Corel Painter X full review

Although Adobe can claim the lion’s share of the creative applications market, Corel still retains a small but significant segment. If you want to recreate paint on canvas, use pencils, pens, chalk, pastels and airbrushes, all without ever getting your hands dirty, then there is nothing quite like Painter X.

Unlike the latest Adobe upgrades, Painter X maintains the same interface from recent versions; indeed initially installed it looks like last year’s IX.5 update. On smaller screens things can look a little cluttered, although Painter X supports two or more monitor set-ups. What’s changed is under the hood: a host of enhancements, tweaks and new features that make Painter X a worthy upgrade.

First and foremost, better brush control offers more subtle and responsive digital brush strokes. The new RealBristle painting system provides endless scope to fine-tune and fiddle, altering brush tip, bristle length, rigidity, blend and splay to better replicate traditional art media. You can work with a preset RealBristle brush variant or customise a preset brush and save it as a new brush variant. Add a Wacom tablet and the level of sensitivity and control over each individual digital bristle is exceptional.

A new composition tool provides guidelines that follow the divine proportion or golden ratio painting principles. Used by the likes of Michelangelo, Sargent, Seurat, and Le Corbusier, the golden ratio is meant to produce results that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but you don’t have to be creating a masterpiece to make use of what is essentially a layout grid on steroids. Palette controls let you adjust the orientation, size, angle of rotation, display colours, opacity, and grid levels from within the composition tool. For some, though, it may be more hindrance than help, elevating Painter X further towards pro users – the learning curve is already fairly steep and the options seemingly endless. Significantly the printed and electronic documentation has been improved and Corel has added downloadable training videos.

The smart stroke painting option on the auto-painting palette also attempts to make things a little easier and reduce the learning curve. It allows you to sit back and watch Painter X do the hard work for you, daubing away over your snaps. Aimed at photographers who want to add some fine art painterly touches to their work, it tries to intelligently follow the forms of the original cloned photo. Results are mixed, but it’s safe to say computers have a long way to go to replace the subtleties of the human hand and eye. An underpainting palette offers a similar function, prepping your photos for creative cloning, allowing you to adjust a photo’s contrast, lightness, or saturation and add an edge effect, such as a rectangular, circular, or jagged vignette. The restoration palette enables you to touch up a painting manually by using one of two special brushes, again, though, with mixed results.

Other new features include a universal mixer palette and the ability to better match colours between two images. Corel also adds better colour management so that results remain consistent from creation to output. This is particularly important when you consider that many will want to print their artwork professionally on expensive canvas-like paper. Photoshop support has been significantly improved; Photoshop native PSD files should now retain all layer masks, alpha channels and layer sets. New dodge and burn tools that allow you to lighten and darken areas of a photograph with some level of subtlety will also be familiar to Photoshop users.

Painter X feels noticeably faster, with bigger, broader brush strokes possible without the dreaded spinning wheel of doom appearing and, unlike early incarnations, it’s yet to quit unexpectedly. Corel claims brushes perform up to 35 per cent faster and file opening and saving is up to twice as fast. Performance is also helped by the fact that Painter X is now optimised for Intel-based Macs.

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