Painter Essentials 3.0 full review

Some people have natural artistic ability, while others, despite their creative leanings, do not. I am one of the latter: I can barely trace my own hand, yet the idea of being able to paint or draw is nonetheless incredibly enticing.

Painter Essentials 3.0 makes it easy for the artistically challenged to create beautiful digital drawings and paintings from their photos. Yet the program is also powerful enough to gratify experienced artists who may be making their first foray into digital art.

Painter Essentials, built on the foundation of Corel’s pro-level painting application, Painter IX, lets you alter digital photographs to make them look as if you painted them by hand. To accomplish this, the program creates a copy or ‘clone’ of your original image, puts it on a hidden layer within a new document, and places another transparent layer on top of that to act as digital tracing paper. The cloning process also creates a palette of colours taken directly from your photograph, which can be used as ‘paint’ for creating a new image.

Once the cloning process is complete, you can select a medium, such as paint, pastel, or pencil, and then choose the brush and stroke style you want to use. From there, use Painter Essentials’ Auto-Painting palette to automatically create a new image. There are many variables that you can select and change, including how randomly the program applies each new stroke to the canvas; as a result, no two renderings of a single image ever has to look exactly the same.

I found this process to be amazingly rewarding. After about 10 minutes, I was playing with the program’s many brush and style variables as well as experimenting with brush strokes. Essentially the program’s automated process became an expression of my artistic desires, yet I didn’t have to deal with any of the insecurity associated with doing the same thing by hand.

Painter Essentials 3.0 also works well as a digital sketchpad. While the Auto-Painting palette is great for beginners, the program’s freehand drawing tools allow artists of all levels to create new images from scratch. You can draw with the mouse, but Painter Essentials works best with a drawing tablet because it simulates the feeling of freehand drawing and painting.

One negative is the limited number of undos: Painter Essentials allows you to undo only the last five keystrokes. Any program geared towards novice users should have more undos than that to allow for increased experimentation – and more undos probably wouldn’t be a bad idea even for more advanced artists.

I also found the program’s cropping implementation a bit odd. Most consumer photo-editing programs, such as Apple’s iPhoto and Adobe’s Photoshop Elements, require you to select the area you want to crop and then choose a Crop command from a menu. In Painter Essentials, you use the Crop tool to make the selection and then click once within that area. It was odd, but worked well once I got used to it.

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