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Auto painting uses any brush in Painter's arsenal to generate instant artwork, suitable for framing.
While Photoshop has become synonymous with computer graphics, Painter is the longtime king of the digital painting kingdom. If you own a Wacom drawing tablet or you can differentiate between the odors of oil and acrylic paints, Painter's awesome traditional media chops will blow you away. Some newly added tricks, along with the speed enhancements, help this X mark its spot as a must-have digital artistry tool.
The previous version of Painter was usable under Rosetta (Apple's on-the-fly software translator for running nonnative software on Intel Macs), but some of the advanced painting tools took a huge performance hit. If you use an Intel Mac, the first thing you'll notice with Painter X is the native Intel speed boost. You really feel it with big brushes or the new RealBristle brush modes, which hog processor power. If you're still using a PowerPC Mac, you'll see only minor performance gains.
The most compelling creative addition to Painter X is the RealBristle painting technology, which essentially models a real-world interaction between the paint, canvas, and brush, allowing you to smear together colors with an uncanny degree of realism and create truly convincing paint effects. While the previous version of Painter introduced a brush tool that offered a similar effect (Artists Oil), RealBristle is a special mode that can be used with a variety of the built-in brush types, dramatically expanding your creative possibilities. It's almost like having a custom brush factory at your disposal - you get an extreme degree of control over the shape of the bristles and brush tip, as well as resistance and spacing, which all influence the interactions of the brush and the painting surface.
Creating paintings from scratch is cool, but sometimes it's fun to start with an existing photo as the base ingredient for a digital painting. Painter X has improved tools for processing images. For example, the Underpainting module delivers some familiar, Photoshop-like filtering effects, but the new Color Scheme pop-up remaps the colors of an image to some preset color palettes that invoke specific looks, such as Sketchbook, which turns color images into softer, sepia-toned renditions, and Modern, which invokes a hard contrast and more saturated colors. You can also choose the color values of a separate image and apply those to your target image, which is a very useful way to give a range of unrelated pictures the same overall color palette. Then there's the newly added Smart Stroke option in Auto-painting, which analyzes the image and uses existing contours and edges of the objects in the picture to control the size and direction of the automatically generated paint strokes. It's especially effective for turning photographs into instant artwork.
The Divine Proportions overlay is something that Da Vinci would appreciate, as it helps you compose your paintings in a way that's designed to be naturally pleasing to the eye. It's also a great tool for optimally cropping existing photos — it would make an excellent Photoshop filter. Speaking of which, Photoshop users will appreciate the slightly beefed-up support for importing Photoshop files with layers and layer masks, but we found that adjustment layers, clipping groups, and some of the more esoteric blending modes (such as Exclusion, Hard Mix, and Pin Light) aren't supported. A new color management module helps with color consistency from scanner to printer.
One last niggling point: We're surprised that the overall interface hasn't improved in almost a decade. Corel is indeed adding new toys to this venerable program, but it's probably time to take a close look at the organization of the tools, as well as the look and feel of the interface.
The bottom line. Though we're not thrilled with the upgrade price, Corel offers a killer $99 educational deal that's the bargain of the century. We can't imagine any other app topping the natural painting prowess that Painter has fine-tuned.
PRICE: $429 box, $229 upgrade box, $419 download, $219 upgrade download, $499 limited edition, $99 educational.
REQUIREMENTS: 700MHz G4 or faster or Intel processor, Mac OS 10.3.9 or later, 256MB RAM
Innovative RealBristle painting modeling. Cool Auto-painting additions, plus color management. Speed boost on Intel Macs. Universal binary.
Expensive upgrade price. Interface needs serious overhaul.