The Artistry of Painter X


2/6/2007—In media labs and classrooms around the country, the visual arts are increasingly going digital. Video editing, motion graphics, design, animation, photography: All have followed the trend in the professional world toward desktop- and workstation-based production. And the same is true to a certain extent with drawing and painting, although there seems to be more of a lag in adoption of digital technologies in those areas.

And the reason for this lag is, to some degree, that while visual arts like video editing and motion graphics practically mandate a digital approach these days, drawing and painting have gotten along just fine without any digital technologies for thousands of years. And, in many cases, "natural media" tools (if you can refer to synthesized chemicals as being any more natural than digital media) have been up until recently far superior to any of the digital tools available.

But with the availability of two significant digital painting tools on the market--Corel Painter and Synthetik Studio Artist--artists around the world have begun coming on board. Witness, for example, the digital abstract expressionism of Jean Detheux at or the sublime animation of Gitanjali Rao ( And consider, also, that painting programs like Painter and Studio Artist are being used for rotoscoping in commercial movie releases (viz. Richard Linklater's Waking Life and his adaptation of A Scanner Darkly), and that a number of techniques traditionally involving natural media (such as matte painting for films) have moved over to digital, and you begin to get a sense of the future: Digital is and will be, at the very least, a complement to traditional media in the creation of still and moving artwork.

And in education, the usefulness of digital painting programs goes beyond studio applications. These programs can also enhance art theory and art history lessons with interactive displays of techniques and concepts. There's even an online education series that explores art theory and history for younger learners that ties in with one such program, Corel Painter: geeART16.

But, as I say, up until about six or seven years ago, there weren't really any great drawing and painting programs on the market. The major illustration and image editing programs have always offered limited and rudimentary tools. And most of the dedicated drawing and painting programs on the market weren't much better. Certainly very little to make the dedicated fine artist take notice.

Painter, of course, is the most well known of the dedicated digital drawing and painting tools. It too had its own problems for a long time. But back with the release of Painter IX, that changed pretty dramatically. That release introduced new creative tools, workflow tweaks and a performance boost that for the first time, at least in my view, brought it into the realm of a truly viable option for the artist looking to do serious work digitally. An interim IX.5 update was released that boosted the program's capabilities even more. And now Corel has launched Painter X, which not only once again brings new creative capabilities to this expansive suite of drawing and painting tools, but also introduces some new features that are sure to please art instructors.

So, for those considering incorporating digital into their art education curricula, we'll take a look at this latest release--which just debuted today--and how its new creative and workflow features might impact your programs.

corel painter x

Painter X: new creative tools
With every release of Painter comes a slew of new creative features that expand the possibilities for artists working in digital. Release X is no exception. In particular, Painter X introduces a wide range of new brush capabilities using its new RealBristle Painting System. This is similar to the Artists Oils introduced in the previous major release. But RealBristle brushes also allow students to create bristled impasto strokes that can smear the existing paint on the canvas. RealBristle characteristics can be applied to other types of brushes as well, including Camel Hair, Static Bristle, Bristle Spray, and Blend Camel Brushes.

Click the play button on the movie below to see two of the 16 new RealBristle brushes in action. (QuickTime required.)

These brush characteristics can be applied to other types of brushes through the new RealBristle panel, which has been added to the Brush Controls palette in Painter X, including brush tip profile, roundness, bristle length, profile length, rigidity, fanning, friction, and height (for impasto effects).

Beyond the brushes themselves, Painter X also introduces some new creative features in the areas of composition and image manipulation/compositing.

Notable among these is the new "Divine Proportion" feature (known to many as the "golden ratio"). With this tool, users can overlay a representation of the of the classical golden ratio in the form of guides on a blank canvas or existing image. This can help students not only design compositions from scratch based on historic perspectives on the relationships between elements in a composition, but also import photos and create variations through cropping based on these principles.

The tool provides controls over the placement of the Divine Proportion guidelines, orientation, elements to include, size, grid display, opacity and levels. The new Painter also includes a tool (in the Tools palette) that allows you to position the Divine Proportion guidelines interactively.

In terms of rotoscoping, Painter X adds some enhancements to the Auto-Paint palettes that debuted in Painter Essentials 3 and Painter IX.5. The Auto-Paint palettes are designed for photographers who want to convert photos into images that resemble hand-painted artwork. New in Painter X are enhancements to the Underpainting palette, including color schemes (for altering color based on media type or style) and a Match Color feature that lets users map colors from one image to the new image.

And the Auto-Paint palette adds a feature to this palette called "Smart Stroke Painting," which applies strokes to the image based on the characteristics of a source image or pattern.

Below you'll see an example of a photo that's had both Smart Strokes and an "impressionist" color scheme applied to it to create a painterly effect.

corel painter x

Other new creative features in Painter X include:

  • Enhancements to the mixing palette, adding control for the ways in which multi-color selections are blended and providing greater control over the selection of color with bristle brushes;
  • New Dodge and Burn functionality;
  • A Layout Grid, which adds composition guidelines based on the rule of thirds in photography.

Performance and workflow improvements
But for many, the most significant enhancement to Painter X is its new Universal Binary format, supporting Intel- and PowerPC-based Macs both natively. The performance gains, for those running Painter under Rosetta currently, will be immediately apparent. Performance tweaks have also been introduced for all platforms in the area of brush speed, saving and opening RIFF files and rendering effect.

Painter X also adds compatibility with Windows Vista and includes additional support for more Photoshop filters under Mac OS X.

Other workflow improvements include:

  • Enhanced support for Photoshop files, including layer sets, alpha channels, and layer masks;
  • Color management capabilities (under the Canvas menu);
  • Support for additional Wacom tablets and pens, including the Cintiq 21 UX and Intuos3 tablets and the 6D Art Pen;
  • New workspace management capabilities.

The market for digital painting technologies is not a terribly broad one. There are only two digital painting programs out there that are worth the expenditure, and Painter is one of them. And of those two, only Painter is, for the time being, cross-platform. (The other one is available only for Macintosh systems right now.) But the lack of viable alternatives is not by any means the only thing Painter X has going for it.

Painter X is powerful, flexible, easy to understand and well suited for K-12 environments that incorporate digital into the laboratory experience of schools' art curricula. And its a great supplemental tool for teachers who need to demonstrate the practical application of various aspects of art history and theory. It's simple enough that students can begin painting immediately. And it's deep enough to keep professional and aspiring artists busy for years exploring the creative possibilities.

From the price perspective, it's unbeatable for what it offers. Those of you who are practicing artists know that $99 (single-license price) barely covers a decent brush and a big bottle of Gesso at the art supply store. Painter X gives you a complete and extensible tool chest that never runs dry. And, of course, it also offers compositing, rotoscoping and general graphic design features. It's the complete package.

And from the perspective of upgrades, Painter X is a no-brainer. If you or your students work in Painter on the Mac, the upgrade to a Universal Binary is worth the price alone. Beyond that, it offers a wealth of new creative and workflow features, as we've discussed, that justify the price of the upgrade.

We give Corel Painter X a final grade of A.

Corel Painter X will be available in boxed form later this month, with preorders being accepted now. It's also available as an electronic download. The trial version of the latest release, which is fully functional, will be available Feb. 6. (The link to the trial download was not available as of this writing. Visit the page below to find out when it does become available.) Painter X supports Mac OS X running on PowerPC and Intel chips. It also supports Windows, including Windows Vista. A Wacom pressure-sensitive tablet is highly recommended. Corel Painter X sells for $99 for an educational license. K-12 site licenses run $1,750, and professional development and maintenance programs are also available.

More info:


About the author: Dave Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's educational technology online publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at

Have any additional questions? Want to share your story? Want to pass along a news tip? Contact Dave Nagel, executive editor, at

About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 25-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).

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