Corel Painter 8 $299; ($149 upgrade/sidegrade) Corel www.corel.com Rating: 4 CPUs
Painter, a long-time staple in many digital artists' studios, has always been able to mimic real-world artist tools, making images that look like they were created with paper, brushes, pastels, ink, and other traditional media. Version 8 improves on this, letting you blend colors on a virtual palette, draw with 400 new brushes, and colorize images using a "digital water color" tool.
Other additions include a new Tracker palette that keeps track of your recently used brushes. New preview modes let you see the result of a change before you commit to it, and a Sketch Effect converts photographs to simple pencil drawings.
Painter's interface has always been its biggest liability, but Version 8 gets it right with intuitive, flexible toolbars and menus. The sheer number of tools and functions could overwhelm new users, and even old hands will have to relearn the interface.
Although the interface is a vast improvement, there are still a few hiccups. The program supports Wacom pen tablets, but neither the Windows or Mac version support the mouse scroll wheel. File-format support is mediocre. Although Painter can open and save JPG, TIFF, GIF, Photoshop, BMP, and other graphics formats, it doesn't support the PNG format, let alone any esoteric file formats.
The package includes a second CD with hundreds of additional brushes, nozzles, paper textures, patterns, and gradients. There's no installer for these; you need to install the proper folders by hand.
Painter requires Windows 2000/XP or Mac OS 9.2.2/X 10.2. (PC and Mac versions are included on the CD.) The price is $299, but there's a $149 upgrade/sidegrade deal for owners of Painter, Photoshop, and a few other graphics apps. A free 30-day trial version is available for download. The printed manual (nearly 500 pages!) is an excellent resource, but the Web-based online help isn't so easy to navigate.
Reprinted with permission from Computer Power User magazine.