Studio Artist isn’t well known in the UK, but it’s an impressive piece of graphics software. The developers, Synthetik Software, refer to it as a ‘graphics synthesizer’, making comparisons with the way that music synthesizers work. But for people with a design background, it’s probably better to compare it to the artistic cloning tools in graphics programs like Painter.

When you start Studio Artist you are asked to select a source image. This image is displayed as a small preview in one corner of the screen, while the main painting canvas remains blank. You can then clone the source image on the canvas, rendering it in a new artistic style that depends on the particular painting tools that you choose. So if you select the Fluffy Chalk brush preset, Studio Artist will reproduce your source image as a chalk sketch. You can either leave the program to create the entire sketch automatically, or do it by hand.

The program has a vast and powerful range of painting tools. However, the clumsy menu structure can be confusing, and this upgrade increases both the power and confusion in the program.

One of the more straightforward additions is improved support for the latest range of Wacom graphics tablets. This allows you to create custom brushes by editing settings such as pen tilt, pressure and orientation. These options particularly come into play when using the new MSG feature – Modular Synthesized Graphics. This is essentially an option that allows you to create customized image processing filters by adjusting Wacom brush settings, as well as technical parameters with confusing names such as End Mode Random, and Linear Increment. These options aren’t always clearly explained and you sometimes get the feeling that Synthetik has gotten a bit too carried away with the science of image processing and have lost sight of basic ease-of-use.

Even so, there are plenty of features in this upgrade that are well worth exploring. There’s an improved Vectorizer that allows you to convert bitmap images into vectors and, when you’re painting by hand, the program can store your brush strokes as vector paths. There’s an option to grab still images, or a series of frames from video sources such as Apple’s iSight Webcam. You can convert video clips into a series of vector files, that can then be exported to other applications, such as Flash. These tools will be useful for creating stylized animations or rotoscoping effects.

There are some quite bizarre painting tools, such as the Particle Paints – moving drops of paint that wriggle and squirm
as you apply them to the canvas.

The problem, though, is that Studio Artist’s interface makes it difficult to experiment with all these tools. The pull-down menus containing the various tools are confusing, and there are some basic weaknesses that need to be addressed.

The Undo tool is limited, and there’s no Revert command. Even simple tasks, like closing a canvas that you’ve mucked up and opening a new one, can be fiddly. Those weaknesses mean that Studio Artist is something of an acquired taste.

Fortunately, there’s a free demo available so you can try the software out before buying the full version.