Corel Painter Essentials 3 review

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Its simplified interface, strong focus on converting photos to art and excellent value, make Painter Essentials 3 a very attractive proposition.

painter essentials 3

Corel Painter is the artist’s tool of choice for PC users, but it is relatively expensive and famously difficult to master. That’s where Corel’s new Painter Essentials 3 comes in providing a simpler and cheaper alternative.

The emphasis on ease-of-use is apparent from the moment you load the program with a new Welcome Screen that provides an inspirational Painter image on one side and access to recent documents, templates and a selection of training videos down the other. There’s also ongoing help from a new Quick Guide palette that gives brief introductions to the toolbox and major palettes – though this would be much more useful if it was extended to cover the individual brushes and tools.

However the real secret of Essentials’ ease of use is not what it puts in but what it leaves out out. To begin with, where Painter IX.5 offers nearly 40 categories of natural media brushes, Painter Essentials 3 offers 18 ranging from Acrylic through to Tinting. More significantly, while Painter offers over 800 brush variants, Essentials keeps this down to a much more manageable 76. And where Painter offers comprehensive but intimidating control over every possible brush parameter, Essentials cuts things to the absolute minimum - control over size, opacity and grain.

painter essentials brushes

Painter Essentials 3 offers a wide but manageable range of brushes.

Compared to Painter then the creative power on offer is limited, but there’s still plenty to get to grips with – and, crucially, you can still achieve impressive end results. With the new range of Artist’s Oils, for example, the thick bristly brushes smear on finite amounts of oil paint – as you drag, the paint runs dry revealing more of the underlying paper grain. By comparison, the new Digital Watercolour brushes stay wet even between sessions while the new range of Art Pens let you create fluid calligraphic effects – reacting to every movement of the stylus if you’re using one of the latest range of Wacom Intuos 3 and Art Pen 6 tablets. In fact, even if you’re using an older tablet or Tablet PC, all Essentials’ brushes feel more responsive than in the past with Corel claiming that most now work twice as fast and some ten times faster.

Alongside its new brushes, Painter Essentials 3 adds some useful new tools to its toolbox. The Rotate Page tool lets you temporarily rotate the canvas to make it more natural to draw angled strokes just as you would in real life. The Eraser tool makes it simpler to remove paint and reveal the underlying paper. The Rubber Stamp tool works like its Photoshop namesake to let you pick up paint from one area of the image and apply it elsewhere. And clicking on the new Cloner tool automatically selects the most recently used Cloner brush variant.

This dedicated Cloner tool is the first sign of Painter Essential 3’s major new focus on helping users convert existing photographs into works of art. Although this is the obvious primary use for art software, such cloning has always been unnecessarily complex. Now in Corel Painter Essentials 3 the whole process has been reworked. Very handy here is the new Sketch Effect which helps you pull out the outlines of your photo either to stand on their own as a pencil sketch or to work as the framework for further work.

By far the biggest change is the introduction of three new dedicated Photo Painting palettes. The first of these is the Underpainting palette which lets you set up your original image ready for cloning. Using the dropdowns at the top of the palette you can adjust your photo’s contrast, brightness and saturation, apply a vignette style effect and some blurring. When you’re happy with the effect onscreen click on the Quick Clone command which applies the changes and automatically creates a cloned version of the current file ready for painting.

painter essentials clone

he process of converting photos to artistic impressions has been completely reworked.

In the past it would then be left to the end user to manually apply all cloning brush strokes but now much of this can be handled with the Auto-Painting palette. Here you choose from one of nineteen stroke types, such as Diagonal, Hatch, Splat and Squiggle, and then set five key parameters: Pressure, Length, Rotation and Brush Size and the degree to which each of these is Randomized. Finally you hit the Play button and sit back as Painter Essentials 3 automatically applies the current Cloner brush accordingly (or any other brush with the Clone Colour option set).

The Auto-Painting feature is great for quickly filling the canvas with a broad-brush artistic impression of the original image but it’s rarely the end of the process. More often than not, the best way to bring the artistic version of the photo to life turns out to be partially restoring details from the original photograph. This has always been possible with the Straight Cloner brush variant, but Painter Essentials 3 makes life a lot easier and makes the whole process more integrated with its Restoration palette. Here you can quickly select either a Soft Edge or Hard Edge cloner and begin partially restoring vital details such as eyes and hair.

With Painter Essentials 3, Corel has finally recognized what most users want from their art software – the ability to take digital photos in new creative directions – and has enabled them to produce better results more easily. Factor in the bargain price and the painless upgrade path to Painter, and you can’t ask for more.



Ease Of Use


Value For Money




ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

June 2006

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