What Adobe Photoshop is to image editing, Corel Painter is to digital painting. Sure, you can paint with Photoshop’s brushes, but Painter lets you paint with other tools and even use virtual papers that mimic their real-world counterparts. The latest release continues the tremendous interface improvements that began with version 8 (; August 2003) and adds some cool new painting tools. Unfortunately, Corel has set the upgrade price fairly high, so upgrading may not be a slam-dunk decision.
Interface Version IX
Painter IX’s interface is mostly unchanged from that of version 8. The interface’s main hurdle has always been the organization of its huge assortment of brushes and tools. While version 8 did a lot to streamline brush selection, Painter IX provides the best solution yet. Where previous releases spread brush parameters among several palettes and toolbars, the new Brush Control palette provides a single repository for every brush parameter. After the Brush Control palette, the biggest interface improvement is the new keyboard-shortcut feature, which allows you to completely customize Painter’s keyboard controls—a needed addition that lets you select tools much faster.
Version IX includes lots of other interface tweaks. The Tracker palette, which stores a copy of every custom brush you’ve made, now works even after you’ve saved and reopened a document. Though the Tracker palette is handy, Painter would be better served by a more robust undo feature, perhaps something like Photoshop’s History palette.
The experienced Painter user is likely to notice version IX’s improved performance. Brushes now easily keep up with your mouse, and paint flows without skipping.
While version 8 saw a complete rewrite of Painter’s underlying brush engine, version IX gives special treatment to Painter’s oil-brush tools. The new Artists’ Oils brush behaves much more like a real oil brush than tools in previous versions. It holds a finite amount of digital paint, so your stroke lightens and thins as you brush, giving you more control over the mixing of tints and hues on the canvas.
For further oil-paint realism, a new oil Color Set includes digital counterparts to real-world oil colors. And Painter’s Mixer palette has been updated to work with the new oil tools, so you can smear and mix oil paints just as you would on a real palette.
My favorite new painting feature is the Snap-to-Path facility. Painter has had good vector tools for a long time, and the new Snap-to-Path option lets you force a brushstroke to follow any predefined vector path. This is a great idea that makes it easy to create precision strokes.
Other improvements include watercolors that stay wet from session to session, rather than drying when you close a document, and a new Quick Clone feature that renders clones of photos much faster than previous versions did. Despite its new features, we were disappointed that Painter still lacks support for 16-bit color. This isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but it needs to happen someday.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
There’s a lot to like in Painter IX. Corel is doing an excellent job with the program’s interface, and the new features are well conceived and well executed. The $229 upgrade price is steep, but if you live or die by the digital brush, the upgrade is worth the money.Find That Brush: Painter IX’s new Brush Control palette (on the right-hand side of the screen) consolidates every brush parameter into a single repository.