Review: Painter 12, faster, better-looking, more efficient

Whenever Corel releases another upgrade of Painter, it’s always interesting to see which new brushes they’ve come up with this time, and above all: how those brushes perform. Right up till version 11 the new brushes were nothing less but awe-inspiring, but they also required a hefty machine to get some performance from them. Much of the joy of painting digitally with those versions was outdone by the slow rendering of paint. With version 12, Corel hasn’t just added brushes and other creative goodies. It has dramatically increased Painter’s speed — so much so that it is a real pleasure to work with any type of brush in this new version. I found it hard to find anything that will not instantly appeal to digital artists in Painter 12.

New brushes and speed improvements aren’t the only new features of Painter 12. It starts with launching the program. Instead of the familiar interface, you’re now catapulted in the 21st Century with an interface that is much easier to work with, including more efficient palettes, faster access to media, tools, and commands, and toolbars and interface elements that match Snow Leopard perfectly.

There’s a Navigator panel that resembles Adobe’s navigator panels a lot, so you’ll feel at home in Painter 12 if you also work with Adobe creative software. A very nice novelty that is bound to save time is the so-called Temporal Colors palette. This is the colour wheel popping up right under your last mouse cursor position. You make it seem and go away with a keystroke.

Command-Option-1 pops up the color wheel

In the domain of eye poppers I found the Mirror and Kaleidoscope tools to be extremely powerful. The Mirror tool comes close to the one in Autodesk’s SketchBook Pro. It allows you to create perfect symmetries. The only thing that differs from the Autodesk version is the ease-of-use. Painter’s actually is better.

Not found anywhere else is the Kaleidoscope tool. This is in essence a mirroring tool with more than one or two axis — you can have up to 12 on a machine that has the necessary power (Mac Mini painters do best to limit the number of axis to 6 at most). Kaleidoscope is great to draw “mandalas” and symmetrical patterns in a semi-circular way. If you have this in your fingers, you can create portraits and landscapes using nothing but kaleidoscopic patterns…

I also tried out the new brushes. First of all: there isn’t a brush that forces you to pause before you see the effect of it anymore. The speed of Painter 12 really is amazing. Additionally, a whole range of brushes either have been improved upon or are entirely new. There are new Gel brushes and digital airbrushes; these are fine and let you do things you couldn’t before, but the most spectacular new brushes are in my opinion the new Real Watercolour Real Wet Oil brushes. Combined with the real-time performance of Painter 12 in every area, these brushes come very close to the real thing.

With earlier versions, I always found the results very close to the real thing, but not the way you applied the ‘paint’ to the canvas. In version 12, both are close to painting with real paint. The only thing that still lacks is the feeling of paint that you can’t mimic with a graphics tablet.

With the Real Watercolor and Wet Oil brushes, you can see the paint dry while you’re working. Again, not seconds or even minutes after you have brushed it in, but right after — as in the real world.

Cloning with Painter 12 is much easier and more efficient than it used to be. Much of the cloning functionality is now grouped in a panel. There’s no fiddling with strange looking icons in the main window anymore. Everything, including the opacity of the original cloning document, is set from one panel. Libraries too have been enhanced; they are more easily set up in a more logical way, and also panel-based.

well organized with panels

What else is new? Rendering is faster, much faster. It’s better too, with higher quality zooms. Changing a brush’s size, opacity, angle and squeeze parameters is more efficient too. You can now do this in real-time, using shortcuts — command-option to launch the interactive control circle and other keys to change the parameters. There’s an error in the Help file: if you want to change opacity you need to press the Option key to actually change it, not the Control key.

I also tried out the new computed circular dab controls. They work fast and simple. There’s not much more to say about that. It just works.

Brush calibration is now a panel too. It works for individual brushes instead for the whole Painter application, and is great when you have a Wacom tablet.

Less enthusiastic I was about Painter’s Photoshop support. It still complains when you try to load a 16-bit file. Worse yet, although Painter 12 does support multi-layer images, it’s important all your layers are on the same level, and no clipping masks. On import, the latter will be converted into an ordinary layer automatically.

Despite Photoshop support still not perfect, the rest of Painter 12 is near-perfect. The program is truly responsive throughout, has a fantastic array of creative tools and capabilities, and offers some very creative new ways to paint and draw. It is hard to find anything that will not instantly appeal to digital artists in Painter 12.

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