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Analysis: Painter X

For years Painter has been reverberated by artists, commercial designers of concept art, and also by artists from entertainment to the creation of special effects to the design of characters and settings. But is it just for artists? With this review, Corel has responded with a resounding No.

Painter X incorporates features specific to professional photographers and art students, including a system for painting on top of photos, an impressive set of composition tools, and a set of brushes that you’ll have to see to believe.

900 brushes and increasing

Designed for artists by artists, Painter X is truly the digital equivalent of a conventional art studio, and this is broadcast on the new RealBristle Painting System; a technology that allows you to see the bristles of each brush.

When you use one of these brushes on the digital canvas, the bristles are spread out exactly as they would in the real world. Like the other 800 brushes, RealBristle brushes can be fully customized, creating as many as you like: change the tip of the brush, the amount of paint applied to the page, etc. When used in combination with a graphics tablet (I have used the Wacom Intuos3), you can control brush pressure, tilt and rotation, creating a real-world painting experience that is very difficult to explain with just words.

You can take this experience a step further and mix your own paint using the mixing palette. Blend and load a single or multiple colors (if you’re using a RealBristle brush) onto the brush, using the Sample Color tool in the blending palette.

For artists, selecting a brush, loading it with paint, and applying it to canvas is second nature. For the rest of us there is a learning curve. You will have to test all the brushes, change their properties, check the effects, and experiment with changes in pressure and canvas material to see the results.

New composition tools

The divine proportion is a mathematical relationship developed hundreds of years ago, which allows creating harmonious and aesthetically pleasing compositions. With the appearance of a conch, Leonardo da Vince used this proportion during the Renaissance to find out exactly where he should place the head of the Mona Lisa.

To the delight of any art teacher, the Divine Proportion guide can be placed on top of the Painter document, be it an empty canvas or a photograph. Select Window: Show Divine Proportion, click the Enable button, select an orientation (portrait or landscape), resize the overlay layer, and move it using the Divine Proportion tool available in the tool palette.

In this version, you can also use the Rule of Roughs, and other options oriented to the composition grid, all of which work in a similar way.

Improved photo painting

Digital photographers will find the ability to let Painter paint a photo for them impressive. Sure, you can do it in Photoshop, but it would take more steps and still not deliver a realistic result.

With Painter you just have to open the photo, select the Smart Stroke brush set, select a variant, activate a couple of options in the Auto-Paint palette, and click the Play button. Then it only remains to look in surprise at the way in which Painter quickly applies brush strokes of variable size and direction on the photo (you can stop the process at any point by clicking on the Stop button). Depending on the contrast of the photograph and the theme, it may be necessary to try different variants of brushes until you find the most suitable one.

Professional photographers will also appreciate the addition of the Burn and Dodge tools in the main tool palette, as well as the improved support for Photoshop layers.

Sharing and more resources

Other additions to Painter X are the ability to personalize and share workspaces, as well as a very useful automatic backup and safe save feature. Veteran application users will notice an overall increase in application performance now that the software is optimized for Intel architecture-based Macs.

First-time Painter users will appreciate the collection of online learning resources, as well as the free two hours of video with classes taught by artist Jeeremy Sutton (DVD included with software). It is also possible to subscribe to the Painter newsletter to receive tips and tricks as well as updates.


If you are an artist, then using Painter X (version 10.1) is natural and intuitive. For aspiring artists, Painter is a great way to learn (the advantage is that each canvas, brush, and tube of paint is free). If you are a professional photographer, then you will love the ability to transform photographs into beautiful paintings with minimal effort.