Best Buy
  • Price: $80 (£53)

  • Company: Ambient Design

  • Pros: Clean interface; great natural paint effects; affordable; exports to Photoshop and supports PS filters.

  • Cons: Occasionally sluggish; lacks intuitive keyboard shortcuts.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10 We rate this 9 out of 10

The biggest disappointment is the paint tube that, despite promising much, looks artificial compared to the other tools. The improvements made to the rest of the toolset, however, more than compensate.

You can add wet bleeds, airbrushes, stencils and generally get your fingers filthy with virtual paint. There’s good support for tablets built-in, including both pressure and tilt, making illustration and painting with natural media effects a breeze.

You can configure the canvas’ size, resolution and style, choosing from a huge range of paper types – texture channels that ship with the software – or loading up your own. You can even paint directly onto gold foil if the whim takes you.

One great feature is the ability to rotate the canvas arbitrarily at any point and control the application of lighting effects; this has a big impact on the real-media look of the paint you lay down.

The whole package works with layers, although paint can’t interact between different layers so many traditional artists will likely end up using a single layer to begin with. Layers support blending modes which Photoshop users will be familiar with – another welcome bonus. It’s not all good news, though.

The Layers panel represents one of the biggest problems with the simplistic approach to user interface design. It’s hard to see which layer art is being painted onto, and deleting a layer is more complex than it should be.

The software overall suffers somewhat from its own success in this regard: it’s so easy to pick up and start using Studio Pro that it’s easy to quickly get frustrated when the option to change the canvas settings, remove a stencil or get rid of a reference image isn’t obvious.

That said, many of these frustrations can be overcome through familiarity with the program. One irritation that won’t go away is the lack of Photoshop-style keyboard shortcuts – especially given the time savings that they offer to creatives. 

Ambient Design has created a technically capable and user-friendly application that’s easy enough for a total beginner to use while being useful to a professional – a bit like a real paintbrush.

ArtRage 3 Studio Pro represents fantastic value for money at a shade over £50, and while it doesn’t offer the breadth of features found in some other illustration or painting software (such as Corel Painter), it’s a fraction of the cost and much more immediate to pick up and use. For the digital creative who wants to simulate real media effects quickly and effectively this is a tantalising proposition and, combined with the support for Photoshop-native PSD export, there’s no reason not to buy a copy.