This article accompanies a painting study I worked on recently using PD Howler 2021.
PD Howler is a paint program with lots of features, you can find out more about it on their website.
As I was doing this painting I made some notes about the software which are in this article. I have also written a few of my opinions on features that would be useful that are currently not within PD Howler but are part of other painting software I use.
This article will be focusing mainly on the 2D painting features. The program also has animation and 3D effects but I haven’t really explored that side of things as of yet.
You can watch the video of the sped up painting time-lapse I did here:
Useful shortcut keys for painting in PD Howler
First a quick note on my painting setup: I use a gaming keypad for setting my shortcut combinations and macros for graphics and 3D applications so that I have easy access to them with my left hand while I’m using my tablet pen in my right hand. My regular keyboard is in the centre of my standing desk on a shelf under my tablet monitor so that I can use that easily as well.
Since my last painting in PD Howler I have a newer PC with a modern GPU and multi core threaded CPU and a fast SSD drive, so I don’t have the same performance issues I was having before. PD Howler is very fast to start up and use in general. I painted on a fairly large canvas size with no issues.
CTRL + SHIFT: pans around the canvas.
In most of my other 2D painting software this is always set to the Space bar so it would be great if there was a way to change it to that so I don’t have to use a different one for this, but it is not a problem to use since the keys are close together anyway.
, <: On canvas colour picker
I set this Shortcut to a key on my gaming keyboard for easier access, but usually this function in most of the other painting software I have used is usually the ALT key or CTRL in Krita. It would be nice if I could change it to one of those instead but I got used to using the key on my gaming keyboard.
CTRL + SHIFT + Right mouse: Zoom in and out. Mouse Scroll wheel also zooms in and out.
This one I didn’t use so much. I usually use on-screen zoom sliders in most of my other painting software if I zoom in and out. This shortcut combination was less useful because going into eraser mode with my tablet pen (set to right click button) means that if I try to pan around the canvas it zooms in and out instead in PD Howler. A more useful feature would be if they had a small navigation window with a zoom slider like Krita and most other painting software has because I use that all the time in Krita.
I suppose the most obvious thing to talk about in an article about digital painting software would be what types of brushes does it have. PD Howler has a great selection of brushes for emulating natural media as well as some pretty weird and fun ones.
PD Howler has a standard pixel brush engine, natural media FX brushes, foliage brushes, particle brushes (including a few sound activated ones), orbicle brushes, animated brushes, alpha selection brushes, and stamp brushes.
Far too many to go into here and I don’t understand how the particle and orbicle brushes work, but they are very clever.
The only ones I’m particularly interested in using myself are the natural media ones such as the Gouache, Oils, Pastels, Pencil, Watercolor and Bristles. These are the closest to the brushes I used to use in Corel painter and I like the way they can blend and glaze on the canvas. Some of the animated brushes are useful as well (especially for landscapes / backgrounds) if you combine them with these settings.
It is worth playing with the different FX types and adjusting dry out and bleed settings.
It is worth mentioning that all of the brushes can be customized and saved as new ones. You can even create your own brush folders in case you want quick access to your favorite ones.
Other useful things to know about
These are also in most other modern 2D painting software.
For most of the blending and more advanced painting brushes in PD Howler I find it useful to turn off smoothing altogether otherwise the smoothing algorithm slows down strokes.
Some of the more basic pixel engine brush /pen tools need smoothing or the stroke will be jittery, so for them just turn it down to as low as it will go.
I really like the ability to change the texture for some of the brushes on the fly with the paper texture setting window, it reminds me of Corel Painter in this regard.
Lasso selection tool and transform
You can select areas of your painting with selection tools and move, rotate, resize and skew them.
I like the way this works in PD Howler because if you check the image option it makes a copy of the image within the selection automatically for the transform tool. This means you don’t have to copy and paste the bit of the image you want to transform first like in other software to avoid issues with transparent pixels once you have moved or changed something.
The way layers work in PD Howler takes a little getting used to. Your base layer is supposed to be the canvas or paper layer. The colour and paper texture setting you set this to will affect your overall painting because additional layers are in a multiply mode by default.
PD Howler does not have an opaque pixel layer mode like most other painting software has. Layers are RGB only and don’t have their own alpha channel. However PD Howler is useful for a glazing painting method approach which results in good overall tone and is useful for establishing an under painting.
There are several other blending modes available for layers as well.
The base layer is useful for setting an overall tone for your painting with this method. If you want areas of white on your painting the way you do it using PD Howler is to fill the base layer with white and then use the eraser mode on your pen tablet to show areas of the white canvas through your painting. If you try to use white on a layer above the base layer it will never be pure white and the base colour will show through.
If you wanted to add opaque layers later in your painting you could export or save out the image from PD Howler and import it into another painting software such as Krita, Affinity Photo, Clip Studio Paint or Photoshop. This is what I did to add more detail to a previous painting.
For this painting I used PD Howler to establish a loose base painting with its lovely blending on canvas oil and pastel/chalk brushes and then added finer details with Krita.
At present Krita does not have the sort of blending brushes that PD Howler has, although it does have a smudge brush engine. Programs such as Corel Painter, Artweaver and ArtRage also have blending on canvas brushes (not an exhaustive list I’m sure there are other programs that do as well).
To do more advanced layer effects and non destructive layer adjustments you will need to use a different program than PD Howler, but you can save out your image from PD Howler in common image formats for that.
Right click context menu for layers
in the layers panel if you right click on a layer it gives you more options which are useful to know about.
PD Howler has a lot of colour theory tools, mixer palettes and preset colour palettes to help with painting. Access them on the color panel in the sidebar:
More tools can be used by going to the View > Color menu.
The only thing I wish it had which would improve the digital painting experience is an indicator on the palette of where you are in relation to other colours around it. Most other software has this, it is very useful for picking colours to know where you are on the colour palette or colour wheel.
Artist grids and rulers
PD Howler has all of the basic filter adjustments for most image editing jobs and some more on top of them. My only advice for using most of them would be to make sure you save a copy of your work before you do any of them because they are not non-destructive.
Filter > Transform > Warp mesh
This is a useful feature if you want to squash and stretch parts of your painting with a customisable grid, perhaps to correct proportions or play with them. I think a selection based warp mesh like in Krita would be more useful for some things though. I used the selection lasso and transform tools more than the warp mesh filter in PD Howler for correcting proportions of the dog in the example painting for this article because it was easier to control small areas without affecting parts I didn’t want to change.
Filters > Artistic > Apply Current Paper
This is useful if you want to set the paper texture for the base layer to something different. You can choose the texture to use in the paper texture setting window. It took me a while to find where it was though.
Here you will find some useful tools for basic image editing. PD Howler also has a swap image system, but that is out of the scope for this article since I didn’t use them for the painting this time around.
The crop tool is useful for cropping an image, or you can use the selection tools and then press crop to selection.
Fill and feature replacement
Another thing that is worth mentioning though is the fill and feature replacement tools which are useful from time to time with the selection tools for correcting or seamlessly blending away parts of your image with the Poisson feature replacement.
Image > Flip > Horizontal / Vertical
This is an essential feature in most painting software because flipping your image from time to time helps you to see problems with your painting.
I hope this article has been useful, thanks for reading!