballpark from PhotoDeluxe. But even today, the facilities incorporated into Adobe PhotoDeluxe would cater well for a novice.

Editing a photo in Photo Deluxe via the Layers function


Before using some versions of PhotoDeluxe with Windows, it’s necessary to correct the gamma – and doing that means performing a hack. PhotoDeluxe was designed for Apple computers, which had a different gamma rating from Windows PCs. In order to correct the screen gamma so photos display as they should within Windows, you may need to open the CCOLORSD file in the PhotoDeluxe > PREFS subfolder of your Program Files, and change each of the three gamma levels on the bottom line from 2.20 (Mac) to 1.80 (Windows). If your images previously looked too light in PhotoDeluxe as compared with other editors, this hack will correct the situation.


Perhaps the best thing about PhotoDeluxe was its simplicity. Some image editors (not least Adobe’s own Photoshop) take an age to really understand. Conversely, an idiot could be up and running with PhotoDeluxe within moments. That was the whole idea.

When I open PhotoDeluxe today, I’m immediately transported back to the 1990s, when I was taking my first steps into digital imaging. Indeed, PhotoDeluxe was the first editor I ever used, and it slotted into to that role perfectly. It encouraged me to edit photos, and that’s something for which I’ve become very grateful.