Painter 7.0

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Pros

  • Unique painting tool
  • simulates traditional media (such as oil paints and watercolors)
  • spectacular special effects
  • imports and exports native Photoshop files
  • CMYK colour values improve printed output.

Cons

  • Hogs system resources
  • makes it difficult and complicated to create custom tools.

Painter occupies a unique niche in the graphic arts community. Its toolset, which includes oil brushes, watercolours, chalks and mosaics, is designed to generate tactile, realistic images far beyond those of conventional image-editing programs. Painter 7.0, the first major release since Corel acquired the software, should more than reassure Painter's core user base and should woo new users, too. Thanks to a reworking of several basic technologies, Painter 7.0 delivers even more realistic simulations of natural art media than its predecessor. It's a must-have purchase for any professional illustrator who wants to create a painterly effect in the digital realm.

Painter 7.0 revamps and dramatically improves a favourite old tool: watercolour technology. Instead of simulating watercolour effects exclusively through brush characteristics, Painter 7.0 introduces a wet media layer that more faithfully simulates the physics of pigment suspended in water. Now, rather than painting with watercolour brushes on the canvas layer, you can create a multilayer composition in order to overlay wet and dry media types. In addition, the wet layer boasts attributes such as Wetness, Pickup, and Dry Rate that allow you to control how your brushstrokes diffuse into the medium, interact with each other, and react to the paper grain. The attention to detail is truly astounding. For example, the Wind option lets you control the direction of the drip edge. Gorgeous.

As with previous versions of Painter, version 7.0 hogs system resources, especially if you use complex brushes. The new watercolour technology is no exception. We ran out of memory testing an extremely large brush size on a 400MHz PC equipped with 128MB of RAM. In addition, the watercolour effects come with a learning curve: long-time users will have to alter their painting technique -- as well as their custom brushes -- in order to get used to the more sophisticated controls that replace older brush attributes. For example, the versatile Wet Fringe brush attribute, which was extremely popular in previous versions of the program, simply does not exist in Painter 7.0.

This version introduces another new technology, Liquid Ink, which, like the watercolour functions, relies on a special media layer to mimic the viscosity of ink. You control various attributes, such as tack and ink buildup, to simulate the look of traditional pen and ink drawings, enamelled pigments, and even resist-dyed batiks.

Behind the scenes, you'll find several subtle but crucial technology enhancements that ultimately deliver a more realistic art experience. For example, images have a more textural appearance because all of Painter's tools are now much more sensitive to paper grain. You can actually pick up directional variations in paper grain when working with dry media, such as chalk or pencil. And if you use the new dab types (referred to as Rendered or Computed dabs), your brushstrokes will be smoother and less prone to break down into individual dots -- no matter how quickly you paint.

Painter 7.0 also delivers some long overdue tools and functions. For example, continuous variable magnification replaces the old fixed-increment zoom, so you can more smoothly and accurately enlarge an image. And Painter now lets you preview compressed GIF and JPEG files prior to exporting images for the Web. This is a real convenience, one that saves you the hassle of creating a compressed file and opening the resulting file to see if the quality has degraded. However, Painter's Web export preview isn't meant to compete with true Web graphics programs, such as Adobe's ImageReady or Macromedia's Fireworks. For example, the preview dialogue doesn't report on resulting file sizes, nor does the program supply Web-safe or Web-snap colour palettes.

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We love the improved PSD export filter, which preserves layers and transparency when you move images between Photoshop and Painter. In our tests, the filter worked well but with some glitches. When we exported watercolour images that contained wet layers, for example, the filter produced artefacts along the edges of anti-aliased brushstrokes as well as inexplicably large Photoshop files.

In addition, you can (finally) export Painter's native RGB color space to the CMYK values typically employed in print production. This results in much more accurate colour reproduction for any print medium, such as for magazines and brochures.

Painter 7.0 brings some interface improvements that seem small but that actually lead to big productivity boosts. For example, the program employs a new one-point perspective grid that makes it easier to create coherent spatial relationships. For instance, you can use the perspective grid to correctly size and distort buildings that recede toward the horizon line. And users can now easily share custom tools; you store each brush variant you create as a separate XML file. We particularly like Painter's revamped text functions. Version 7.0 combines the shape-based Text tool and Dynamic Text plug-in, which means you can now edit text directly in the document window and find all text formatting options on a single convenient palette.

This program has always offered spectacular special effects filters, and version 7.0 tacks on two new useful surface control filters. The Distress filter lets you generate a black-and-white copy of an image while using the current paper grain or pattern as a screen. Depending on the paper grain or pattern you use, the effects range from a hatched line drawing to a Lichtenstein-style half-tone image. And the Serigraphy filter lets you selectively reduce colours to produce flat, posterized shapes that recall traditional silk-screen techniques. As a bonus, Painter 7.0 ships with three KPT filters that generate natural patterns (such as spider webs or flames), produce reflective or refracting surfaces, and clean up mask areas.

Painter 7.0 is the first product from a new division of Corel called Procreate, which includes Painter, KPT, and KnockOut--all designed to complement or expand Adobe Photoshop. The Procreate brand focuses on the specialized needs of professional, Mac-based illustrators. Indeed, Painter 7.0 for the Mac is a fully Carbonized OS X application, and it sports the Aqua interface.

For a number of reasons, including its $499 price tag, Painter is not suitable for casual users. The free-form tools, like their analogue counterparts, call for genuine artistic skill and aesthetic sensibilities. But for those professional illustrators who want a handcrafted look for their computer art, nothing beats Painter.

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