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Corel Painter IX.5

Natural media drawing and painting suite By Dave Nagel
Summary: Painter IX.5 is a free, incremental update to Corel's natural media emulation tool. As such, it's not an enormous upgrade, but it does have quite a few more enhancements than you'd expect from a free update (certainly more than I've seen in some paid upgrades from certain other developers). The latest release includes some important new tools and even integrates some of the innovative features that were introduced in Painter Essentials 3.
Developer: Corel (
Platform: Mac OS X and Windows
Price: Free upgrade for Painter IX users; $199 for the upgrade from previous versions; $399 for the full, boxed version.
Demo available: Yes
Users: Graphic designers, illustrators and other artists who work in digital media
Recommendation: Strong Buy

The news for Painter users continues to get better and better every year. Back in 2004, Corel released Painter IX--a version that was, by far, the best release of Painter to date and the only version I'd ever recommended. It was fast; it was loaded with new creative tools; the interface was tight; and it worked more smoothly than any previous version of the software. The following year we got an incremental update (9.1) that added a bunch of functionality and performance enhancements. And now, this year, we get a .5 upgrade that's loaded with new features--new tools, new functionality and even more performance tweaks--and again the update is free.

I'm beginning to feel spoiled.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this software, Painter is a natural media emulator for artists who work in digital, for graphic designers and even for animators who want to create hand-painted looks. Its range of emulated natural media tools includes everything from pencils and charcoal to acrylics, oils and watercolors that look and behave much like their analogs in the non-digital universe.

That's the short explanation. For a detailed look at all of Painter's features, please see my previous review of Painter IX by following this link:

Review: Corel Painter IX

For this review, I'll focus just on what's new in version IX.5.

Let's start off with the big one. Late last year, Corel introduced a new program called Painter Essentials 3. This was the consumer version of Painter. But it also included a whole new suite of tools that were not available in the "pro" version of Painter--a suite of tools that definitely made some Painter IX users jealous. (I remember the letters I received after reviewing Painter Essentials 3. I can only imagine the barrage of letters that hit Corel.) These new features included three palettes containing tools that were designed to ease the process of converting photographs into images that look hand-painted. Now these features have been incorporated into Painter IX.5.

The three new palettes--collectively referred to as "the "Photo Painting Palettes"--include: Underpainting, Auto-Painting and Restoration. We'll have an in depth look at these features a bit later on in a separate article, but here's a quick explanation of what they do.

The Underpainting palette offers three categories of effects: image adjustments, edge effects and "Smart Blur." The image adjustments include preset contrast, brightness and saturation adjustments. The edge effects include three styles of vignettes (rectangular, round and jagged). And the Smart Blur adds a variable amount of blur to an image based on the contrast of elements within the image. The Under-Painting palette also includes a button for going into Quick Clone mode with a click of the mouse.

The Auto-Painting includes settings for creating automated paintings based on a photographic source image. You can choose from among the preset stroke types, then apply those strokes automatically to the image. You can also add randomization to the preset strokes to vary stroke length, brush size, rotation and simulated pressure.

That works just like the same feature in Painter Essentials 3, except Painter IX.5 also adds several more options, including pressure modulate, 360 bearing modulate, size/bearing modulate, size/tilt modulate, fade in/out, short stroke and bearing rotate.

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