Corel Painter IX

Corel Painter IX

basketscreen.jpgDoodlers and dabblers need not apply

Month Reviewed: February 2005
Verdict: 8
URL: www.corel.com

Opening Painter IX is like walking into the best-stocked artist’s studio you’ve ever seen. Whether that makes you feel like a kid in a candy store or a bull in a china shop depends a lot on how much artistic ability—and patience—you bring to the program.

This isn’t a drawing app for dashing off a holiday card. This is serious, capable art-creation software, as powerful and complex as Photoshop in its own way. It’s also so difficult to master, it carries the potential for frustration and disappointment.

To start with, you can choose from among 30 surfaces to work on, ranging from French watercolor paper to worn pavement—and if that’s not enough, you can make your own. You have nearly as many brushes to work with, from charcoal to chalk, each with a couple dozen variations—and if that’s not enough, you can make your own. You can pick colors on a color wheel or from predefined sets—and (all together now) if that’s not enough, you can make your own with the innovative Color Mixer, which lets you smear different paints together on a virtual palette until you get something you like.

The result is a program that lets digital artists create pretty much anything traditional artists can create. Every ink, crayon, or chalk brush you might choose can behave with real-world accuracy. For example, if you paint with watercolors on a highly textured canvas, the surface grain will remain visible. Use a goopy oil paint on that same canvas, and the grain will be obscured. Even better, Painter lets you defy real-world media constraints. For example, you couldn’t combine oil paints on gessoed canvas with colored pencils on heavy paper in the same piece (absent some collage work, anyway). In Painter, you can.

Learning how to make the program do what you want is the challenge. Not that Corel hasn’t tried to help: The package comes with a booklet featuring tutorials by well-known digital artists; a 417-page PDF User’s Guide; access to online tutorials; and a Help file. But while these materials can all tell you what everything is, they can’t really tell you what they do. The combinations of brushes and surfaces are practically limitless, so there’s no way to adequately explain them all. Sticking to combinations that have real-world analogs—like watercolor paint on watercolor paper—will flatten the learning curve. Otherwise, be prepared to experiment, and experiment, and experiment. Also be prepared for palette- and menu-option overload, because there’s no way a program this powerful can get away with a simple, intuitive interface.

One approach that makes experimentation easy and fun is the Clone capability. It’s similar to Photoshop’s Clone Stamp tool, in that it copies from a source into a target image. The twist in Painter, however, is that cloning can also apply tool settings to the target as you go. For example, you can paint a copy of a photograph into a new document with pastels or markers—it’s like applying Photoshop’s Artistic filters, but with a lot more options and control.

Corel says Painter IX is dramatically faster than previous version. We weren’t able to do a head-to-head comparison, but we can say that on the Dell Inspiron XPS we used for testing the software, there was almost no lag or jerkiness in using any of the brushes. Other new features include the aforementioned Color Mixer palette, and watercolors that now stay wet from one painting session to the next.
If you’re an artist or artistic wannabe, there’s no other software that does what Painter does. Do yourself a favor, though, and get a drawing tablet to go with it. Trying to paint with a mouse adds a degree of difficulty that no one need suffer. (Corel offers some Painter-Wacom tablet bundles, some of which come at a reduced price.) --Jake Widman

+ Pablo Picasso: More painting tools than you’ll know what to do with.

- Thomas Kinkade: More painting tools than you’ll know what to do with. Interface defies elegance and simplicity.

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