Painter Essentials 4 Review

Painter X launched in early 2007, and this release from Corel introduces a completely redesigned package for painting hobbyists: Painter Essentials 4.

Sure, Corel could have stripped out some features from Painter X, slapped on an ‘Essentials’ label, and called it a day (and to be honest, in previous versions that’s just what happened). However, with Painter Essentials 4, the company went back to the drawing board and designed a completely new interface – it looks nothing like Painter X, though it packs much of its power.

Geared toward arts and crafts enthusiasts, scrapbookers, and digital photography hobbyists, Painter Essentials 4 is a shockingly friendly and affordable home art studio that makes discovering the world of paint and brushes enjoyable. Tool buttons and sliders are bigger than in previous versions, making them easier to select with a pen and tablet.

To simplify the interface, Corel researched how customers were using the software. Thus, the new interface sports two distinct workspaces accessible from tabs within the application: Drawing & Painting and Photo Painting. Depending on which workspace you’re in, a different set of palettes appear specific to those tasks. For example, the Drawing & Painting workspace includes a new Colours palette, full of easy-to-grab swatches, and a new Mixer palette, that simulates the traditional experience of mixing colours on an artist’s paint palette, for creating custom colours. Alternatively, the Photo Painting workspace includes Source Image, Auto-Painting, and Restore Detail palettes.

Brush with the drawer
A friendly Brush Drawer now graces the toolbox in both workspaces, displaying both the name of each brush and a preview of its stroke. Brushes are categorised by type (thick or thin paint, water, pencils and pens) – which makes it east to understand for newcomers to digital painting. Brushes appear in a History list so the user can quickly recall recently used brushes, and frequently used brushes can be saved as favourites.

Of the many brushes gracing this version, a number are derived from the RealBristle Painting System introduced in Painter X. Designed to perfectly mimic the behaviour of real brushes, their bristles bend and splay when pressed upon the canvas. They can also be loaded with multiple colours by using the Mixer palette.

When using the new RealBristle brushes, you can see the bristles splay and bend when pressed upon the canvas (note the dabs at the top). These brushes can be loaded with multiple colours by using the new Mixer palette.

The Photo Painting System didn’t just get its own workspace; it got a complete overhaul. By default, brushes in the Photo Painting workspace are cloners, meaning they take their colour from the source image and ‘paint’ the photo onto the canvas in the style of a particular brush. Just open a photo with the Source Image palette, grab a brush, and give it a go.

Painter Essentials 4 can also paint the photo for you – just pick a style from the Auto-Painting palette and press the Start button. Many styles make use of the new SmartStroke Technology, wherein brush strokes automatically change size, length, pressure, and direction based on the photo. If you’re painting pictures of people, you’ll probably need to use the new Restore Detail palette and enhance faces with the Soft or Hard Edge Cloner brushes.

Essentials 4 also introduces pens in the Pencils & Pens brush category. New options include a Scratchboard Tool and Smooth Edge Calligraphy. There is also an expanded selection of paper textures that faithfully reproduce the feeling of using traditional art materials like pencil on watercolour.

No matter which route you choose, the source image will be automatically saved with the native Painter Essentials file, enabling you to easily return to a painting project later. And with 32 undo levels it is possible to experiment with all sorts of techniques and effects.

Integrated online print services are also new in Painter Essentials 4. It takes just a few clicks to create professional note cards, bumper stickers, posters, prints, and more. You can choose from a variety of media, customise your art with text, and click the Order button to turn a digital masterpiece into something tangible. Once users have created their masterpiece, they can order prints of their artwork on canvas, watercolour paper or other fine art materials – directly from within Painter Essentials 4.

OUR VERDICT

If you’re the least bit creative, Painter Essentials 4 could be the most fun you’ve had in front of a computer in years (though you’ll want to snap up a graphics tablet too). It’s affordable and the new interface makes it an absolute joy to use.

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