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Painter has been around the computer graphics world almost as long as Photoshop and has always been the absolute leader in the realm of simulating natural media (paintbrushes, pencils, inks, and so on)—and retains the title to this very day. While this latest version of Painter continues to be the go-to app for painting on your Mac, this update is possibly the least exciting in the program’s history and doesn’t offer much in the way of upgrade incentive for existing users.
Let’s get right to the new features, the most prominent of which consists of new Hard Media options for pencils, pens, chalks, and markers, resulting in an impressive level of realism in the way the colors and densities of these tools build on themselves as you draw with them. This is especially nice when mimicking the look of magic markers, which gradually get darker as you repeatedly draw over the same area, just like their real-world counterparts. All in all, there are around 40 new Hard Media tool variants, and for some existing Painter users, these might present enough of a reason to spring for the upgrade. Corel also claims that overall brush performance has been increased by 30 percent, and while some of the brush tools definitely felt snappier on our MacBook Pro, large brushes still lag on the screen, especially on our dual-processor G5 tower.
Painter 11 has a new expandable Mixer Palette, for whipping up the perfect shade.
There are also some useful enhancements to the interface, such as resizable Color and Mixer palettes, which, while nice, are not exactly what we’d call groundbreaking. The new Polygonal Selection tool is OK—it’s been in Photoshop for over a decade, as has the combined Transform tool option. You can use the cursor keys to nudge color values, which is nifty when you’re busy painting. But it’s a minor addition at best. As we pointed out in our review of Painter X (4 out of 5 stars, May/07), the overall look and feel of this program is feeling dated and somewhat rough, with some of the interface design elements going back nearly 20 years.
Painter has never really tried to cover the same ground as Photoshop, and this continues to be the case, so we’re happy that Painter offers better support for bringing Photoshop documents in with all their layers and corresponding layer attributes (such as blend modes and layer masks), letting you apply some Painter magic to them and then opening them back up in Photoshop for further editing. While most layer attributes work across programs, we found specific holes. Photoshop’s Black and White adjustment layers and Hard Mix blending modes, for example, don’t come through when imported to Painter. Painter 11 also finally has some decent support for color management, which is another crucial puzzle piece for using it effectively within a color-calibrated workflow.
Our major gripe with this update to Painter is that it really feels like a 10.5 and should have been priced accordingly. To ask existing Painter owners to shell out almost two hundred bucks for (the admittedly-cool) Hard Media options, support for color management, and what we consider to be relatively minor interface enhancements, seems excessive at best and outrageous at worst.
If you’ve just purchased your first graphics tablet or want the most capable natural media painting tool on the Mac, Painter is still your primary choice, but as an update to a venerable and important computer graphics program, Painter 11 doesn’t offer enough to get us hot under the palette.