ArtRage 3 Studio Pro review

Ambient Design last updated its ArtRage digital painting software in 2007. Having amassed hordes of followers eager for new features, it has now released ArtRage 3 – which is available in a consumer Studio version, and more professional Studio Pro version. So, what does ArtRage 3 Studio Pro offer?

For existing users the interface will be familiar, remaining much as it was in the previous version, with some minor tweaks to accommodate new tools and options. The approach is minimalist: panels are glued to the corners and edges of the application.

You can click these to open or close them, but they’ll also automatically disappear if you move your tools too close to them, dodging out the way in time for you to make the most of the canvas: Ambient Design has done a great job in making the interface all about the artwork.

The overall design is a little toy-like in appearance – everything has curvy corners and lime green handles – but you’ll find a serious toolset hiding beneath the unassuming interface.

Your digital paintbox

This release includes the standard toolset from previous versions: an oil brush, pencil, marker pen, crayon and eraser, as well as a palette knife, chalk, paint roller, paint tube and the glitter pen. New tools include a watercolour brush, inking pen and the dubiously named Gloop Pen. Also included are sticker sheets and a Sticker Sprayer – which acts very much like Adobe Illustrator Symbols – and the Symbol Sprayer. A Text tool is included for the first time.

The tools each have a distinct feel and authentic real-media texture. Oil paints can be scraped through each other, and colours mix in a believable manner. The ink pen smudges just as in real life, and the marker pens look just like the real deal.

The biggest disappointment is the paint tube, which, despite promising much, looks artificial compared to the other tools. The improvements made to the rest of the toolset, however, more than compensate.

You can add wet bleeds, airbrushes and stencils and generally get your fingers filthy with virtual paint. There’s good support for tablets built in, including both pressure and tilt, making illustration and painting with natural media effects a breeze.

You can configure the canvas size, resolution and style, choosing from a huge range of paper types – texture channels that ship with the software – or loading your own. You can even paint directly onto gold foil if the whim takes you.

One great feature is the ability to rotate the canvas at any point and control the application of lighting effects. This has a big impact on the real-media look of the paint you lay down.

The whole package works with layers, although paint can’t interact between different layers, so traditional artists will likely end up using a single layer to begin with. Layers support blending modes, which Photoshop users will be familiar with – another welcome bonus. It’s not all good news, though.

The tricky bit

The Layers panel represents one of the biggest problems with the simplistic approach to user interface design. It’s hard to see which layer art is being painted onto, and deleting a layer is more complex than it should be.

The software suffers somewhat from its own success in this regard. It’s so easy to pick up and start using Studio Pro, and when the option to change the canvas settings, remove a stencil or get rid of a reference image isn’t obvious it’s also easy to get frustrated.

That said, many of these frustrations can be overcome through familiarity with the program. One irritation that won’t go away is the lack of keyboard shortcuts – especially given the time savings that they offer to creatives.

OUR VERDICT

ArtRage 3 Studio Pro represents fantastic value for money. While it doesn’t offer the breadth of features found in some other illustration or painting software (such as Corel Painter), it’s a fraction of the cost and much more immediate to pick up and use. For the digital creative who wants to simulate real media effects quickly and effectively this is a tantalising proposition and, combined with the support for Photoshop-native PSD export, there’s no reason not to buy a copy.

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