Corel has announced Painter 8, the newest version of its digital sketching and painting tool.

The company describes Painter 8 as: "The ultimate digital sketching and painting application." The product is widely used by digital artists, and offers a variety of digital and natural media-like drawing and painting tools. Version 8 is more compatible with Photoshop than before and offers a "streamlined" user interface, offering easier access to tools and settings, Corel says.

The product mimics the output and experience of traditional drawing and painting tools, such as watercolours, inks, oil paints, coloured pencils, felt pens, chalks, pastels and other media. The new version was developed with help from developer John Derry, one of the original creators of the product.

One primary new feature is Painter 8's Brush Creator, which lets users design custom brushes in a "visual, interactive" environment. Brush Creator also offers a new Randomize feature, which randomly modifies the characteristics of an existing brush. A new Transposer feature lets users combine the characteristics of two brushes together, and the Stroke Designer feature lets designers fine-tune brush behaviour through a selection of advanced controls. A new Brush Stroke preview feature lets users check the changes they make to brushes before applying them. Painter 8 also offers a new Mixer palette, which imitates the behaviour of paint on an artist's palette in order to create custom colours for projects.

Painter 8 also introduces a new Sketch Effect. This converts photos into simple pencil drawings, offering control over paper grain, pencil line heaviness and detail. Another new feature, Digital Watercolor, is a simplified, transparent watercolour medium that is ideal for hand painting line drawings, touching up images and creating simple colour washes.

The revised product ships with 100 royalty free images from Brand X pictures, and supports Kodak's Digital Science colour management system. It also offers 400 new brushes in over 30 mediums, including acrylics, airbrushes, calligraphy pens, gouache, oils, palette knives, sponges and tinting.

A number of in-use enhancements have been introduced, including a new Tracker palette that tracks recently-used brushes; and an improved Info palette that offers easy access to such image information as cursor position, colour info and other details. Other features include the capacity to create and store masks to modify, separate and preserve specific areas of an image.

File compatibility has been improved; Painter 8 will open and save Photoshop files, including layer sets, layer masks and channels. The application is also compatible with Adobe Illustrator. It offers an Acquire from Adobe Illustrator command that converts Illustrator images into Corel Painter 8 vector shapes.

The product requires Mac OS X 10.2 or later, or Mac OS 9.2.2, a G3 processor, 128MB RAM (minimum), CD-ROM drive, and a 1,024-x-768 resolution display. It costs £259 (ex. VAT), upgrades cost £149 (ex. VAT).