I’ve had mixed feelings about Corel Painter, but since discovering Humble Bundle sells it every year (usually around Black Friday or just before a new release of Painter) for a greatly reduced price and that they let you disable the pop up adverts and promotional offers in the software in latest versions I’ve reconciled with it. I thought I would give it a thorough looking over this time because the last version I used for my digital painting was the Corel Painter 2012 version, so things have changed quite a lot with this one.
I tried Painter 2021 which I got on a Humble Bundle last year out again a few weeks ago (I missed the 2022 offer unfortunately). I illustrated an image in it recently and really loved the experience.
Before starting my Illustration I looked at the features and acquainted myself with the interface. I like the interface for Corel Painter because it is very customizable and the ability to make drawers for different panels and settings is useful for saving screen space. I like being able to shift and drag brushes into panels so I can organize which ones I want to have quick access to.
It took me a few days to go through the menus and the brushes (yes days), this program is quite complicated. Almost any other painting program is simpler than this. Reading the documentation and watching tutorials for Corel Painter is a must to avoid frustration. Aaron Rutten’s YouTube channel is very useful in this regard and the website for Corel Painter has a few tutorials to look at for figuring out different aspects of the program.
That being said this program has some features that other programs don’t, although it could do with a bit of a clean up in some areas and some things are a bit outdated or don’t work as well as other software (selections and layer masks for example). One of the main frustrations I always had with Painter was the layer system. There are many different brush engines in Painter which is a good thing, but some of them only work on special layer types.
This version of Painter introduced a layer compatibility tool which automatically creates the layer type needed for different brush engines should you choose them. This is an improvement, but you have to bear in mind you will end up with a lot of layers without even realizing it. They also introduced a collapse layers option which helps in this regard though. the canvas layer can also be lifted to different layer types if you forget not to paint on it or have merged everything down in an effort to control things. In the older versions of Painter I got into the habit of only painting on one layer because of the frustration of it all but I think the program has improved since. The ability to blend colours from underlying layers is essential for the blendy brushes in Painter and is something I missed using Krita (although I think Krita is a great program and has an easier to use layer system than Painter). One thing I didn’t miss was that some brushes (digital watercolor) need you to remember to dry the layer every so often. I hate using those brushes with a passion.
My main reason for using Painter is the artistic oils brushes and the thick paint brushes. They are lovely to paint with. It is like they have real bristles, you need a drawing tablet with tilt support to really get the most out of them. I like the oil brushes in Rebelle as well, although on really large canvases it lags more than Painter does. I think if Painter introduced a real colour mixing engine like the one in Rebelle it would be awesome.
The ability to pick up multiple colours with the artistic oils and thick paint brushes from the mixer panel is good as well (Rebelle has the ability to do this too).
The options for configuring brushes are really complicated in Painter (it is like something out of NASA), however there are quick setting panels for each brush type in the top settings bar which is very useful.
I also like the ability to resize the brush on the fly holding CTRL and ALT as well. CTRL and Space zooms in and out and Alt and space lets you rotate the canvas.
Corel Painter also has impasto settings as well. This is something it had in my older version of the program. I never used it much but I think it looks better than it used to.
One of the things I really love is the way it uses paper grain textures. with the newer versions of Painter the grain can be randomized and rotated as well which might be interesting. That is something I haven’t seen in other software.
I saw that they have introduced a new thing called layer plugins. I probably won’t be using these much but I think the metal blobs are very interesting. It would be good if you could use them with different HDRI light-maps as well, but I honestly haven’t seen any other software do this. Not sure what use they are but you never know.
Another unique feature Corel Painter has is the texture synthesis. This lets you generate new textures from rectangular selections on images.
The ability to use textures for painting in this program is very interesting. There is a texture brush category which works with the texture panel. Some of the texture brushes also use additional images called flow maps which adds even more interesting effects. Here I imported some patterns I’d made from hand drawn marks to test the brushes out. It is a bit like making rubbings (frottage).
One thing I do think would be useful for the texture panel would be the ability to pattern fill the size of the canvas for the texture preview rather than just having to stretch or move a texture to where you need it, but I think it is fine either way, I just need to get used to it.
Since my post on digital marbling I also explored Corel Painter’s blob and marbling feature which is unique to Corel painter as well. It works well with gradients. Gradients are something Corel Painter is good for, there are different gradient types and ways to make your own gradient colours. There is an optional way to use auto-painting to break up the gradient as different types of brush marks as well.
Another useful thing Corel Painter has are masking brushes. You can have marching ants to show selections or use an overlay mode. These brushes take into account the paper grain as well. I believe that in the versions of Painter after 2021 the selection using brushes features have been improved.
Auto-painting and AI styles are available in Corel Painter. I never used to use these features, however since learning 3D art I can see how they may be useful to me to kick start the painting process. They are useful in establishing an under-painting which saves a lot of time.
I worked on hand painting the rock and roll squirrel using Corel Painter 2021 after I modeled it in Curvy 3D, sculpted it in ZBrush, painted it in 3D Coat and rendered it using Blender. Trust me when I say after all that work the auto-painting thing in Corel Painter was pretty useful. After that I hand painted into it for a few days using brushes until I was happy with the detail level. I worked on a large image for this to test how Corel Painter performed (7680 x 4620 px). It was not laggy at all for me. I tried the same file in Krita for comparison and it was laggy in that, but at least the PSD export from Painter was compatible with it.
I did colour adjustments in Adobe Photoshop when I was done with the painting. I do wish the layer masks and selection tools get improved in future versions of Painter (layer masks in Photoshop as well for that matter), they were a pain to work with compared to using Krita.
Thanks for reading.