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Painter IX Review
Don Seegmiller

The announcement has been made: Corel Painter® IX is here, and the trial version is available to download. You will definitely want to give this new version a whirl.

I have used Painter since its development long ago by Fractal Design and have been using Corel Painter IX, the latest version, since the initial beta release. In this article, I want to give you my impressions and a brief description of the new features in this latest incarnation of the finest digital painting program available at any price.

You may guess from the last statement that I am a Painter fan—and this is true—but I am also a professional artist who needs the best tools available to get the job done. I have little tolerance for tools that promise the world and deliver significantly less. Time is money, and I need a tool that helps me use my time to best advantage. Painter has not always been this tool, but times have changed. The product keeps getting better, and this version, Corel Painter IX, is all that I could hope for and a bit more. Corel has taken Painter out of the realm of an interesting but quirky hobbyist application and made it into a truly professional tool.

I would like to give you a brief tour of what is new in Corel Painter IX and describe some of my favorite features. The improvements offered by Corel Painter IX fall into two main categories: enhanced performance and productivity, and creativity.

The performance of a program affects my ability to be productive, and Corel Painter IX has made great strides in this area. The following improvements and new features make this new version particularly useful:
  • Corel Painter IX is a very stable application. From the first beta versions, Corel Painter IX has just been hard to get to crash. In the last version, I have been able to run the program for days on end and not have a hard crash. This, to me, is one of the most important features that any program can have. Now granted, everyone's individual computer is different, but I can honestly say that this is one stable application.
  • Increased drawing speed of the brushes is another improvement that you will notice. Although many brushes in Corel Painter are processor-intensive, some definite and noticeable improvements have been implemented. According to Corel, some of the brushes are 10 times faster, and the brushes are, on average, twice as fast as in earlier versions. While I do not have an actual way to quantify these claims, I can tell you that the brushes are definitely faster, even when I am working on very large files (larger than 100 megabytes).
  • You no longer have to go into the Brush Creator to tweak the settings for the active brush. There are now a group of Brush Control palettes that sit nicely on the screen wherever you place them, so you can change the current brush settings whenever you need to.
The Brush Control palettes

  • You can change the scratch disk.
  • You can create or customize just about any keyboard shortcut in Corel Painter IX for often-used commands.
  • You can rotate and flip your canvas.
  • When working with scripts and saving animations, you can preview the speed of the animation directly within Corel Painter.
The playback speed slider

  • Painter now "remembers" all of your settings between painting sessions. This feature comes in handy if you are working on a project that takes you longer than you can comfortably sit in one session.
  • Selections on layers are much improved.
  • Compatibility between Corel Painter and Adobe® Photoshop® layers has been enhanced. The layers now behave in a much more predictable way. Layer groups move back and forth between the applications as well as masks and alpha channels. You can click and drag up or down in the Layers palette to hide or reveal the individual layers. My favorite layer improvement is the ability to collapse layers of different composite methods.
  • My favorite new feature to enhance productivity is Iterative Save. With a simple combination of keystrokes, you can save and automatically number your image. This feature is fantastic for someone as fanatical as I am about saving when working. No longer do I need to use the Save As command simply to add a number to a saved image.
These changes alone will make you significantly more productive, and they make Corel Painter IX well worth the price - but there is more. Corel has added many more features to improve both your productivity and creativity. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • The new Artists' Oil brushes may just be the most realistically behaving brushes available anywhere. You can apply paint mixed directly in the Mixer palette right onto your canvas, and the strokes will interact with any paint and color already there. You can also adjust how long a stroke will last before the color runs out and the stroke fades. These are fantastic tools.
Painted with the Artists' Oil brushes

  • You can now paint along a shape's path. This may sound similar to stroking a selection, but it's really very different. When you use the Align To Path option as you paint, you can constrain your stroke in size, opacity, or any other attribute to the precise curve or shape that you have created. This tool is extremely useful when you are painting something that needs great precision.
Examples of snap-to-path painting with the Align To Path tool

  • Digital Watercolor has returned. Although the Watercolor brushes in the last several versions of Corel Painter were interesting, they just never were my favorite tools. Thank goodness the good old standbys have returned, and with some great improvements. The Digital Watercolor layers now stay wet between your painting sessions, and the wet fringe of the brush now stays active, so you can experiment with the settings and your paint will be updated. One of my favorite things about these brushes is how some of them interact with different paper grains.
An example of Digital Watercolor brushes used in the background

  • Quick Clone is another time-saver with great creative potential. This is a great tool for transforming one of your pieces of art into something entirely different. This feature takes five individual steps and combines them into one powerful script-like feature. You can set individual preferences for Quick Clone in the general preferences. This feature makes it extremely easy to experiment with different looks very quickly. While artists will find this feature great fun, photographers are going to love it.
Quick Clone in action

I cannot stress enough that this fantastic upgrade belongs in the professional's toolbox. If you are not a professional, do not be daunted by the seeming complexity of this application. It is really quite easy to become productive, especially with the resources and helpful materials that Corel has provided with this release.