Digital Art Software News 2021

There are some new versions of art software coming along this year. I’ll mention the ones which have caught my eye and a few others which are of general interest.

(You may want to come back to this post every now and again because I keep adding things to it).

3D Software

Blender

Blender is a free Open Source 3D creation suite.

The current stable version of Blender as I write this is 2.92 but they have a roadmap on their website detailing the planned updates for the next version of Blender. Improvements to the Cycles rendering engine, animation tools and grease pencil features are just a few of the things they are working on. There is a really interesting article about how Cartoon Saloon a 2D animation studio used Blender for some 3D pre-visualization for their latest film Wolfwalkers.

June 2nd

Blender 2.93 LTS has just been released.

This is an amazing update, watch this excellent video to find out what is new in five minutes:

Silo and Milo

Silo which is for 3D modelling and UVs in a lightweight application has had an update recently. It also comes with a new real time rendering application called Milo which is built atop Epics Unreal Engine. Find out more on their website: Silo

3D Coat 2021

3D Coat 2021 will be released on July 12th. For people with a previous version the new version will be available to upgrade to on July 5th. It looks like there will be several pricing options depending on budget and experience level.

There is also a tailored down version called 3DCoatTextura which will be a more affordable option for people who only need the 3D painting/texturing and rendering features of 3D Coat.

Here is the announcement on the 3D Coat website: Press release.

ZBrush

I caved in and bought a ZBrush license last year and I have not been disappointed. It is a wonderful 3D sculpting application. There are subscription and cheaper versions available but I got the full version because it was my birthday and I’d been putting it off for too long.

It has had some pretty cool updates just in the time since I got it and it now at version 2021.6 which introduced some new 3D sketching features, 2Dalpha extrusions along curves (hair brush), snake curve brushes and true raytracing ambient occlusion among others.

The free ZBrushCoreMini was recently updated to version 2021.

Quixel Mixer 2021

Quixel Mixer is a free 3D texturing tool by Epic Games. They recently had an update which introduced some improvements in the latest release. Find out more by looking at this feature snapshot video and visiting their website.

Curvy 3D Go

This qualifies for this article because there was an update back in February this year. Curvy 3D Go is a nice little lite 3D art application you can get on Steam. I’ve been using it to make quick base meshes which I then work on in ZBrush.

ZBrush is introducing more 2D sketching tools to the 3D features, but Curvy 3D is still ahead of the curve (for the 2D sketching base mesh approach- not the sculpting, but it does have basic tools for that as well) in my opinion. Not surprising because that is it’s chief focus. It just seems easier to use for quick base meshes using sketching and curve tools, but I am still new to ZBrush.

I think Curvy 3D Go is ideal for people who are new to 3D coming from a 2D background and it is only £3.99.

Asset Forge 2.2.0

There has been an update to the 3D kit-bashing with 3D blocks software Asset Forge. The update log is here: Asset Forge 2.2.0 dev log.

Adobe Substance 3D Collection

Adobe has released a new 3D software suite- the Substance 3D Collection, designed for beginners to experts. Seems to be aimed primarily toward graphic designers and product designers wishing to get into 3D with an emphasis on ease of use and presentation. More information here.

There are several plans to suit different budgets and requirements on a subscription plan model.

2D Software

Moho

Moho a vector based 2D animation suite, recently got re-acquired from Smith Micro to its original creators Lost Marble.

They just released a new version 13.5 which introduces some new features including Vitruvian bones, quad meshes and wind dynamics. Cartoon Saloon is a professional animation company which makes use of Moho, most recently with Wolfwalkers.

Procreate

I don’t own a tablet but I may as well mention an interesting update to the 2D painting application Procreate 5.2 which will introduce the ability to paint on 3D models. No doubt this feature will be very useful to tablet users.

PD Howler

Ive been very impressed with the development of PD Howler 2021 and it is a fun program to use every so often for digital painting and cool effects. It doesn’t replace Krita (or something like Photoshop or Affinity Photo) because of the lack of PSD support and layer compatibility, but it has some nice tools and unique features you may want to check out.

I have to admit I hardly use most of its potential for 3D effects and animation, particularly the cool 3D animated flyovers. Its feature set is really impressive for such an affordable application.

Also of interest is that the developers of PD Howler have recently been using the 3D Coat beta and making videos on how to use PD Howlers height map features with 3D Coat.

I recently learned from their newsletter that they have been working on Howler 2022. New features so far include:

  • Non-Local Means noise removal filter
  • Adaptive Threshold filter
  • An option to feather the alpha channel.
  • Distance Transform filter
  • Stored images now have the option to be marked as Indelible, meaning they will survive a program restart.
  • Multi-frequency option for CLAHE (Contrast Limited Adaptive Histogram Equalization)
  • filter/combine by swap filter to calculate the Euclidean distance between the pixels of the two images

If you want to get Howler 2022 you can use the upgrade option on their website.

Corel Painter 2022

Corel has released a new version to its digital painting software Painter. For anyone wanting to try Corel Painter the only thing I would say is if you don’t have the budget for it, give the other options a go as well because it is really expensive for beginners.

Humble Bundle usually has offers on Corel Painter versions if you want to try it for a more reasonable price. Worth keeping an eye on their software offers if you are interested in getting it for less.

For more information about Corel Painter read Aaron Rutten’s review, he is very knowledgeable on the software. Wesley Gardner has an interesting video on the subject as well. As to my thoughts, if they still have the spammy pop up ads in the software I’m not going to go near it and it way too expensive for what it is considering all of the alternatives these days.

Other World Mapper

Every now and then you might need to make a map. Other World Mapper is a map making software I have used to help plan maps. There was a new update in late June to version 1.0.4 with several new features.

Sketchbook

Sketchbook has changed owners from Autodesk to an independent company called Sketchbook, Inc.

This may be the start of a new phase for development of the popular digital sketching software.

Artweaver

Artweaver is a digital painting software. It is a little like a mix between older versions of Corel Painter (2012 sort of version) and Photoshop. Version 7.0.9 was released in May this year.

Krita

I use Krita all the time for Illustration and digital painting so I’ve always got my eye on what they are working on. I hope they don’t think I’m stalking them LOL. I think the next big update (version 5) will be a while but version 4.4.3 was released back in March this year.

The Krita development team has been busy making videos detailing the upcoming version 5 release (planned release date is August this year).

Material Maker 0.95

Material Maker is an Open Source procedural PBR (Physically Based Rendering) materials authoring tool, based on the Godot Engine. From version 0.94 which was released in January of this year it also includes 3D painting tools.

Version 0.95 released in April introduces more feature updates including an editor for 3D environments using HDRI images and directional lights (for the mesh painting and preview), major updates to the nodes/brushes library management and some improved nodes. Find out more here: Material Maker 0.95 update notes.

Inkscape

Inkscape 1.1 was recently released. It is a free and Open Source software for making vector based graphics.

Rebelle 4.1

Rebelle issued another update to its excellent digital painting watercolour simulation software. Full details can be read here on their development blog. It is a free update for Rebelle 4 users.

I do own a copy of Rebelle 4 so I will give it another go at some point although I’m pretty much addicted to using Krita for most of my 2D work these days.

MagicTints 2.1

MagicTints is a colour matching and colour correction tool.

With this release the MagicTints plugin is also available as a standalone application for Windows + and Mac OS X 10.8+.

Laigter

Laigter is a free or pay what you want software for making normal maps for 2D textures very easily. Its main usage scenario is for 2D games that use dynamic lighting, but it can be used for 3D software and Illustration use.

There was an update in June 2021 for version 1.10.6.

Pixel Over

Pixel Over is a software which turns your art into pixel art. Useful for people making pixel art games and animations with a alternative workflow for the pixel art and animation workflow. It also has bone animation tools.

Future releases may incorporate 3D model import.

Currently on sale at the time of writing this (14th June 2021).

RefShelf

RefShelf is a free tool for using reference images. Looks similar to what PureRef does.

Under Development and Experimental

I’ll mention a few things I’ve seen which are being worked on and look interesting.

Plasmo

This one looks interesting because it is a sketch based 3D modelling tool. It isn’t quite ready yet, but there will be a beta version.

NClay

NClay is a multi-platform, multithreaded, Vulkan based 3D sculpting software using subdivision surfaces that developer Germano Cesari has been working on for several years. He has recently released it to the public for free under a MIT license and wants feedback from artists.

I haven’t really tested it very much myself yet but it looks really promising. The UI is simple and intuitive and the developer is helpful, friendly and takes feedback into account. One to keep an eye on perhaps.

EditSDF

This is a web based tool by Stéphane GINIER (developer of Nomad and SculptGL) experimenting with raymarched signed distance field 3D modelling technology.

Animation3

MagicaCSG

A prototype software in development by MagicaVoxel developer ephtracy. There are some examples/demos of this available on Twitter under the hashtag #sdf_edit.

The early development version can be downloaded (for free) here: MagicaCSG.

The examples by artist Ryan Corniel who must be a tester for the software look very nice.

There are already a few videos about this software on YouTube. Given the popularity of MagicaVoxel I would say this is definitely one to keep an eye on. It reminds me of Clayxels.

Neobarok

Neobarok is a free 3D modelling tool in development by sole developer Lucian Stanculescu. Version 2.1.2 was released earlier in the year and there is a VR tool called Clavicula being worked on behind the scenes. There is not much information on this software but it does have video examples and a work in progress documentation.

McFab’s Pattern Designer

Occasionally I’ll come across something that catches my eye on itch.io. This pattern making software looks like a nice little tool for creating seamless patterns with custom images.

It aims to make pattern making less tedious.

Currently it is in Beta development and only available on Windows 64-bit.

In a future blog post I’ll be writing about basic techniques and software to help create seamless patterns so I might give this one a go at some point.

Enfusoft

As an aside it reminded me a little bit of a software I tried several years ago called Enfusoft. It looks like that might be provided free at some point because the developer stopped working on it, but there is no way to contact them so I don’t know how likely this is to be honest.

It had some unique physics and packing features but was pretty expensive considering it didn’t support very high resolution images so was pretty useless for my needs.

VGC Illustration

VGC Illustration will be a vector graphics editor based on a new mathematical concept called Vector Graphics Complex (VGC).

VGC Illustration will be running a Kickstarter in August this year. It says on the website that if the kickstarter is not successful the project may be abandoned. They are also working on an animation tool.

Animation Paper

Animation paper is a software in development for making 2D hand drawn animations. Versions for Mac, Windows and Linux will be available. It is currently available for free to Alpha testers but will be a paid software eventually.

Alpha release 4 is now available if you sign up on their website. You can now export movie clips. More features are being worked on. Colouring features are planned for the next release.


Thanks for reading!

I’ll probably add things from time to time to this article as I find out about them.

If you are a developer of 3D or 2D art software and want a shout out you can email me from this page.

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