Last updated: November 19, 2018 | This article contains affiliate links

Today, ON1 released its newest version of their software: ON1 Photo RAW 2019. This program is typically on a yearly update cycle, and it’s always interesting to see what changes come with the new updates. This year they’ve added some features that users have been asking for, such as a text tool, and some other changes to somewhat unify the program and allow for less “jumping around” from module to module.

Below I’ve listed out many of the new additions to this update, as well as some screenshots my own comments on these changes, but it’s not a complete list:

New Layers workflow

Previous versions ON1 Photo have always had a separate “Layers” module. Now, in the 2019 version, the Layers, Develop, and Effects modules are all combined into one “Edit” module. If you want to do any masking or compositing to an image, you can do all of it in one space and there is no longer the need to convert images to PSD and Smart Layers to work on them nondestructively.

Here’s a photo-comparison between the Layers panel in ON1 Photo RAW 2018.5 and ON1 Photo RAW 2019:

Masking tools

While combining the modules makes for a smoother and faster workflow, it comes at a small cost. There are a few masking tools that didn’t seem to make the cut: Quick Mask and Line Mask. (They’re listed on the features page, but I can’t seem to locate them in the toolbar.) Also, many of the other tools that are missing from the main toolbar are now “nested” in the Options bar at the top, so switching over to them now takes an extra click (or, you can use the keyboard shortcuts to access them quickly if you know them).

Update: ON1 mentions in their announcement blog post that there will be a new AI Masking Tool implemented in the Winter of 2019 (sometime between January 1 and March 19). Hopefully this is a new-and-improved, better version of the Quick Mask, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see! Here’s a screenshot from their blog post so you can read all the details they’ve shared thus far:

A screenshot from the ON1 website describing the upcoming AI masking tool.

No more Color Fill layers

Another missing item is the “Color Fill Layer” option, which has probably been replaced by the Paint with Color feature in the Local adjustment tab. This is one feature I’ll miss. The ability to add a color layer as a completely independent layer—and not as an adjustment—makes it easier to do things such as colorize black-and-white photos or give creative enhancements to images. Now there is no way to add a separate color fill layer without either duplicating the existing layer, or “hacking” the system and add a plain JPEG file that has no purpose but to “carry” the color layer over to the document without bulking up the file-size. If your only reason to add a color layer is to change the color of one or two areas in your photo, then the Paint with Color feature should work just fine. But if you want to get creative with your edits and masking, having the Color Fill Layer option is much more convenient.

Why do I prefer Color Fill layers?

Here are a few reasons why I prefer Color Fill layers to the Paint with Color feature:

  • Color Fill Layer names can be edited. This is ideal when working with more than one fill color and you need to organize your edits so you can go back-and-forth easily.
    • If you use Paint with Color, the layer names cannot be edited, so all of them will say “Adjustment” with no way to specific what the adjustment is.
  • Using a Color Fill Layer allows you to save and work with the layered file in Photoshop.
    • The Paint with Color option is an ON1 effect, which means it cannot be edited outside of the ON1 platform. You can still open the layered file in Photoshop, but the Paint with Color edits will be merged with your image.
  • You can easily blend the Color Fill Layer using all of the standard layer blending mode options.
    • Using Paint with Color, there are only three options: Solid Paint, Replace Color, and Classic. You can get to the “regular” blending modes, but it takes an extra “click” to get to them.
  • The Local settings (where the Paint with Color option lives) auto-applies an Exposure adjustment of –1.
    • This option has to be reset every time you add a new Adjustment layer; it’s extremely obnoxious and I sometimes forget about it so my local edit is darkened unintentionally.

Using Paint with Color in ON1 Photo RAW 2019.

Text tool

This version finally has a text tool! So far it’s pretty straightforward, so it will be interesting to see if it improves with future updates. Here’s what you can and cannot do with the text tool:

  • Add a paragraph of text (single line or more).
  • Multiple text boxes can be added to an image.
  • Text can be stylized using the options at the top (font, size, color, style, opacity, and alignment).
  • You can resize the text box, which does not resize or scale the text.
  • Text cannot be rotated or transformed. It can only be added “upright”.
  • The text sits in its own space and is always sitting at the top of the image in the preview (regardless of the number of layers added to the Layers panel).

The Text Tool in ON1 Photo RAW 2019.

Focus stacking

Focus stacking is a brand-new addition to this version of ON1 Photo RAW. It’s apparent that it’s still very fresh, and has room for improvement. I tested it with a 10-photo macro photo of a mushroom, and there are some considerable artifacts appearing in the out-of-focus areas of the image. I focus-stacked the same files in Photoshop, and have that image posted below for comparison.

Auto-Align Layers

Sometimes it’s nice to be able to align layers. Oftentimes I’ll photograph a landscape and create two exposures: one for the foreground, and another for the sky. Sometimes the alignment of these images was slightly off, so when I would go to blend them together to get a more balanced exposure I would have to move the layers around manually to get them aligned properly. However, now the software can do it for you.

Portrait tools

Long ago, ON1 used to have a separate Portrait module. Then, it was removed and merged in with the other modules, and now they’ve brought back some of the features in a much easier-to-use format. The Portrait tab will auto-select faces, and you can also select a face manually if it doesn’t detect it. Then, you can smooth skin, remove blemishes, whiten teeth, and more. If you’re familiar with the previous Portrait effects, then this will be an easy transition for you.

New Effects filters

They’ve added a few new filters to the Effects tab: Film grain, Curves, and Color Adjustment. They aren’t technically new features, as there were always other ways to apply these effects using workarounds, but it is nice to now have them as separate filters.


My thoughts on this update

It’s expected to see a new update to ON1 Photo RAW every year, and this year they have added some features that customers have been requesting for quite some time. With that said, many of these new features are still very much in the beginning stages of their implementation into this software and could use some improvement. I do, however, believe that they are making good strides towards listening to their customers and really tightening up the product. It will be nice to not have to jump back-and-forth between the modules; the new workflow does look very promising. I also enjoy the little things added to the UI, such as being able to customize the highlight colors (they added some new colors in this update!).

Should you update?

Ultimately, that’s up to you. If you are happy with the previous version (currently at 2018.5), and don’t need the new features such as Text and Focus Stacking, then you should be fine waiting this one out until the next big update (2020?) or until they release a 2019.5 update to fix bugs and refine some of the features.

Want to learn more?

If you’d like to see more of what ON1 Photo RAW 2019 offers, please click here to visit their website.