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Corel Painter X

by Jenni Boles

I was very excited when asked to review Corel Painter X. I was already a regular user of Photoshop for photo manipulation, and occasionally used some of the artistic features to convert my photos to watercolour or sketch. I figured that Painter would provide even greater options. I was not disappointed. Painter simulates actual watercolour and oil paints, ink, pencil, charcoal and pastel in an electronic form. I found it quite fun to watch the watercolour actually blend and then soak into the "paper". Although I have played around with the basic components of the program, I know that I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of what Painter can do.

The following review is based on a combination of personal observations as I worked with Painter, following examples provided by "Corel Painter Official Magazine," and descriptions of features from Corel itself. Since I am a new user of this software, I also relied on other reviews for comparisons of Painter X with its previous versions. I chose topics in which a wide variety of reviewers seemed strongly unanimous in their opinions.

First of all, Painter should be used with a graphics pad and pen. A mouse doesn't really give you much control as you paint. Bruce Dorn, a seasoned digital painter, very aptly described the use of a mouse as "painting with a potato". Sadly, I am currently in the spud category.

The major attributes of Painter are RealBristle and the Mixer palette. RealBristle simulates the various bristles used in different brushes. You can select the overall shape of the brush tip, bristle length, rigidity, and fanning. These bristles are apparently quite superior to what was offered in previous versions of Painter. The brushes combined with the palette's ability to mix colours make Painter a very cool experience. By dipping your brush into 'pots' and dabbing colour onto the palette, you can then mix exactly the hue you want. And once the colour is just right, you can use as much of it as you like - the palette will never run dry. Loading multiple colours onto a brush and applying to the "canvas" with very smooth results further blurs the line between traditional and digital painting (no pun intended).You could spend hours, days, and even years experimenting with the various effects achieved with the brushes and palette.

Two other options new to Painter X are the Layout Grid and the Divine Proportion Grid. The Layout Grid divides the canvas into nine equal areas (like a tic-tac-toe square) that comply with the common Rule of Thirds for image composition. Line up your subject, or subjects, on one or more of the four spots where the vertical and horizontal lines cross. This should improve the aesthetics of your image. The Divine Proportion (also known as the Golden Ratio) has also been recognized for centuries as inherently pleasing to the eye and was recently made more popular when spotlighted in "The Da Vinci Code". The Divine Proportion tool overlays a pattern of lines and curves on your canvas to help you arrange your composition according to this theory.

The function that I tend to use most as a complete novice of digital art is Auto-Painting. I find this most similar to Photoshop. Auto-Painting allows you to automatically apply a hand-painted look to digital photos using Smart Stroke. Painter is certainly far more advanced than Photoshop in that you have the ability to adjust the settings to apply brush strokes with varying widths, lengths, and pressures as it follows the forms of the original photo. However, rather than applying the strokes in a completely random way with haphazard results, Painter uses edge detection to place the strokes intelligently to the contours and discrete areas in your photo.

In addition to its artistic components, Painter X has a good range of photo-editing tools and filters and can be used for retouching photos. Colour palettes can also be extracted directly from a photo. Painter's format is conventional, with a menu across the top, toolbox down the left-hand side and palettes down the right.

To sum up, this latest version of Painter apparently exceeds its predecessors with its bristles, ability to mix paints, and new proportion grids. Although it is reportedly faster than past editions, one downside of Painter X is that it will lag if you are using higher resolution images. You may need to keep your canvas resolution and brush sizes low in order to avoid major lagtime. Despite this, I certainly recommend Painter X, whether you're painting from scratch or starting with a photo. It is suitable (and fun!) for both amateurs and professionals.


Example 1 shows a progression from photo, to Auto-Paint (using a sketchbook color scheme and Smart Blur), to the manual use of a blender brush to create a more impressionistic look.

Example 2 shows just a few of the numerous effects tools available in Painter X. Note that multiple colors can be applied in a single stroke by using the Mixer with an oil brush or pen.

Bottom Line:

Painter X
Corel Corporation
$379 ($199 for an upgrade, or $119 for the educational edition

Originally published: February, 2008

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