Corel Painter 2016: is the new and improved worth it?

I wasn’t aware it was that time of the year again: a new version of Corel Painter. This venerable creative app is now officially called Painter 2016. If you thought after experiencing the last version it would be hard to come up with some new and exciting stuff… well, you were wrong. Painter 2016 has received some much needed interface improvements, but also new brushes and capabilities that once again will enable artists to have more fun and get closer to the analogue experience.

The following may well be the least of your worries, but Corel Painter 2016 needed and got a new Welcome screen. It’s better organised and has a cleaner look. Another improvement I like but am not blown away by is what Corel calls “Document views”. Give it a try and you’ll discover it just boils down to a better integration with OS X capabilities like Full Screen mode.

Perhaps this is something many a user will be happier with: Adobe Photoshop brush file import and the ability to export your tools from Corel Painter. And perhaps even better: the ability to create custom tool palettes for export also allow you to really make the interface look and work the way you want.

Corel Painter 2016 brush controls

But what I’m always most curious about is whether there will be new brushes. Well, there are and they are awesome. Dynamic Speckles combine the Particle System physics with brush-thickness controls (pen touch, speed, pressure…). The results make your jaw drop because you can come so close to natural media brush strokes that it is unbelievable. I mean, here is a company that for years has been trying to get Painter’s brushes come closer to the real, natural, analogue experience of painting on real media and they had relative success with brushes that looked like the real stuff.

New tools in Corel Painter 2016

For example, the traditional Real Watercolor brushes are excellent, but I always feel like there’s something missing. I always thought it was the tactile feel of paper that you can’t possibly recreate with a plastic or glass graphics tablet surface. But it was not that. It was the subtle randomness of a real brush.

This subtlety has finally translated into digital brushes with Dynamic Speckles — a brush that looks as remotely related to real brushes as it can possibly get. I was thrilled by the availability of Particle brushes with the last upgrade, but Dynamic Speckles adds that feel to your strokes — a feeling that is hard to describe, but I guess artists will recognise it the moment they start brushing with one of them. Best of all: you can tune them to your liking by fiddling with the many advanced brush controls at your disposal without losing that subtle touch.

Among the new features, there’s also one that I personally think is no more than a gimmick: Audio Expression. With this feature, which works across many brushes, you can play music or recite your favourite Shakespeare sonnet and the brush will respond to the sound, depositing paint in response to the sound level and frequency. It’s fun, but I doubt if it will add much to your creative control.

Painter 2016 audio expression

New dab types are more useful in my opinion, and Corel Painter 2016 has a few. The new dab types use both Particles and Liquid Ink or Watercolor dabs.

Paper and Flow Map rotation are two big improvements. These two allow you to change the angle of the texture and flow map, which result in subtle or dramatic — depending on the media — changes in the look of a stroke. It’s really the grain that gets rotated, which makes it look like you’re really working on physical media.

Corel Painter 2016 paper rotate

Blending 2.0 is an improvement that’s probably long overdue. It improves multi-colour blending in that you won’t have to put up with white or black fringes anymore.

Corel Painter 2016 tooltip

A last welcome and overdue feature that I welcome are hints and tooltips. Unless you turn them off, you will now get help with almost anything you do. Change a brush parameter? A tooltip shows you graphically what to expect. Brushes come with a complete help panel (Hints). For a complex app like Painter these two helping hands will help the newcomers as much as the experts who don’t want to memorise every brush.

I don’t know how Corel does it, but Painter 2016 is no bloatware. Corel Painter 2016 costs €424.95.

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