Right Hemisphere Deep Paint 2

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A novel way to add depth and an artistic edge to your images, especially for Photoshop users.

Right Hemisphere, the company behind Deep Paint, has built up a strong reputation in the world of 3D design. What makes the company stand out is its emphasis on bitmap-based creativity and the quality of its end results. With Deep Paint 2, Right Hemisphere makes this creativity available to all users even traditional 2D designers.

Not that you are aware of the program's power when it first loads. What you are faced with is a very clean interface with a worryingly simple toolbar running down the left and a tabbed control panel down the right. With the main brush-based Freehand tool selected, this gives you access to a list of variants, which by default is simply a range of differently-sized smooth brushes. For a moment there's a fear that you might be dealing with a Windows Paintbrush clone.

Don't be deceived though; Deep Paint packs a considerable punch. What makes the program unique, and gives it its name, is the ability to paint with depth as well as colour. This is possible because, alongside the usual RGB colour information, each pixel also stores depth and shininess information. You control this extra information easily and interactively with the Bump and Shininess swatches underneath the colour swatches. By adding depth to your strokes, you can quickly create realistic impasto effects where the thick paint that you apply seems to be raised above the canvas surface. Using the Control panel's Lighting tab or the interactive Light tool, you can then explore how the raised surface looks under different lighting conditions.

Painting with depth help images to stand out.

Working in this "2.5D mode" can certainly give your work a lift - quite literally - but to really make the most of its potential you need brushes that are more advanced than the smooth defaults. In fact this isn't a problem. Deep Paint offers dozens of different brush variants ranging from crayons and pastels to oils and acrylics and arranged into eight broad categories - Dry, Wet and so on - available from a dropdrown at the top of the panel. If you double-click on the brush name you can see that the precise behaviour of each brush is determined by a combination of its overall brush type - Simple, Airbrush, Artistic - and paint type - Oil, Chalk and Charcoal, Pen and Pencil and so on.

You can start taking advantage of the main presets straight away, but if you want to customize a brush you need to turn to the control panel's Brush and Paint Settings tab. This is also where you begin to appreciate the power that Deep Paint provides as each brush type provides its own expandable list of controllable properties. With the Oil brush, for example, you control how it smudges, mixes and interacts with the existing paint, while with the chalk you control the brush profile, level of luminance variation and exactly how the paint interacts with the ridges and valleys of the paper grain.

Crucially, the combination of parameters really does produce brushes that successfully reproduce their natural media counterparts. This is especially true if you use a digitizing tablet and in particular the Wacom Intuos series where tilt, direction and speed can effect strokes as well as pressure. And if you use the Intuos airbrush you can even interactively control height and ink-flow to mimic the real experience. Overall Corel Painter still maintains its edge for the sheer range and depth of its media and control, but Deep Paint comes a creditable second and offers a simpler and more accessible approach.

Deep Paint's artistic approach is most evident when cloning.

Deep Paint provides two brush libraries that are especially important. The first of these is the range of Texture brushes. As their name suggests, Texture brushes are used for laying down existing bitmaps as paint. Bitmaps can be laid down as tileable textures or as discrete dabs which enables the brushes to be used as image hoses. Disappointingly only one image can be loaded at a time, but you can set its hue, size, rotation and so on to vary randomly or based on pressure, angle and so on. You can also load a separate bump map so that you can create layered effects.

Even more creative effects are possible thanks to Deep Paint's Cloning brushes and dedicated Stamp tool. The major difference here is that the colour information laid down is picked up from an existing source. This is useful for retouching but comes into its own with Deep Paint's artistic brushes. Even better, Deep Paint provides a dedicated Clone mode via a tab above the image window. This pulls together the main cloning controls letting you mix outline and background opacity, add colour variability to your strokes, change between brushes and so on. If you want to turn an existing photograph into a charcoal sketch or realistic oil-painting complete with rich, thick paint this is the way to do it.

Deep Paint's artistic brushes are its main strength and selling point, but it also offers other welcome features such as support for masks, basic vector shape handling, third-party filters and, most important of all, Photoshop-style layers. Even so it has the odd idiosyncratic failing, such as the lack of support for LZW-compressed TIFFs, and it simply can't compete with longstanding photo-editors for all-round functionality as a standalone application.

This is less of a problem than it might be however, as Right Hemisphere has come up with an ingenious solution. A plug-in for Photohsop lets you send the current layer to Deep Paint for working on and then retrieve it when its finished (the depth and shininess information is permanently burnt into the RGB colour information). This makes particular sense as Deep Paint's strengths - its 2.5D mode, realistic natural media brushes, texture painting, image hoses and dedicated cloning - are all areas of functionality which Photoshop either lacks or where it is weak.

As a standalone program for artists Corel Painter still leads the pack, but Deep Paint is a worthy alternative - and an excellent way to give your Photoshop work real creative depth.

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

July 2003

requirements Pentium II, 128Mb of RAM, 25Mb of hard disk space, Windows 98, ME, NT 4, 2000 and XP, 800x600 display, CD-ROM

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