Corel Painter 2016 review

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10 Best Buy We rate this 9 out of 10

  • Price When Reviewed: £262.50 plus VAT. Upgrade from £132 plus VAT.

  • Pros: Incredible range of brushes; .ABR brush import; improved blending; useful tooltips; performance boost; still the best for replicating natural media.

  • Cons: GUI can be intimidating to new users; some brushes can be sluggish even at low resolution

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While the 2015 edition of Corel Painter introduced new features – such as a Particle Brushes, Jitter Smoothing and a much-needed performance boost – 2016 goes much further and feels like a more substantial step forward - a big deal if you're looking to upgrade an earlier version, discovers artist Tom Bagshaw.

Painter 2016 now gives the option to rotate paper texture and flow maps, Dynamic Sprinkles for even better natural media brushstrokes. Audio Expression allowing brushes to become affected by audio input (??) – and there’s context-aware hints and visual tooltips to help you learn new tools (if you’re an old hand at Painter) or the whole application if you’ve just moved to Painter from Photoshop or ArtRage.

The new additions mean that Corel Painter is still the best natural media painting software you can get.

Corel Painter 2016 review: New brushes

Dynamic Speckle brushes combine 2015's Particle System Physics and brush thickness controls allowing for new brushstrokes, continuous strokes made of colour spots or speckles that are generated as you paint. These new Dynamic Speckle brushes can be found in the 2016 brush library categories.

More brush types have also been added including a range of dab types. These new dab types use both the Particles and Liquid Inks or Watercolour dabs combining to make Liquid Ink Gravity Particles, Liquid Ink Flow Particles, Liquid Ink Spring Particles, Watercolour Gravity Particles, Watercolour Flow Particles and Watercolour Spring Particles. These are all brushes that create quite random effects and it’s really going to be down to the individual to work out just how useful they will actually be in your own workflow.

Another introduction to Painter’s range of brushes is Audio Expression. Exactly as the name suggests, these are brushes that react to sound input- either from your speakers or mic, using the audio streams to modify the look and feel of the brushstroke – so yes, you can control your brushes’ parameters by singing to them.

Enabling the Audio Input and selecting an input source gives you the ability to add even more randomness to your marks, affecting controls such as the size, opacity, angle, stroke jitter, colour expression and variability. The strength and range of the audio input can be adjusted to further affect the results.

Again, I'm sure there will be some users who will find this useful, but I cannot for the life of me see that I would ever use this feature.

Corel Painter 2016 review: Photoshop brush import

At long last, Painter allows for Photoshop Brush file import.

Finally, 2016 brings us the ability to import Adobe Photoshop .ABR brush files, something I know a lot of digital artists will be happy about. Imported brushes will retain parameters such as dab shape, texture, dynamics. However, some other attributes are not supported, so you’ll likely need to customise brushes after import. I’m hoping Corel will improve on this on the future – though it’ll never be perfect (as Corel’s and Adobe’s underlying painting engines are different).

Paper and Flow Map rotation is another welcome addition. This gives the user the ability to change the paper or flow map direction at any time to get even more variety in the look of your brushstrokes. This is especially useful/noticeable with the watercolour brushes.

Corel Painter 2016 review: user interface

With so many tools, Painter’s UI can be a little confusing – but the software has always had some helpful settings to simplify the user experience if needed. With Painter 2016 there is the option for a Document view or Presentation view, which are quickly accessible from the toolbox, window menu and keyboard shortcuts.

The Presentation view clears a lot of the clutter such as the menu bar and OS task bar, leaving the important controls and switching the document into full screen mode.

There are also new UI colour options allowing the user to switch between Dark, Sepia or Frost and the ability to change your background colour to anything you prefer (selectable from the colour wheel).

Painter 2016 now has improved default settings restoration. Essentially this means that should there be a problem and you need to do a restore, all your precious custom content like brushes, palettes, paper textures and the like should remain intact – rather than the joy of having to add it all back in from backups (if you have them!).

One of my favourite things about Painter’s interface is the ability to create Custom Palettes. These have long been the place to keep your favourite brushes, defaults and variants alike – so you can access your most used brushes without the need to go back and forth through the brush menus.

Custom Palettes get an overhaul, allowing users to collect brushes, paper, commands and share them as a Toolkit .BOX file.

In Painter 2016, the Custom Palettes get an upgrade – allowing you to not only store your brushes but also papers, flow maps and even menu commands. These can also now be saved as a custom Toolbox file (.BOX) which allows for simpler sharing or backup of your favourite content. 

Context-sensitive Hints and Visual Tooltips have been introduced that give the user a better understanding of selected tools and their controls. Even for seasoned users of Painter, sometimes a visual prompt over a brush setting can help in reminding you exactly what it is you're about to alter. After all, Painter has an incredible amount of settings for every single brush and a visual tooltip is means you don’t have to try to remember everything.

Of course the Hints and Tooltips can be turned off if you do know everything or just find them distracting.

Corel Painter 2016 review: Blending 2.0

Finally I'm going to cover a small but – to me at least – important change: 'Blending 2.0'. The thing that is so good about Painter is its ability to mix digital paint in a natural way - but one thing I've always been disappointed by is that any brush that has any level of blending (oils and acrylics in particular, for my work) will produce a weird white fringe around a brushstroke on an empty layer.

It’s barely noticeable and generally gets absorbed as you paint but it’s always been there. 'Blending 2.0' brings new brush variants with improved blending across layers and media, producing blenders that are smoother and faster than before and the new layer blending option produces brushstrokes without the white fringing.

If that check box is selected, it does indeed remove that white fringing which is great but my question would be - why is this not written into the application itself? Why is it an option to check in your brush controls - isn't this a bug that should have been fixed years ago?

Should I upgrade to Corel Painter 2016?

Corel Painter 2016 is a great improvement over 2015 - if you have a previous version I’d say this is a worthwhile one to upgrade to.

If you have never tried Painter before, especially if you're a digital artist using Photoshop to paint - give Painter a go. It’s unrivalled in its ability to replicate traditional media with an enormous amount of settings for all skill levels.

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