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ArtRage Studio Pro 3 review

Verdict:

Competitively priced, capable, easy-to-use painting and drawing software with some advanced features.

Review Date: 29 Jan 2010

Price when reviewed: (about

Reviewed By: Ken McMahon

Our Rating 4 stars out of 5

One of the first ever Mac applications, Mac Paint, emulated the process of painting using a computer. Since those early days, software that recreates painting and drawing tools and media has come a long way, but it remains a niche market, these days dominated by one application, Corel's Painter.

Like Painter, ArtRage's natural-media tools work like the real thing in that brush strokes look like brush stokes, with depth and texture, and paint behaves like paint, taking on the underlying texture of the canvas, smearing, and mixing with other paint when still wet. As well as painting from scratch, you can import photos and other reference materials to a trace layer.

ArtRage's developer is Ambient Design, run by Andy Bearsley and Matt Fox-Wilson, formerly of MetaCreations, the developer of the excellent Painter, Bryce and Kai's Power Tools. Their involvement is responsible for the combination of two things rarely seen together in a budget application - a nicely designed user interface and a raft of versatile and exciting tools.

This latest version adds a number of new features and enhancements to the previous version, ArtRage 2.5, which is still available at the reduced price of $20 (about £12.28). There's also an intermediate version, ArtRage 3 Studio, which sells for $40 (about £24.57).

New sticker libraries provide ready-made pixel-based objects that you can drag and drop onto the canvas from a sheet containing multiple variations on a theme.

Moreover, a new sticker spray applies multiple objects to the canvas so you can quickly build up scenery composed of multiple variations of the same basic form - trees, grass, hair, footprints and so on. While there's nothing new about this kind of tool, ArtRage Studio Pro's sticker spray works well, has a good selection of presets (although many have that low-grade clip-art look) and offers a high degree of customisation, including pen pressure, tilt and rotation.

Pencil drawing tools have been augmented and improved. There's a new auto-smoothing ink pen for fine line work and pencil strokes, which removes unwanted wiggles and kinks from your lines.

The other main addition to the painting tools is a new gloop pen - a sort of wet-edged pen that applies semi-transparent ink with a blotting-paper-edge effect to the canvas.

Text handling, one of ArtRage 2.5's weaknesses, has been greatly improved with live text editing on the canvas. You can now click, type and edit, as well as convert text to pixels that can then be manipulated in the same way as other layers.

Another problem that has been addressed in version 3 is the absence of a selection tool. The latest version more than makes up for that omission with new selection tools that cover the whole gamut, from basic rectangular marquee to magic wand to paint-on masking complete with feathering.

Also absent from version 2.5 was any sort of transform tool. However, this has now been rectified in ArtRage 3. You can now resize, reposition, rotate and scale a layer by dragging an object's handles.

The deceptively simple-looking ArtRage workspace is home to some fairly sophisticated features. The Layers palette looks nothing like its Photoshop equivalent, but it works in a similar fashion and supports layer groups, merging, transparency and blend modes. There are no layer masks, but you can export a layer to use as a stencil.

The workspace is open and uncluttered, with the tool picker and colour picker confined to collapsible, quadrant-shaped panels in the bottom corners of the canvas. Tool settings, stickers, stencils and other palettes appear as minimised square buttons, or 'pods', which expand when clicked. These expanded panels can be resized and positioned wherever you want them. A new canvas positioner provides possibly the most elegant means yet devised for page navigation, with click-and-drag controls for panning, zooming and rotating the canvas.

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