Painter 2015: Faster, more stable, incredible new brush tools

At a Glance
  • Corel Painter 2015

    Macworld Rating

    Improved stability, blow-your-mind brushes, and better brush-tracking mark latest release of Corel's venerable graphics app.

It’d be easy to begin by rhetorically asking how “the world’s most authentic digital art studio” (as Corel has described Painter) could get any better. But that wouldn’t be an honest question. If you’ve ever used Painter, which is geared toward traditional artists, illustrators, photo artists, and educators, you know exactly how it could be improved. For all of Painter’s artistic prowess, it has needed to be far more stable and far faster—especially on a Mac, which has been stuck in 32-bit land for too long.

Happily, that’s all changed in Painter 2015: The new, 64-bit native version is noticeably faster and, at least in my testing, crash-free (knock on wood). Combine that with a new set of physics-based brushes that produce realistic fur, fire, fabric, water, and smoke, an improved brush-tracking utility, a new control for producing realistic randomness in brushstrokes, new workspaces, and a slew of new media (papers, patterns, textures, and so on), this update is huge.

64-bit…finally!

For years Painter has been plagued by instability and, at least on a Mac, a sluggishness due to 32-bit code that made using it a mixture of frustration and joy. Painter 2015 is 64-bit native and does a better job of prioritizing and directing your Mac’s processing power, which equates to a more stable and speedier experience (even when doing mundane stuff like opening files, showing/hiding layers, zooming, and so on). The vast majority of brushes even behave as if you were using them in realtime, though I did experience a slight lag time when using Particle Brushes (described next) while concurrently watching an instructional YouTube video.

Particle Brushes

The jaw-dropping feature in Painter 2015 is the new Particle Brushes, which you can use to create shockingly realistic fire, fur, hair, smoke, fabric, water, and so on. They work according to the laws of physics and, when you paint with them, a bubbling array of speckled particles emanates from the brush tip. These particles produce random and chaotic patterns, lines, and colors as you move or hold your stylus in place (a stylus is the pen used with digital drawing tablets, like those from wacom.com).

painter 1

Using the new Particle Spring Fireball brush, you can quickly create realistic fire. (The particles look like tiny gray dots).

Particle Brushes come in three categories: Gravity, Spring, and Flow. Each one creates a different style of particles. Those in the Flow category create color bursts that look like the Northern Lights, realistic sparkle effects, water, as well as hair and fur (a galactic time-saver for artists).

The Gravity category, on the other hand, produces sweeping paths that shrink and grow with the movement of your stylus, depending on the speed and spin rate of your brushstroke (a huge boon for fantasy artists). The Spring category includes brushes whose particles bend and distort, in an almost Slinky-style fashion, which is just the ticket for creating flames and smoke in far less time that you ever could in Adobe Photoshop.

painter 2

The smoke, the furry tail, and the sparks: Special-effects opportunities abound with Painter 2015’s Particle Brushes.

While these groundbreaking brushes are influenced by the movement of your stylus, they’re infinitely customizable. Using the Expression menu located in a special palette for each of the three categories, you can tie aspects of that brush’s behavior to pen velocity, direction, pressure, wheel, tilt, bearing, rotation, and more. All Particle Brushes are attracted to flow maps, a grayscale representation of surface texture.

By customizing the flow map, you can control exactly how (and where) the brushes do their special thing. You can even generate your own flow map from a photo, and the Particle Brush you’re using will be attracted to the photo’s dark areas, which is especially helpful in adding realistic hair and fur to your subject. This trick, when used with the Particle Flow Organic Texture brush, can produce a unique painting from a photo, too.

Better brush tracking and more

Teaching Painter about the strength and pressure level of the digital brushstrokes you make with your stylus (or, heaven forbid, your mouse) is crucial. Happily, the Brush Tracking utility got was upgraded in Painter 2015 and now visualizes your calibrating brushstroke as a power curve that you can fine-tune.

Handy sliders let you control the point in your brushstroke where you achieve maximum pressure, how fast the pressure increases, as well as the point in your brushstroke where you achieve maximum speed, and the rate of acceleration. You can also save your brush-tracking settings as a preset, which is handy for setting up different sensitivity settings for different brushes (say, hard media versus oil paint).

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The improved Brush-Tracking utility lets you customize your digital brushstrokes using sliders and save them as presets.

Like most creative software, Painter is riddled with palettes though this version includes several built-in workspaces that arrange palettes for the task at hand (this is especially useful for newbies). The new Quick Switch feature lets you swap between the two workspaces you use the most, and while it doesn’t have a keyboard shortcut from the factory, you can assign one using Painter’s Customize Keys preferences.

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By choosing Window > Arrange Palettes > Photo Art, you get all the palettes you need to create a painting from a photo.

Also new in Painter 2015 is Universal Jitter Smoothing, which generates more realistic yet random brushstrokes produced by jitter, and a real-time effect preview that’s handy for seeing texture on the canvas while you’re painting. Other improvements include perspective guides, a Simple brush category (includes a 2B Pencil, Design Marker, Digital Airbrush, Eraser, Just Add Water, and Scratchboard Tool), plus tons of new content including papers, patterns, gradients, nozzles, flow maps, and more. Painter 2015 also sports temporal (onscreen) brush controls and a color wheel, an improved brush stroke preview, a simplified toolbox, command bar, masking tools, and more.

The bottom line

As a technical writer and author who’s deep into digital imaging, I’ve witnessed some incredible technology over the years. To date, nothing feels as ground-breaking and artistically freeing as Painter 2015’s Particle Brushes. With enough skill you could create similar effects in Adobe Photoshop, though they’d take far longer and they’d never look as good. For the artist, creative professional, or photographer who wants to take their imagery to the next (surreal) level, it’s finally time to pry open a can of Painter 2015 (even if it doesn’t actually arrive in a metal can anymore).

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Improved stability, blow-your-mind brushes, and better brush-tracking mark latest release of Corel's venerable graphics app.

    Pros

    • 64-bit native
    • Particle Brushes produce realistic textures
    • Improved brush-tracking utility
    • Handy preset workspaces
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