Review: Corel Painter 2020

A new summer means a new Corel Painter. This year round, we’re welcoming Painter 2020. The new version is an improvement over the previous ones in many ways and it’s not just about new brushes. It’s principally about performance and interface design. And that’s a good thing.

Older versions of Painter always promised faster brush performance, but often this promise proved to be true only for the simple brushes, not for the ones that make your computer’s silicon have a sweaty workout. That was partly due to Painter’s concept of wanting to deliver everything a digital paint artist could ever want, but also because our Macs were not really up to the task.

This time, things are a bit different. Painter’s philosophy hasn’t changed but our Macs have. They have become so much more powerful that, for the first time, it actually made sense for the developers of Painter to include an optimisation engine. And so, Painter 2020’s “Brush Accelerator” will test your system and apply an optimised performance setting automatically. Your Mac’s score is even shown in a graphic with the score in numbers proudly displayed.

Of course, anyone can create some bogus system that seems to test your Mac and show you a score at the end of it. The proof of the pudding is always in the eating. I’m happy to report that Corel isn’t making “fake news” here and that we don’t have to chant “Lock them up” or “Send them home” like some people do when their mindless and clueless leader starts an equally clueless rant. The score and associated optimisation helped on my iMac – a lot. It now feels like painting in the real world where no brush stroke lags behind the brush you’re using.

Corel seems to have realised the interface is becoming a bit outdated, so for the first time, they have also made some drastic improvements with revamped property bars, fly-outs and a compact Brush Selector. It’s a much-needed overhaul that is still not 100% complete, but we’re getting close.

One area where we’re close is the dab and stroke preview that no longer requires hovering. Another improvement is that you can now select colour throughout Painter within your tools.

Working faster without having to think about the interface is also obvious at the level of selecting a brush you’ve used before. Selecting is now much faster because you can either click a button or use a shortcut.

Other time savers are the contextual and high-level menu improvements for collapsing, locking, selecting and pasting layers.

Finally and because Corel really can’t help themselves, Painter has gotten even more tools. Six new colour harmonies can be saved as colour sets and two new fast brush categories with 26 brushes were specially built to put Painter’s new performance optimisations to the test. Finally, you get five new brushes in the Watercolour and Digital Watercolour categories.


Some will call it bloatware and will be critical of Corel charging an upgrade fee for every new version, but my take on this is that Painter still is a unique app and it’s becoming better with each upgrade.

And now, if you’ll forgive me, I must go back to my 27-inch studio where I am creating artwork that Leonardo, in person, is channelling to me!