Painter 7

Painter has been around for many years, and it remains in a class of its own for natural-media – pastels, airbrushes, inks and watercolours – graphics tools. Progams such as Adobe Photoshop are great for fixing photographs and creating original art, but if you want to paint on a Mac, Painter is the only choice. The first time I looked at Painter, I stupidly installed it on my LC 475. Predictably, it was like painting with glue – the speed requirements of Painter far outstripped the LC’s capabilities. So almost ten years later, I have Painter 7 installed on a 500MHz Power Mac G4 running Mac OS X. The first thing I tried was slow. As the cursor swept across the screen, the paint lagged behind – chasing the cursor around the screen, but not catching it until it stopped. Although my heart sank, it turns out it‘s only the case with some of the newer, more heavy-duty paint effects. The older, simpler effects – such as airbrush and regular paint brushes – are as nimble as you like, but the new water colour features do stretch the capabilities of the processor. Water rate
Despite this, the watercolour feature is one of the most interesting additions to the application. The old watercolour feature was good, but now you can adjust every aspect of the brush – from the rate of evaporation, to wind direction. The results are impressive – as accurate a depiction as you could hope to see. The only drawback is the delay between making the brush stroke and seeing the results. This is particularly difficult for making quick strokes – as in a pale colour wash for a sky, for example. Other aspects of the watercolour settings include wetness and dry rate, allowing the artist to blend colours while still wet, or wait for them to dry. In a similar vein, there is a new liquid-ink media tool. This lets you use ink with variable viscosity and surface tension, which will actually congeal and bind with other colour inks. As a Carbon application, it runs well in OS X – but it’s also compatible with OSs back to 8.6. Sliders are widely used, both to view and preview images. The slider will, for example, do a continuous zoom in single percentage increments – which allows you to zoom in on exactly the part of the image you want to work with. In the save options, the JPEG and GIF encoding can be viewed in real time. This means that you can move the slider to adjust the amount of compression, while watching the image to see how the compression affects its quality. Painter’s text capabilities have also been improved, and now combine the Text Tool and the Dynamic Text plug-in from previous versions into one simple and powerful tool. All the controls are now in a single drop-down palette. Perspective, as we were all taught in art class, can be drawn using a vanishing point to give the impression of distance thought the miracle of depth perception and faking of juxtaposition. Or something like that. Anyway, Painter now lets you overlay perspective grids so you can paint railway lines and straight streets easily and without fear of confusion.

OUR VERDICT

If you already use Painter, version 7 is a must-have – if only for its OS X compatibility. It has some cool new features, but the watercolour functions are still slow. Even entry-level iMacs have full video-editing power, so why does pretending that some pixels are watercolour paint require so much processing power? You really need a graphics tablet to get the best out of Painter, as it makes use of the pressure-sensitive tablets like no other application. Sadly, Wacom, the maker of the most common tablets, hasn’t released Mac OS X drivers yet.

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