Corel Painter 2017

Review: Has Corel run out of steam with Painter, its natural media art package, or is there still life left in it yet?

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Our Verdict

Along with the many enhancements that couldn’t be covered here, the new tools and features, especially the gradient express paint and texture tools, make 2017 a worthy update and it feels like Corel are staying ahead of the game, as well as the annual cycle. Yes: the GUI is a little dated but the multiple methods of personalising counter this well and Painter is a joy to use.

For

  • Excellent new features
  • Enhanced existing tools
  • Gradient tools are very good

Against

  • GUI a little dated but adaptable

With software updates now being set to an arbitrary annual clock it is easy to believe that developers are delivering to a schedule rather than a need. Trade shows and conferences are places for companies to shout about all the new goodies in their toys but is this all really a PR stunt or can the coders and UX designers, as well as beta testers, really find new, innovative and, ultimately, useful new features?

Painter has been around for a long long time now and although some years have seen better updates than others Corel does seem to be able to squeeze something new in each year. It has become a little more than a pure painting package, although that is very much still the core use of the software.

The 2017 release is a surprise in that it manages to bring something new to the table, as well as tweak and improve some of the existing tools.

The new Express Paint option makes quick work of painterly gradients

To kick things off let’s look at the biggest new tool, the Texture painting tool. This isn’t quite what you might think but definitely has some uses, especially if you are a 3D artist who uses Painter in your workflow. You can use the tool to add a layer of texture based upon an underlying image, giving the look of surface detail to your art. This can be great for quickly defining a look for concept artists, who need to communicate the materials in a graphic way.

What’s more impressive is the way you can use Go-Z (included) to take pre-posed renders from ZBrush and paint texture onto your render. The plugin brings in the render, with layers already prepared so you can paint the materials directly onto the mesh (albeit without the ability to repose afterwards). The tool retains the lighting information within the scene, making this almost a version of projection painting for final renders. 

If you want controllable variation try the new dab stencil brushes

Of course, this is integrated tightly with the rest of Painter’s tools and the image is a standard painter document, so for quickly building up a finished piece of art using ZBrush as tool for posing and sculpting detail, this is a fantastic workflow. It has to be said that some of the preset textures will become repetitive quite quickly, however you can define your own, so not too much of a problem.

Sticking with the overpainting theme, Corel Painter 2017 has the addition of glazing brushes too. These work in a similar fashion to the traditional counterparts, where each stroke lays down a thin, translucent layer, which can be built up layer by layer, to create some rich and deep looking results. This is another tool that builds on Painter’s strengths at replicating (and sometimes even improving) traditional media applications.

Corel seem to feel this is a good tool for manga art and for inking comic pieces and, while it may be good for that, it’s probably best saved for painting and enhancing colour and light. Comic artists would be better off using pen and ink tools, if they are looking to emulate real-world comic inker’s work.

For a cleaner GUI use palette drawers, which let you fold down multiple menus with a single click

Using predefined elements to control attributes of a tool feels like the big new approach by Corel as their new dab stencil tools follow a similar route. These are truly impressive and bring a naturally chaotic and random nature to what could be a sterile painting experience.

In essence you use these tools to paint a stroke and the underlying element controls the opacity of the stroke. For example, if you have a blotchy flow map, or a rough texture, and you draw a line of paint over your canvas the actual result with have the variations applied, including any spreading of the flow map or roughness in (digital) paper used. While standard brush strokes can have depth and variation the dab stencil tools take this a step further, with beautiful results.

An area of Painter that suffered for some time now is the interface itself. Although it’s long been customizable it is still starting to look a little dated. There are too many buttons, menus and options on screen at any given time. Measures have been taken in the last couple of upgrades, to counter this but 2017 takes this a step further. Defined preset menu and tool layouts make it easy to switch to an interface designed solely for the task at hand. This is a double edged sword however, as it is too easy to get stuck in your ways and forget about (or not even know about) some tools that don’t have a home in your daily work. Naturally we tend to stick with what’s familiar to us but Painter is such a large, comprehensive and capable tool that you might sacrifice some of it’s abilities for a cleaner and less cluttered working environment.

The new Glazing brushes are a great way to build colour depth in your artwork

That said it’s still a versatile package and having the ability to move, dock and nest tool palettes is very welcome, as is the keyboard shortcut system and Photoshop compliance. Added to these capabilities are palette drawers. This is a new way of keeping more tools and palettes close at hand but without the need for a cluttered workspace. You can take any group of palettes, click one button to convert it into a drawer, then double click the drawer to open or close, making navigating your tools a breeze.

The interactive gradient has seen a bit of love in the form of some useful tweaking but the real joy of working with gradients now is the gradient express paint tool. If you have ever found yourself staring at a fresh document and not quite being able to find the spark to get started this could help. Create a gradient as usual, with as many colour nodes as you need then open the express paint option. Turn on preview and select a paint style and watch as your linear grad is turned into a dabbed and stippled piece, styled as you need. Not only is this great for backgrounds but makes fast work of blocking out trees, clouds and many other items. It’s fast and, although the presets are limited, it works well and can be a massive help in daily painting.


The Verdict

9

out of 10

Corel Painter

Along with the many enhancements that couldn’t be covered here, the new tools and features, especially the gradient express paint and texture tools, make 2017 a worthy update and it feels like Corel are staying ahead of the game, as well as the annual cycle. Yes: the GUI is a little dated but the multiple methods of personalising counter this well and Painter is a joy to use.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Redman is a 3D artist working in VFX and motion graphics for print, TV and film.