At a Glance
Corel Painter has been around for a long time. Though it doesn't have the household-name status of Adobe Photoshop, Painter is a must-have package for digital painters, special-effects artists, and multimedia creators who need a wide variety of high-quality digital-painting tools. Painter's strength lies in its natural-media features, which expertly mimic real-world media and tools. These tools don't just lay down colored pixels; they intelligently calculate strokes that look like paint, ink, chalk, pencils, pastels -- any number of different media. With version 8, Corel has revamped Painter's interface once again and added a ton of new tools.
Interface Version 8
Painter's Achilles' heel has always been its interface. In version 6, the interface finally started to make some sense, but it wasn't quite what it could've been. Finding an efficient way to present all of the many tools and variants has been a problem for Painter's developers, but with version 8, they've hit upon the best system yet. If you've found Painter's interface too confusing in the past, you won't now.
The program's new look-and-feel makes Painter deserve another chance.
A number of changes are immediately obvious. The size of the floating tool palettes has shrunk considerably, resulting in a more economical use of screen real estate.
For several versions, Painter's main toolbox resided in a horizontal palette on the right side of the screen, making it fundamentally different from every other painting toolbox, going back to the first version of MacPaint. Corel has finally righted things by moving the toolbox to the customary upper left side and making the palette vertical. And the palette floats, of course, so you can move it back to the right side if you're feeling a little nostalgic.
While most painting and image-editing programs have half a dozen brush tools -- a paintbrush, an airbrush, a pencil, and so on -- Painter has literally hundreds. As in pre-vious versions, these brushes are grouped into 32 types, including oils, pencils, pastels, chalk, and watercolors. Each type then has a huge assortment of variants. For example, you can select from 30 different types of pencils, ranging from a No. 2 pencil to a mechanical pencil. You're also free to modify any of these brushes to create your own.
Gone is the Brush palette with its multiple modes and pop-up menus. In its place are two small, floating toolbars: the Brush Selector provides two simple pop-up menus for selecting your brush type and the variant you want; the Property Bar replaces the Controls palette, sitting just below the menu bar and displaying the most frequently used controls and parameters for each tool. Now you can find the tool you want and modify it with-out interrupting your painting workflow.
Though Painter was the first bitmap graphics program to offer layers, the program's layer and selection features have never been as streamlined as Photoshop's, until now. The new Channels palette finally gives you a familiar, easy way to save and manage selections, while the Layers palette now offers Photoshop-compatible layer masks that let you easily mask part of a layer. Unfortunately, you still can't unlock the bottom layer to make it float, as you can in Photoshop, so if you need to place your image on a transparent background, expect to do some extra masking.
Regardless of these improvements, new users may find version 8's interface overwhelming. Learning to navigate through the 22 available palettes takes time. Fortunately, most of the tools and features you need often are available up front in a few simple palettes.
Painter 8 has more than a new look. It has lots of important new tools, including more than 400 new brush variants spread over the 32 brush categories -- an even wider assortment of the excellent brushes that Painter users have come to expect.
The new Mixer palette, which emulates a real-world painter's palette, seems like such an obvious natural-media tool that we can't believe it's only now showing up in the program. You can use the Brush and Palette Knife tools to smear and blend colors on the Mixer palette to get just the right hue. Color wells at the top of the palette let you store the colors you're using in your document, and you can easily move color sets from the Mixer into other documents.
Macworld's Buying Advice
If you're a current Painter user, we can't recommend this upgrade emphatically enough. Although you'll have to relearn how to do some things, version 8's interface changes are so intuitive and reasonable that you'll be glad you made the switch. Painter won't turn you into a great artist, but if you're used to real-world media and tools, you'll be astonished at how well the program mimics what you already know -- with no muss, fuss, or fumes.