Corel Painter 2019 review – a must-have upgrade for digital artists

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  • Price When Reviewed: £359.99. Upgrade £179.99

  • Pros: Greatly improved performance throughout. Modernised Dark UI along with better interface controls. Good addition of the Pinned Colour Wheel for more consistent colour sampling.

  • Cons: UI type size can be hard on the eyes – especially in the Dark theme. Slow startup and shut down.

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Artist Tom Bagshaw reviews the new Corel Painter and discovers that the software is much improved in ways that really matter to artists.

2017's release of Corel Painter 2018 brought with it the wonderful Thick Paint feature, improved grain and selection tools and some additional tweaks under the hood. This year, with the release of Painter 2019, Corel has made a big difference to my favourite digital painting software, along with new features such as an updated Dark UI and visual improvements, new brushes and patterns, with the biggest changes being made to the artists workflow and software performance.

I will start by saying that Painter 2019 does feel a little light in new features compared to previous releases – but that is mainly due to the majority of work going into improving the software in general (which is long overdue). Personally I would much rather my software worked smoothly and responsive than keep introducing more features I may never use in my day-to day-work.

So as you may have guessed, a more modern UI is a big change for Painter which has stuck with the same light grey for as long as I can remember. You wouldn't necessarily think this would make a big difference to your work – I have to admit to being a bit indifferent to hear this was coming – and yes, it is coming a little late compared to other applications – but getting away from light grey makes for a much more pleasant working experience.

You have a choice of UIs: Light (aka old Painter), Medium and Dark.

A dark UI means you're able to concentrate on your painting a lot more readily, selecting colours becomes easier – especially when it comes to small shifts in saturation or value. It really brings Painter inline with other software such as Adobe Creative Cloud, making it less jarring going from one to another. The default UI is now Dark, with two additional grey versions, Medium and Light.

I found the Dark theme a bit too much. One of Painter's issues – and always has been – is that there are a lot of settings (so many settings) for each brush, and the UI text is pretty small to accommodate that. For the Dark theme, that text is now white (Snow White or off white). At such small sizes, this be a bit tough on the eyes.

I prefer the Medium grey, which strikes a good balance. There is an accent / active colour for on states of icons, sliders and like. On the Dark theme, this is orange – which is fine but I'm not sure why the advanced controls need to be highlighted in that orange as well.

Another welcome change to the UI is the addition of a grey background to the Colour Sets and Layers palettes. Previously this has always been bright white, which I've never really understood; a mid-grey makes for more accurate colour selection – and is much easier to look at.

Icon see you

The 650-or-so icons have been redesigned to be more readable and understandable. Obviously for a novice user that is great – although I've already seen some long-time users moan that the changes aren't clear enough for them. Personally, I haven't had any problems – and for the most part they work as intended and certainly work better with the overall UI changes.

There are also have a couple of Icon variants, square and circular. This is a simple way to see what the icon controls, square now control the media type while round icons control brush shaping. Sliders have also been given an overhaul, these are now much easier to grab and slide and can be clicked at any point along the scale to jump to a setting or for more really precise control you can hold down CTRL/Cmd to move in 1% increments.

Over 650 icons have been redesigned – along with new easier to use slider controls.

While the UI changes to Corel Painter 2019 are the most obvious, the most important are the performance updates. There is enhanced support for multi-core processors – giving up to 50 perfect better performance on most brushes. Documents with multiple layers and larger canvases, zoom pan and rotate are also noticeably quicker.

It's worth mentioning that these improvements are going to be more or less noticeable depending on your hardware – big brushes on a big canvas are still going to lag if you're maxing out your hardware. However, if your machine is a little older, it's still going to feel greatly improved.

Multi-touch support has been improved, making using gestural controls of tablets – whether Wacom or Surface types – much smoother and responsive. Previously this was very buggy. If you don't have a muti-touch device, you can now use the new magnifier tool which now has a 'scrubby zoom' feature. This can be changed from the previous box-draw method via the Properties bar – allowing you to click and drag, up/down or left/right to quickly zoom in and out. Holding down Shift will swap the two different modes depending what you have selected.

Spectral painting

The Enhanced Brush Ghost now disappears and gets replaced with a small cross when you start painting. Initially I found this pretty jarring but quickly got used to it, preferring it to the standard brush ghost- which you can switch back to via the preferences panel or change from a cross to a variety of icons if need be.

Corel have also made some improvements to the Colour Wheel. Gone are the weird rectangle and cross-hair previously used to select Hue, Saturation and Value. These have been replaced with simple circles which are much more visually appealing and far easier to grab.

Most users will be aware of the Temporal Colour Wheel, accessed by hitting Cmd/Ctrl+2 or keyed to a tablet or pen press. This pops up a colour wheel at the cursor position over your document, and is always my preferred way of selecting colour as it can positioned right next to the area for accurate colour checking.

There is now a new 'Pinned' Temporal Colour Wheel which, as its name suggests, allows you to open a colour wheel and 'pin' it anywhere on the document – keeping it accessible and just where you need it. It can be resized and moved around, making it easier to judge HSV against a specific area you're painting.

The new ‘Pinned’ Temporal Colour Wheel can be left exactly where you want it.

As ever, more brushes have been added, 36 in total along with five new Patterns. There is a new Stamp Brush category, which is pretty simple stuff and, to my mind, a bit of a waste. This category is literally a stamp of a black and white or greyscale image (defaults being a tree, rock texture, scars, tattoos and atomic symbol) which can be applied to a layer but they're definitely more suited to a single mouse click rather than a brush stroke.

Using a tablet pen to put a stamp down is hit and miss. You can set a blending mode to the stamp brushes (a 'merge mode') and use paper texture but this just isn't going to be particularly useful to the vast majority of digital painters.

There are however more brushes to test out. The Sargent Brushes got the most but Thick Paint, Real Wet Oil, Real Watercolor, Pattern Pens, Impasto, Glazing, Dab Stencils, Blenders, Airbrushes and Selection Brushes all get some additions.

Whether you're on Painter 2018 or an older version, Painter 2019 is definitely worth the upgrade price. Even if you're not interested in all the new brushes and features added in, the performance increase alone is worth it. Things that were introduced awhile back – I'm looking at you, multi-touch and brush ghost – are now working as they should be. Brushes especially feel much more responsive.

There are a couple of issues for Windows users arriving from the 1808 update, relating to the brush search function. but these should be fixed pretty quickly. I think its worth mentioning that I noticed an increased delay in start-up and shut-down times but whether thats down to the software or my hardware I don’t know.

All in all this is the best version of Corel Painter for quite some time – since 2006's IX.5 to my mind.

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