• Price: £348 inc VAT; upgrade from Painter 11 £206 inc VAT

  • Company: Corel

  • Pros: Improved Photoshop-style interface; enhanced workflow and shortcuts to key tools; brushes can be adjusted more efficiently

  • Cons: Performance has been improved but some functions still feel on the slow side; still a lot for new users to take in

  • Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

Long-favoured by digital artists with a penchant for realistic painterly (and other natural media) techniques, the burning question is does this latest iteration represent a good enough reason for existing users to upgrade, and will the improved features encourage new users to incorporate Painter into their creative workflow?

Painter might not do everything that Photoshop can – and doesn’t claim to – but what it can do it does extremely well. As a suite of over 700 realistic brushes – and that’s just the ones already in the box before you’ve created custom ones – from acrylics to watercolour via impasto, sumi-e and pretty much everything in between, the bottom line is that Painter easily remains top of the natural-media emulation class.

Key among the new features is the redesigned user interface. Over the years, the Painter interface has always felt a little quirky, especially when compared to the slickness of Photoshop. It was never enough to detract from the reasons for using the software in the first place, but it certainly reduced the ability for new users familiar with Adobe’s application to be able to dive straight in and feel comfortable with Painter’s layout from the get-go. Corel have evidently spent a great deal of time making everything considerably more intuitive, even if that’s largely due to moving closer to Photoshop’s interface (which is something Corel acknowledges).

The new Navigator panel will also be familiar to Photoshop users, letting you move around and zoom in and out of the canvas, and even rotating it to suit a particular brushstroke. It’s more fully-featured than Photoshop’s panel, displaying information about the image dimensions and allowing quick access to a number of important tools, although it has to be said it’s not as responsive as Adobe’s equivalent, with a noticeable lag when you try to manoeuvre around a large canvas using the tool.

A redesigned user interface brings the quirky Painter more in line with the sleek usabilty of Photoshop

The wheel deal

As well as enhanced library and brush customisation tools, one of the simplest new features is also one of the most welcome in terms of streamlining workflow. The Temporal Colors Palette is accessed via a keyboard shortcut, and essentially the colour wheel pops up right in front of the artwork, saving you from moving over to the colour panel. A small addition perhaps, but it shows that Corel are serious about empowering users to work as efficiently as possible.

Dynamic brush adjustments have also been improved, allowing users to quickly tweak the brush scale, opacity, squeeze and angle with intuitive keyboard shortcuts and their stylus and mouse, rather than having to access a separate panel. Again, it’s a great way to keep the user focused on their artwork.

Two other new features, Mirror and Kaleidoscope painting, might not feel like essential updates to the majority of existing users, but you can’t blame Corel for wanting to encourage new users to have fun and experiment, and no doubt someone will use these features to an impressive extent commercially.

Watercolours have always looked very convincing in Painter, but the new Real Watercolour brushes go even further, enabling true blending and bleeding of watercolour pigments on the canvas. There’s still a bit of a lag, especially with larger brushes, so it doesn’t have the fluidity of actual watercolour painting, but for a convincing simulation of the real thing, your patience is rewarded. Real Wet Oil brushes have also been added, letting you control paint thickness and colour concentration.

With a raft of workflow enhancements from the moment the user creates a new canvas, and with improved operating system compatibility more akin to the usability of Photoshop, everything points towards Painter 12 being a substantial update and well worth considering an upgrade.