Corel Painter IX
by: Mario Georgiou, May 2005
by: Corel Corporation
Requires: Windows 98 OSR2, NT4.0 and above, 2000/XP home and professional, Pentium PC 700MHz or faster, 256MB RAM; Mac OS X 10.2.8 or higher
MSRP: US$429, UK£293 (upgrades starting at US$125.00, UK£116)
Many years ago I came across two very cool and exciting programs. One was Fauve Matisse and the other was Fractal Painter. They both promised so much and, funny enough, they delivered. Unfortunately Matisse passed into the history books as yet another innovative creative tool which died before it's time. Thankfully Fractal Painter and all of its subsequent versions and upgrades survived. It's been many years since I've actually played with Painter on a regular basis. Painter is now owned by Corel and although many folks initially groaned when Corel acquired the package, the company has done justice to this very powerful natural media application.
There are now several natural media programs on the market. I have over the last few months played with Dogwaffle, PD Pro and Open Canvas. They all do a very good job of emulating natural media and contain some innovative technologies and approaches. But Painter has reached a level of maturity in its design and features which lead many in the art and design community to ask what can possibly by next?
For those of you who haven't heard of it, Painter IX is a tool which emulates the use and feel of natural media art tools. With it you can draw, paint, ink, sketch, water color and apply painted effects to your art and photos. It is a digital canvas which can be used with a mouse but really comes into its own when used with a pressure sensitive tablet and stylus.
For the release of Painter IX, Corel has very effectively concentrated on Painter's functionality and made marked improvements in speed, usability and features. The noticeable lag that was present in certain brushes is now unnoticeable except when you're using larger ones. The improvements that have been made to brushes and their parameters are immediately noticeable due to the introduction of Brush Control Palettes allowing for instant access and modification to your settings.
The handling improvements to the oil and water brushes are immediately obvious. For Oils you can define parameters such as the amount of paint on your brushes, brush type, mixed color brushes, paint removal, blending and texturing with palette knives and a dirty brush mode for keeping your media more realistic for color mixing and natural effects. The Water Color modes allow you to specify how long the paints stay wet and also to effect changes to the brush stroke fringes after the stroke has been applied.
The Snap-to-Path brush is one of my favorite features and obviously allows you to paint along a predefined path while retaining all the parameters you've assigned to the brush—great for calligraphy and illustrative work.
The improvements to Painter's user interface has added much to the user experience, which although still a heavy undertaking, now doesn't really get in the way and allows you to easily access the features you need. The program's underlying logic is also now reflected in an orderly and commonsense interface which reflects this awesome program's true power.
Painter does a good job of supporting many of the features found in Photoshop files and this compatibility is quite comprehensive in both directions with few exceptions. Corel has taken a feather out of Adobe's hat with the addition of a feature which allows you to save multiple iterations of any project you're working on (a notable absence in earlier versions).
The animation features in Painter have also been improved with controls for defining the number of frames per second. When combined with onion skinning, rotoscoping features and the ability to export to GIF, AVI and QuickTime, you have a great animation platform.
Painter's other existing features have also been improved and include an air brush, cloner brushes, magic markers, crayons, image hoses, pastels and many others along with the ability to define custom brushes.
Painter has an excellent support network that is handled both by Corel and by third parties. The program's help file is fairly comprehensive and users should have no problem following it. Corel provides some free telephone support and several levels of paid support for services, individuals and corporate accounts. Corel also hosts newsgroups where you can get answers from other users and Corel staff but I prefer some of the other sources like the online tutorials from Lynda.com and extensive forum support and tutorials available from sources such as the Painter Feedback forums on ConceptArt.org, CGTalk.com, paintercreativity.com and the many other graphics communities online. The users of this great program provide an enormous amount of online support ranging from tutorials to an extensive knowledge base.
Cons: At the beginning of this review I mentioned that many people in the art and design community are wondering what can possibly be next for Painter. The answer is that even though none of the competition has the scope and consistency evident in Painter IX, Corel can still learn something from PD Pro and OpenCanvas. There are some shortcomings including limited levels of undo, a few more crashes than we like, and a heavy feature set that usually means a steep learning curve. The addition of a paint-to-path mode is very cool but I'd really like to see some brushes which are vector based. No support for 16-bit color images.
Pros: For serious work or play (yes, I said "play" because Painter is such a well thought out tool that using it sometimes feels just like freely creative play). Clean user interface. New oil brush features and Quick Cloning are excellent. One of the most useful feature for digital imageers may be the Quick Clone mode for adding painterly effects to photographs. Excellent Photoshop compatibility. Tablet support is excellent. The inclusion of several Power Tools plug-ins is cool.
Painter is the king of the natural media emulators. The power inherent in its rich feature set more than makes up for the steep learning curve. With its support for Photoshop files, tablet friendly tools and powerful color capabilities you really can't go wrong. I enjoyed using Painter IX and have no qualms about recommending this great artistic tool. Go buy, upgrade, play, draw and paint to your heart's content.
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