With its improved performance, brush handling, filter effects, path snapping and new artistic oils, Corel Painter IX keep its creative crown.
Corel Painter stands out from other bitmap applications because, rather than editing existing photos, its emphasis is on the creation of original works of art. Central to this is Painter’s amazing range of artistic media tools such as its oil brushes and watercolours designed to mimic their realworld counterparts.
However this creativity comes at a price. Each brush is only able to produce such realistic results because it is built on a whole host of interacting parameters which goes some way to explain Painter’s longstanding reputation for bugs and lack of speed. As such the two features Corel has put at the top of its list in this latest release are increased reliability and responsiveness. We’ll have to wait to see how robust the application proves in practice but Corel claims that the speed of Painter’s brushes has been improved by up to 10 times in some cases and by an average of two. That might well be true but you’ll still need a powerful system to do it justice. Alternatively, you can now increase the speed of many brushes with the mysterious new Boost setting in the Brush Control’s General tab which begs two questions: why isn’t it set to maximum by default and what planet is Corel on?
Of course efficiency doesn’t depend exclusively on speed and Corel is also promoting a host of new productivity enhancements such as the ability to create your own customizable keyboard shortcuts and the new Welcome Screen which provides access to recently used files, brush tracking and an improved range of tutorials. Integration with Photoshop has also been improved with support for PSD-based layer sets, layer masks and alpha channels. There are also new commands to rotate images, to automatically save numbered versions of your file and to set up cloning in one step rather than four.
These new features are all welcome but, let’s face it, they are really just minor tweaks – where’s the new core power? Painter’s power largely comes from its brushes and Corel is making much of version IX’s new ability to access all the parameters that define a brush from the numerous Brush Controls palettes (no less than 19 from Size and Spacing through to Colour Expression and Colour Variability!). It’s difficult to get too excited about this however, as this is exactly how Painter used to work before version 8 rationalized the chaos with its excellent modeless Brush Creator dialog. Rather more useful are the changes to the Tracker palette which stores the settings for the last 20 brushes used. Now you can lock brushes to stop them dropping off the Tracker list and settings are stored between sessions. It’s definitely a step forward but it would be much better if all brushes were automatically stored with their images.
Advanced brush handling is central to Painter.
Rather than handling improvements, what Painter’s users are really looking for is new creative power. They get that, to an extent at least, with a revamp of Painter IX’s Digital Watercolour brushes which means that paint now stays wet between sessions and that you can now retrospectively control the fringing effect caused by pigment pooling at the edge of strokes. New creative options are also provided by the bundling of a number of Corel’s KPT filters - Gel, Goo, LensFlare, Lightning, ShapeShifter, Reaction and Pyramid Paint - though it’s only the last two that are clearly artistic in intent.
So far, so-so - Corel Painter IX is seriously in need of a must-have killer feature. It comes in the shape of an entirely new category of brush – Artist’s Oils. To be honest I wasn’t expecting too much from this as Painter has always offered impressive oil brushes that realistically mimic the effect of loading a bristled brush with viscous paint that interacts with the strokes already laid down and which trails off as it runs out of paint so revealing more of any underlying paper grain. What more can the Artists’ Oils offer?
Quite a lot actually. What makes the Artists’ Oils different is the way that they have been designed to interact with the Mixer palette. Here you can mix pigments based on real world oil paints – Prussian Green, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Orange and so on – and then sample the colour ready for painting. Crucially, you can also now sample an area of the Mixer’s paint so loading the brush with various pigments simultaneously. And, with the new Dirty Mode option selected, the brush doesn’t automatically start fresh again for your next stroke so that you regularly need to reload from the Mixer, with any paint remaining on the brush interacting with the new paint that you pick up. It takes a bit of getting used to, but of course this is exactly how traditional artists pick up and lay down oils from their mixing palettes.
New effects and commands give new creative options.
This is what working with Painter is all about – recreating traditional art media as realistically as possible. But of course doing it with all the benefits of working within a computer environment – multiple undo, layer handling, infinite supplies of paint and so on. And Painter IX adds another new benefit that soon proves invaluable. With the new Align to Path option you can force your brush strokes to follow the edges of any underlying shape or path. Effectively you can set up your strokes before you paint them.
Overall this isn’t a breakthrough release like version 8’s major rationalization, but Corel has done just enough to ensure that Painter IX remains the must-have application for those interested in the creative potential of PC-based art.
ratings out of 6
System Requirements : Pentium II 800 MHz, 128/256MB of RAM , 380MB of hard disk space, Windows 2000 or XP, 1024x768 display, CD-ROM
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