Comparing Digital Painting Software with Parrots

The title of this article is semi misleading as I am not comparing digital painting with parrots, but it is accurate in the sense that I used the same reference photo of a parrot for doing the painting studies. You can find the reference I used on Pexels.

Photo of a Parrot
Photo by James Frid from Pexels

For this article I’ve done studies of a parrot in the 2D digital painting software I have access to: Clip Studio Paint, PD Howler 2022, Krita 4, Rebelle 4, Realistic Paint Studio, ArtRage 6, Corel Painter 2022 (trial) and Paintstorm Studio. Over the years I’ve tried to give everything I can a go. I haven’t done a parrot study in Affinity Photo, perhaps I’ll add that to the article one day if I have time. I’m not being sponsored or asked to do this either.

Unfortunately I can’t extend my budget to buy an iPad and try Procreate, but I hear it is also a good option to consider for emulating natural mediums. You could also try out Adobe Fresco if you have an Adobe subscription. As for Corel Painter, I don’t own a current copy but I gave the trial a go just for this article. I braved the marketing pop ups just for you, luckily I figured out how to disable them.

I wanted to stick to a sort of oil/acrylic painting style for these studies. I had to focus on one aspect for this article due to the potential time constraints of looking at all of the other features.

I think all of the software with a few exceptions are pretty similar. If one software has a feature that another does not, there is always the possibility of mixing them so as not to limit your creativity.

I’m not reviewing the software in this article, I’ll just give some opinions on what I liked and what I would have liked. I also recorded my process of painting the parrot for each of the different software. I think I’ve had enough of parrots for a while.

PD Howler

I’ve not used PD Howler very much for painting, but it has a lot of really interesting features. So many features, I still haven’t explored all of them.

When I first tried Howler I immediately liked it for painting in because it reminded me of Corel Painter. The way you can use paper textures for the brushes is very similar, and it has some lovely blendy oil paint and pastel/oil pastel type brushes. For those of you that are new to my blog, Corel Painter was the first digital painting program I used other than an old copy of Photoshop which I didn’t get on with. I still have some nostalgia for Corel Painter, it was lovely for digital painting back in the day.

The user interface of PD Howler is similar to older versions of Corel Painter and has lots of different themes to choose from.

user interface for pd howler 2022
User interface for PD Howler 2022

PD Howler does have a few things I would like to be improved though. I’d like to be able to see where I am on the colour wheel. All of the other programs I tried for this article have a little white dot which tells you where you are in relation to other colours on the wheel. I find this pretty essential and it is frustrating that this program doesn’t have that, although it does have a lot of other features to do with picking colours. I’m so used to having this that it makes painting in it quite frustrating.

I would also like to be able to use the space bar for panning around the screen rather than using CTRL + Shift, just because all of the other programs generally use that button for the panning function.

The hotkey for the colour picker is usually Alt (CTRL in Krita but I think you can change it to Alt) in other programs as well, but this program uses a different hotkey for that as well. I’ve mapped the buttons to a mini gaming keyboard which I use on my left hand while I’m drawing with my tablet, so it is usable, but it would be less confusing going between different art programs if it was the same. When I’m blending colours I use the colour picker all the time, so that would be nice to eliminate the confusion.

A navigation window would be great to have as well, I often use that feature in other programs to pan around the picture, zoom in and out and flip the picture horizontally to check on proportions.

The layer system encourages a glazing approach for painting or limits you to painting on a merged canvas if you want opaque brush strokes. Basically I think of it as a program for making under-paintings which I would take into another program (such as Krita) with more support for painting on multiple layers.

I did a quick study in this program. I left it at a fairly rough stage because you can’t really work on it with opaque brush strokes for more layers like I would usually do. I suppose I could have merged it to the canvas layer and worked on it some more though.

parrot study in pd howler 2022
study of a parrot in PD Howler

I like the painting experience in this program despite the things I’ve pointed out, it is really fast and has a good usable interface. I like the warp tool and transformation tools as well. The developers take feedback and bug reports into account and treat their customers with respect. The program is always being improved.

I’ve written a few things about this program on the blog before.

Painting in PD Howler

Krita

My study session in Krita went pretty well because I’m used to the software. I’ve been using Krita since around 2016. I stopped using Corel Painter in 2017 because I preferred Krita and I also started trying other software such as Clip Studio Paint.

Trying different software was definitely a learning experience for me. Even though it was annoying at the time I think it was worth doing because it forced me to try different techniques and I had access to features not present in Corel Painter. It also made me realize how clunky and difficult to use Corel Painter was (although they have since made some improvements from the version I last used).

I’m digressing slightly, but I do think changing up your mediums and art techniques is a good thing from time to time digital or otherwise. From 2014 onward I was also doing a lot more traditional medium studies and trying different things during an art course I was attending, which in hindsight improved my drawing and painting skills and increased my creativity levels. I still persisted using Corel Painter during my course, but I was encouraged to try traditional mediums (if only to show them I wasn’t “cheating” and could actually draw).

Some sketchbook studies and media tests from my 2014-2015 course
Some sketchbook studies and media tests from my 2014-2015 course

I continued to do observation studies and keep sketchbooks after I finished the course. I still draw in my sketchbook but 2015-2019 was pretty busy in this regard. I started learning vector art and trying to mix my traditional and digital art together more as well.

I think learning vector and digital 3D modeling and sculpting has had a positive effect on my artistic development, but I need to balance my digital studies with traditional to keep my creativity/mojo going.

But I digress, This is the study I made in Krita. I like using Krita and I’ve become used to it over the years but not to the point where I won’t try other software or draw traditionally from time to time.

Parrot study in Krita 4
parrot study in Krita 4

I love the brushes in this program. The default brushes that come with a new install are probably all you will need to get started, but I also like to use ones by artists such as Ramon Miranda and David Revoy who are both very proficient with Krita and art in general. Check out the Krita YouTube channel to get info on new brushes by Ramon and updates about Krita.

The new RGBA brushes are amazing, they are a nice digital oil paint sort of thing. I prefer the look of them to Corel Painters impasto brushes. They look much nicer. In the version 5 coming up the RGBA brushes will also have the ability to be blendy /smudged as well. There is only one thing I miss in Krita that Corel Painter has though, the blendy bristle brushes. Oh how I miss those brushes. Over the years I’ve adapted and learned different blending techniques (making great use of the colour picker technique), but blending subtle colour graduations together in Corel Painter was (and still is) really lovely.

Krita does have an improved colour smudge engine from previous versions though and I think it will only improve with time. The wet colour smudge brushes are comparable to some of Corel Painters digital wet brushes. The version 5 will also support the MyPaint brush engine and combine this with the RGBA brushes to create cool impasto like brushes. Another artist exploring the RGBA brushes for the version 5 is called Wojtek Trybus.

This is the user interface for Krita.

Krita UI
Krita’s UI

One thing I really like in Krita is the pop up brush palette feature. You can tag brushes that you like using and then quickly access them in a circular pop up palette while you are painting. This saves a lot of time looking through the brush menus in the long run. I also like having the quick settings docker visible so that I can choose brush sizes quickly. I like how customizable the user interface is, you can drag things about and dock them where you want. It also has animation features which is nice.

Krita is a powerful and versatile program and it is free and open source software. Make sure you only download it from the official website if you want it for free though. You can get it on the Windows, Steam and Epic stores as well, but they charge a small one off fee which goes toward the development fund for Krita.

Clip Studio Paint

This program is a workhorse, It has every feature you might need for digital drawing and painting. It is particularly useful for comics and manga with its tools for drawing and colouring line art, and the Ex version also has animation features. In my opinion the default brushes are fine to get started, but I like to use a set I bought off an artist called Frenden and I also like the Daub Media brushes.

I prefer Krita for painting in because I think the brushes feel nicer to use and I prefer the user interface, but Clip Studio Paint is great because you can import Photoshop brushes and they perform really well. I imported a set of brushes I made from my old Photoshop brushes for this study session as well as the ones I mentioned by Frenden and Daub. After some painting I customized the UI to better suit my process.

Clip Studio Paint UI
Clip Studio Paint UI

Inking is Clip Studio Paint’s strength. The pens are nicer to use than any of the other software I have tried, although Krita is good for line-art as well.

This is the study I made in Clip Studio Paint after a second try. I did this study after the one I made in Krita. Even though I prefer Krita, I think the parrot looks better in this study because I’d had more practice by this time. If I wasn’t driven mad by painting the same parrot for 2 weeks I’d be tempted to do another study in Krita to see if more practice has made a difference to how I would paint it again.

Parrot Study in Clip Studio Paint

Here is the process video of the painting in Clip Studio Paint.

Rebelle 4

Rebelle has an amazing watercolour simulation brush engine. The watercolours are really realistic, they even drip and move around like real paint. The only other digital art program I’ve tried that does this convincingly and in a fast, natural and pleasant way is Expresii.

The latest version of Rebelle does seem faster and better than the last version I tried.

With that said I painted this parrot in the program for this article:

parrot study in Rebelle 4
parrot study in Rebelle 4

I liked how the acrylic paints behaved more than the oils, but that is just my preference. Impasto looks nice in this program, I preferred it to ArtRage. The pencils are not great. The strength or niche of this program is the digital watercolour brush engine. I’m not great at watercolours but it is a nice way to create textures and interesting effects.

In my opinion the watercolours in Rebelle are far superior and nicer to use than Corel Painters grainy watercolours. There is nothing like them in any other software except perhaps Expresii. I haven’t done a study in Expresii for this article because I was sticking to oil paint sort of style but rumor has it they are working on a realistic oil simulation as well.

Here is what the UI for Rebelle looks like. I keep forgetting what all the little menu icons are in the top left corner under the main brush icons, other than that it is a nice UI. It isn’t very complicated to understand.

Rebelle user interface
Rebelle user interface

Realistic Paint Studio

I only tried this software a few weeks ago for this article. This program has the most beautiful user interface I’ve ever seen in a 2D digital painting software. I think its target audience are traditional artists or casual users who are new to digital painting because it is easy to use and fun. I spent quite a few happy hours in it. The creators of Paintstorm Studio developed it for Windows, Mac and iPad.

Although it lacks a few features I would like- such as the ability to import a picture/sketch onto the canvas for example, I think it could be a good program for just chilling out with. It has limited layer functions and no way to flip the canvas either. It really is trying to emulate the traditional art workflow more than anything else. It was really affordable though, I would class it as more of a casual game than a professional art program for doing work in.

There are three interfaces for this program depending on how you choose to start: drawing, watercolour painting and oil painting. The interfaces look like a desk or a canvas in an art studio with your tools and colour palettes ready for you to choose and start painting with.

I did two studies of the parrot in this program. One I made with the watercolour and drawing tools, and the other with the oil paints. I spent quite a bit of time on the studies because the program was immersive and fun to use.

parrot studies in Realistic Paint Studio
parrot studies in Realistic Paint Studio

I liked how all of the brushes and drawing tools performed and they do look very “realistic”, especially when you export a 3D render preview of them out. This is a unique feature of this program which is a lot of fun. You can also export pictures out without having to render them like this of course.

Another thing this program does very well is the colours– they all look very vibrant. This is a main feature of the program.

The coloured pencils are really lovely, but I would have liked to have a sharper pencil / tighter control option for the details. That’s probably just me though- I still love putting tiny details no one else can see into things. Maybe I need to keep work on loosening up or just draw larger.

ArtRage

I personally did not get on with ArtRage because it was too different to my preferred workflow. I gave up pretty fast with this one. I’m a bit embarrassed of this picture, but at least the parrot looks happy. I’ve had a copy of ArtRage since version 2, but I’ll be honest it was never really my thing.

parrot study in ArtRage 6

I’ve seen other artists do amazing things with it so it is probably a case of sticking with it for long enough or adjusting your style to how the brushes work. Not for me though. The oil brushes although lovely to mix and blend colours with, were not my thing. I found them too frustrating to use and lacking the control I prefer. They are fine for more painterly loose styles though. I suppose you could combine this program with others to overcome the limitations like I said for PD Howler.

Although some customization of the UI is possible I found it too limited. I also miss a navigation window.

ArtRage 6 screenshot
ArtRage 6 User Interface

I have heard from other people that customization of brushes is key to using this program. The impasto effects are very nice looking and have a satisfying feel when laying down colours.

Paintstorm Studio

I have owned a copy of Paintstorm Studio for a few years now, but I’ve rarely used it.

The interface is customizable and it looks great, there are lots of brushes to choose from and it has all the features you might need for doing sketching, painting, concept art etc…

Paintstorm Studio UI
Paintstorm Studio UI

The oil brushes in this program are very similar to Corel Painter’s brushes. It also reminds me a little of a program I tried years ago called “Black Paint” with the more generative digital brushes it has.

Unfortunately some of the brushes didn’t work at all for me, I think some require tilt functionality in pen tablets to work, or maybe my pen just doesn’t work well with them.

I imported two ready made brush sets I had found online to use for the parrot study I made. As you can see I had no problem blending the colours.

Parrot study in Paintstorm studio
Parrot study in Paintstorm studio

Personally I found the brush customization options too intimidating to attempt. I’m sure if I learned more about this program I would get used to it though.

The oil paints are blendy and lush. It has a nice impasto effect as well if you like that sort of thing. I think its a good program, I will probably sketch or do rough work in it if I want to use some of the blendy or unique brushes from time to time.

Affinity Photo

I didn’t do a study of a parrot for this one, but I do have a chicken I sketched earlier this year.

The mixer brushes are really nice if you want an oil paint look. I prefer Krita for painting because I’m used to the brushes and I prefer the interface. Affinity Photo is my main photo and image editor though.

chicken artrage

Corel Painter

For this article I decided to try the 2022 trial version of Corel Painter.

First off lets get the technical/annoying stuff out of the way.

It didn’t give me an option to choose where to install it which I didn’t like. I usually install programs/games to a separate SSD drive because in my experience they work faster that way, I don’t like to fill the C drive up too much either because it isn’t that big compared to my other drives.

That being said the installation of the program worked fine. The trouble is Corel Painter likes to install something called the CorelUpdateHelper service in the background which gives you random Corel marketing pop ups on your computer unless you disable it (even when the program is not open!). I think this is a bit tacky to say the least, especially for a program that is marketed as a premium software with a full retail price of over £400. Surely they should at least be upfront about that and give you an option not to install it? Thankfully these pop up ads can be disabled my going to the marketing settings in the program and turning off the notifications. Further brush promotions can also be turned off in the brush settings menu. At least that is possible in this version, my 2016 version was bugged in this regard.

When I uninstall the program I hope everything gets deleted or I’ll take time out to create a new user account to double make sure there is no junk left over (I installed it on a limited user account, not the main admin account BTW). If all else fails I guess I could always take a few days out to reinstall Windows again.

With that out the way lets get into the actual program, believe it or not I actually liked my time in Painter 2022. I spent several days just going through all of the brushes and familiarizing myself with it before I started on the study. I have some history with the program, I used it pretty much exclusively for my digital painting from 2004-2017.

here are some of my old studies using the program:

Corel Painter studies from a distant past
Corel Painter studies from a distant past

These are just some of the natural media type brushes in the default library for the recent 2022 program. I didn’t really look at novelty brushes and particle brushes, they are not my thing.

Corel Painter 2022 default brushes
Corel Painter 2022 default brushes

This is the study I made:

study of a parrot in Corel Painter trial 2022
study of a parrot in Corel Painter trial 2022

I spent quite a bit of time on it because I was trying to go through all of the brushes and test the program out while I did it. I also found out that my old Corel Painter mixed media brush set worked in the demo, so I was pretty happy about that. I love my oil pastel set, I’ve really missed using it. I took the time to re-organize it and delete ones I don’t like anymore from the set to streamline it a bit.

My mixed media brushes for Corel Painter
My mixed media brushes for Corel Painter

I’ll be honest, if you are new to digital painting this program works a little differently (to say the least) with layers than in other programs. Some of the brush engines only work on special layer types such as watercolour, fluid ink and thick paint. Painter 2022 has introduced a better system for this which helps you with the layers as you are painting. I think this is good, it takes the frustration out of that aspect somewhat.

They have also created a filter system for the brush types so you know what works OK with others as well.

There are many more layer blending modes than I remember in older versions too, but you have to be careful what layer you are on and be careful how different layers merge together with all the crazy brush engines. Another thing to bear in mind is the digital watercolour layers have a dry and diffuse option which can change how things work on the layer.

Here is what the user interface looks like:

Corel Painter user interface
Corel Painter user interface

Very slick and modern looking from older versions. the colour harmony thing in the colour wheel docker is nice. Krita and PD Howler has had things like that for some time now… but better late than never. The favorite brush filter and the pick brush size palette is a good idea as well- sort of reminds me of Krita…

I like most of the improvements they made since the last version I used (2012 mostly and 2016 briefly). It is a much better program than it was. I still think there is a lot of room for improvement, but it is good at what it does. I want it to be good for the price they try to sell it for.

There are many brushes in this program I wouldn’t ever use and the auto cloning thing looks horrible, but I’ve never used it. Some people may see that alone as a feature, but be aware that there are more affordable and even free options for that sort of thing these days as well.

If you do own a copy it is a good program to use for digital painting, just be aware of the expensive upgrades. Best way to get a cheap copy is to look out for Humble Bundle offers and wait for Black Friday or other sales if you want to upgrade it.


To summarize here are all of the studies together:

OMG all of those parrots!
OMG all of those parrots!

Thanks for reading, I hope that was interesting. I need a cup of tea now.

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