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Painter Essentials 4

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Hot on the heels of the new Painter X (   ) release comes a completely redesigned package for painting hobbyists: Painter Essentials 4.

Sure, the folks at Corel could have stripped out some features from Painter X, slapped on an “Essentials” label, and called it a day (and to be honest, in previous versions that’s just what happened). However, with Painter Essentials 4, the company went back to the drawing board and designed a completely new interface—it looks nothing like Painter X, though it packs much of its power.

Geared toward arts and craft enthusiasts, scrapbookers, and digital photography hobbyists, Painter Essentials 4 is a shockingly friendly and affordable home art studio that makes discovering the world of paint and brushes enjoyable.

Brand-new interface

To simplify the interface, Corel researched how customers were using the software. Thus, the new interface sports two workspace buttons: Drawing & Painting and Photo Painting. Depending on which workspace you’re in, a different set of palettes appear specific to those tasks. For example, the Drawing & Painting workspace includes a new Colors palette, full of easy-to-grab swatches, and a new Mixer palette for creating custom colors. Alternatively, the Photo Painting workspace includes Source Image, Auto-Painting, and Restore Detail palettes.

Upon launch, a Welcome screen offers to open a canvas or launch 135 minutes of video training (you can access tutorial images from the File menu and follow along with the printed Guidebook). Tool buttons and sliders are also bigger than in previous versions, making them easier to select with a pen and tablet.

Brush Drawer

A friendly Brush Drawer now graces the toolbox in both workspaces, displaying both the name of each brush and a preview of its stroke. Brushes are categorized by type (thick or thin paint, water, pencils and pens); that’s a nice touch for newcomers to traditional painting. Brushes appear in a History list after use and frequently used brushes can be saved as favorites.

Of the many brushes gracing this version, a number are derived from the RealBristle Painting System introduced in Painter X. Designed to perfectly mimic the behavior of real brushes, their bristles bend and splay when pressed upon the canvas. They can also be loaded with multiple colors by using the Mixer palette.

From photo to painting

The Photo Painting System didn’t just get its own workspace; it got a complete overhaul. By default, brushes in the Photo Painting workspace are cloners, meaning they “paint” a photo onto the canvas in the style of a particular brush. Just open a photo with the Source Image palette, grab a brush, and have at it.

Painter Essentials 4 can also paint the photo for you; just pick a style from the Auto-Painting palette and press the Start button. Many styles make use of the new SmartStroke Technology, wherein brush strokes automatically change size and direction based on the photo. If you’re painting pictures of people, you’ll probably need to use the new Restore Detail palette and enhance faces with the Soft or Hard Edge Cloner brushes.

No matter which route you choose, the source image will be automatically saved with the native Painter Essentials file, enabling you to easily return to a painting project later.

From painting to … bumper sticker?

Integrated online print services are also new in Painter Essentials 4. It takes just a few clicks to create professional note cards, bumper stickers, posters, prints, and more. Choose from a variety of media, customize your art with text, and click the Order button to turn a digital masterpiece into something tangible.

Macworld’s buying advice

If you’re the least bit creative, Painter Essentials 4 could be the most fun you’ve had in front of a computer in years (though you’ll want to spring for a graphics tablet). It’s affordable and the new interface makes it an absolute joy to use.

[ Lesa Snider King, founder of, is a freelance writer, chief evangelist of, and coauthor of the forthcoming Photoshop CS3: The Missing Manual (Pogue Press, O’Reilly, Oct. 2007). ]

New in this version are two workspace tabs, shown at the top right. Using the Photo Painting workspace, I loaded an ordinary shot of the Golden Gate Bridge as my source image and used the Auto-Painting palette to transform it into millions of dots, Seurat style.The Brush Drawer shows both the name of each brush and a preview of its stroke, which is great for beginners. Brushes are organized by category (top) and appear in a history list when used (right).When using the new RealBristle brushes, you can see the bristles splay and bend when pressed upon the canvas (note the dabs at the top). These brushes can be loaded with multiple colors by using the new Mixer palette.Using Corel’s new integrated online print services, you can turn your digital creation into a professional print with just a few clicks.
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