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Corel Painter 2016 review

Ben Pitt
7 Feb 2016
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Corel Painter 2016 portrait
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
280
inc VAT

Highly sophisticated and rewarding, Corel Painter is worth the expense for technically minded artists

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Specifications

OS Support: Windows 7/8/10, Minimum CPU: Pentium 4 (Core 2 Duo recommended), Minimum GPU: Not stated, Minimum RAM: 2GB, Hard disk space: 750MB

Most software aimed at graphic designers tries to be a jack of all trades, so it's nice to see something that aims to do one job well. Corel Painter specialises in digital painting, with emulations of natural media such as oil, pastels and watercolours, plus some brushes that have no real-world equivalent.

At a basic level, it's a bitmap editor, with brush strokes saved as pixels on the virtual page rather than vector coordinates. However, the only time you're likely to import photos is to use them as a basis for a painting – smearing colours in a photo produces digital paintings in record time.

There are some superb painting apps for iOS and Android, such as Procreate, ArtRage and Brushes, which cost £4.49, £4 and nothing respectively, so why pay £280 for Corel Painter? The answer, Corel hopes, lies in the sophistication and customisation of its brush technology.

Corel Painter 2016 Impasto

^ The Impasto and Liquid Ink brush categories combine particles with other painting technologies to create rich dynamic textures

The Property Bar across the top handles the basics, including size, opacity and a couple of others depending on the selected brush. Delving into the 40 brush control panels reveals hundreds more options such as bristle rigidity, brush wetness, water viscosity and evaporation rate. There are jitter settings to randomise parameters, plus the ability to vary parameters according the speed or direction of brush strokes or the pressure of the input.

Corel Painter needs to be used with a pressure-sensitive input device for best results, as the ability to respond to pen pressure breathes life into brush strokes. Pressure-sensitive touchscreens are few and far between unless you want to splash out on one of Wacom's high-end Cintiq displays, but Wacom's Intuos drawing tablets and Microsoft's Surface Pen for Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3 are other available options. Corel told me that it has worked closely with Microsoft to ensure that Surface and Painter work well together. I was able to resurrect an old Wacom Graphire4 graphics tablet, which did the job nicely.

This latest update introduces a new input type called Audio Expression. It uses either an audio input, such as a microphone, or the system audio – most likely some music – and turns the volume envelope into a controller. This can be mapped to a wide range of parameters including size, opacity, grain, angle and colour variation.

Corel Painter 2016 sunset

^ These pulsating streaks of colour were created by controlling particle brushes with an audio input

I'm not convinced by Corel's suggestions that this channels the emotion of music into an artwork. It's also disappointing that there's no Smoothness control – the tracked audio volume jumps from one value to the next at a low sample rate. Even so, making noises into a headset microphone while painting added a welcome extra level of control. With Opacity mapped to pen pressure and brush size mapped to the audio input, I was able to take precise control over brush strokes.

With so much editing depth, it's a relief to find a well organised collection of brush presets. There are 800 in total, including 131 that are new in this version and 438 legacy brushes that are hidden from view but remain available for backwards compatibility. The 362 others are organised into 27 categories such as Artists Oils, Markers, Liquid Ink and Watercolour.

There's an Audio Expression category to show off this new feature. Some of these brushes are disappointing but we really liked the four that also employed the particle feature introduced in Painter 2015. These use multiple points – or particles – that move in complex ways as they apply colour to the canvas. They have more in common with particle generators used to create smoke and fire effects in animation software such as Hitfilm Pro than the bristles in Painter's other brush types. Here, they can produce sparks and explosions, and also come in handy for fur effects and other rich, organic textures. Combining particle brushes with Audio Expression produces some richly dynamic and expressive brushes that are a real pleasure to use.

Corel Painter 2016 Beatbox

^ Assigning the audio input to size and painting a straight line produces something akin to an audio waveform. The discrete cylindrical blocks are a little disappointing, though – I'd have preferred a smoother response to the input

Various other new brush types combine particle technology with more conventional Painter features such as bristle thickness. In particular, the brushes in Dynamic Speckle category are among the most impressive brushes for natural media effects.

A revamped interface is listed among the new features. Brush Hints are extremely welcome, providing an explanation for a control as you hover over it. These are included for the newer and more complex controls only – it's a shame they're not available for all. There's a new Presentation mode that clears the screen to show only the canvas, plus the ability to change the interface colour.

Overall, I'd class the interface as good rather than great. Technically minded users will appreciate direct control over a vast number of parameters, while others will be content with the brush presets and basic controls in the Property Bar. I'd like to see a middle-level control system, where the detailed parameters were managed via a graphical control panel that lets users select brushes and paint, mix colours, add water and wash brushes in a manner that's more in keeping with the real thing.

Painter 2016 is extremely impressive. The new particle-based brushes in particular are fantastic for computer game production and other forms of 3D animation, where texture maps are painted onto 3D models. Graphic designers will appreciate the ability to add some colour and texture to designs with just a few well-placed strokes. Fine artists will find a huge amount to keep them busy. Not everyone will be won over by Audio Expression, but I'm sold. It's a big investment at almost £300, but the 30-day trial should be enough to reel people in.

System requirements
OS SupportWindows 7/8/10
Minimum CPUPentium 4 (Core 2 Duo recommended)
Minimum GPUNot stated
Minimum RAM2GB
Hard disk space750MB
Buying information
Price including VAT£280
Supplierwww.amazon.co.uk
Detailswww.painterartist.com

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