Released just a few weeks ago, Corel Painter 11 is the latest version of Corel's unique 'digital art studio' software.
It provides an extensive collection of brushes for painters, many of which simulate real artistic media (pens, chalk, crayons, oils, watercolors) and mix them in ways that would be impossible on physical supports. For example, Painter allows you to apply a dry chalk to a watercolor.
Painter also offers tools and filters to allow photographers to give a painterly look to a picture without painting everything from scratch. Since I never used this aspect of Painter before, I cannot compare them with previous versions. This review will be focused on the more 'traditional' painting aspect of Painter instead.
Painter 11 provides improvements in three categories: brushes, user interface and compatibility.
Painter continues its tradition of providing convincing simulation of real artistic media by introducing Hard (or dry) media variants. These new brushes are sensitive to the tilt of your stylus and allow changes to the shape and orientation of the brush depending on how you hold the stylus.
One of the best ways to try it out is to use the new 'Real soft chalk'. If you hold your stylus vertically, this brush appears small. As you hold the stylus more and more horizontally, the brush size increases to simulate using the side of a chalk instead of its end.
Here are a few examples from some of 30 new dry media brushes.
In order: Real Hard chalk - Real soft chalk
Real flat (real bristle brush) - Real soft colored pencil
Real hard conte - Real soft conte
I thought an actual painting would illustrate better Painter 11 improvements in action. Here is an example of sketch using soft chalk. Color can be smudged with light touches and size increases with tilt. Using dry media brushes allows for quick shading of a wide range of areas without changing anything on your brush.
Rendering markers are another example of improvements in the brush department. These brushes simulate transparent markers used to quickly color concept sketches in architectural or automotive applications for example. Painter 11 offers a collection of 10 markers. These markers create a convincing buildup of color as the strokes overlap, but they are very sensitive to the saturation of colors, so use very light colors with this brush.
You can also use them with a 'white' color is for a wet, transparency buildup effect.
In this example, I used rendering markers to get a quick idea of shading and color blocking.
The final improvement to Painter brushes is the addition of velocity controls. Velocity makes the brush size react to the acceleration of the stylus on the tablet. The result is a very nice effect for strands and handwriting.
In this example, I used digital water color to improve the mood of the scene and I added a jellyfish in her hand using a large, variable width pen with velocity control. This gave the strokes the organic look I was after. (Note: jellyfish appear on the cover art of Painter 11… it just seemed appropriate).
If you are looking to expand your toolset with realistic artistic brushes, this new version plainly justifies an upgrade.
User Interface improvements
Unlike previous versions, Painter 11 does not introduce radical changes in its user interface. Instead, this version provides improvements to the interface as introduced in Painter 8 and developed since.
In answer to user feedback, Corel redesigned the color palette adding sliders to better control colors and enabled finer tuning with keyboard arrows. The color palette is now resizable (remember to undock it first) but its frame is still visible, which reduces the usefulness of a larger color picker.
Similarly, the Color Mixer is now resizable. It adds more color swatches to pick from as it gets bigger and it is now possible to change the background color to get closer to the way colors will look in your particular painting.
The current trend is resizable palettes with no background, to allow the least overlap possible with the rest of the picture. This is a step in the right direction though. And since another Corel product, Sketchpad, features these more modern palettes, one can hope they will eventually make it into Painter.
Outside of these two palettes specific to Painter, the rest of interface improvements allow Corel to catch up with standard features found in most painting applications these days.
The most visible of these interface changes is a new, redesigned Free Transformation menu.
Instead of being hidden under the Effects menu, the new Free Transformation is now quickly accessible under the Edit menu. It provides all the options you would expect from this kind of transformation – stretch, rotate, distort, perspective distort and skew. These options are available from the toolbar and require clicking on the ‘commit’ button, also on the toolbar.
As with user interface improvements, Painter 11 continues the trend of increased compatibility with other software, Photoshop in particular.
In particular, Color management profiles have been updated, with simplified menus, more complete options and improved compatibility of colors between applications (Painter 11 supports color profiles recognized by Photoshop).
You will also find a useful Color Proofing mode, which simulates what your image will look like in print as you paint. You can easily create preset profiles (useful if you switch between publishing environments) and Painter will alert you with optional warnings if you import projects or images without an embedded color profile.
Notably missing is the interface from Painter X which showed, graphically, which profiles you had assigned to various devices, such as scanners or printers.
Also new for this version is the support for the PNG format which should facilitate the creation of images with transparent backgrounds among other things.
Corel announced improvements with Vista/MacOS integration, compatibility with PSD format and support of all Wacom tablets. Obviously, I could not test those claims as I only have one Wacom Intuos 3 tablet on one Mac Pro computer, and I rarely use Photoshop in conjunction with Painter. Corel also announced multicore support and performance improvements, but I could only observe that for transformations (large transformations are handled beautifully). Some effects on large brushes are still as slow as they used to be in Painter X.
Overall, Painter 11 gave me a feeling of improved stability. After using it almost daily for the past few weeks, I experienced no crash in the middle of my workflow (which seemed to happen regularly with Painter X when I used to rotate the canvas notably). I also observed the disappearance of annoying ghost lines or shapes of the cursor which used to accumulate in the middle of my screen after a while.
Unfortunately, the enthusiasm around the announcement of a new version of Painter was tainted by the realization that several old issues are still there.
To name a few:
Brush management is still the same as in previous version. Painter requires to manage brushes by copying files to a folder. If you consider this too much of a hassle, I recently came across a nice little application to help manage the installation of brush collections for Painter (Painter Brush Manager).
Fortunately, many of these issues are more 'annoyances' than deal breakers, and many have simple workarounds, but it is disappointing to see some of these issues are still there, sometimes after many years. Corel representatives stated clearly that they are aware of these issues and are working on them, and they showed that they are listening to input from their user base.
On one hand, Painter users form a diverse community, from professional painters and photographers to amateur artists, and on the other, Corel has to select which features or fixes to work on in priority. It is difficult to satisfy everybody, but with repeated reminders that these exist get in the way of fully enjoying Painter, maybe we will see at least some of them resolved before the next version is released.
As a conclusion, here is an advanced version to the portrait, after about three hours of refinements. Among other things, it features Painter's famous glow effect. I have to say I enjoyed the new transformation tool several times to resize parts of the portrait to the right dimensions.
Overall, I believe Painter still enjoys the enviable position of providing an unmatched collection of art media presets, superior color blending, unique paper effects and nearly unlimited brush controls. For these reasons, it will remain a digital painting tool of choice for a long time.
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Laurent Alquier (agiel) has been moderator of the Vue Forum at Renderosity from 2004 to 2008. When he is not in the forum or the galleries, he finds himself busy with the balancing act of a day job as a Software Engineer and personal explorations of Information Visualization and Computer Graphics.
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