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Corel Painter 8.0 review: Corel Painter 8.0

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MSRP: $299.00

The Good Offers the most-realistic simulations of natural art media; easier-to-use, more-efficient interface; increased Adobe Photoshop compatibility.

The Bad Complex brushes and wet layers can slow system performance; does not support Photoshop’s layer effects.

The Bottom Line Version 8.0 of this versatile paint program gets an enthusiastic thumbs-up for its ease of use and powerful features.

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8.3 Overall
  • Setup 8
  • Features 9
  • Support 8

Review summary

Corel Painter 8.0 is for illustrators who want to create original art in oils, pastels, and watercolors without getting their hands dirty. Last year's 7.0 was the first product released by Procreate, a new Corel division targeted specifically at professional users. This year, the company folded Painter back into the main product line, but the program still focuses on pros. To wit, Painter now plays well with Adobe Photoshop, a great boon for those who rely on that app. In fact, Corel has optimized Painter to fit into workflows incorporating a range of software; Painter's role is to provide specialized painting tools instead of all-around graphics functionality. With a completely revamped interface and its lowest price ever, this release of Painter is a must-have for professional artists and dabblers alike. Painter 8.0 is available at a new low list price of $299, which ought to attract a wide variety of users. You'll get an even better deal if you own any previous version of Painter; Painter Classic (bundled free with Wacom tablets); or Photoshop 5.5, 6.0, or 7.0. The upgrade costs just $149.

Installation is as simple as inserting the CD into your computer's drive. The automated setup requires only that you acknowledge the licensing agreement and enter your copy's serial number. A set of plug-ins comes with the install, and you can buy additional ones from third-party vendors.

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Painter 8.0 offers a more-streamlined interface, which includes layers and layer masks compatible with Photoshop.

Painter's new look and feel is surprisingly conventional, but it will still benefit even the most unconventional artist. A standard toolbox and a tool-specific property bar replace several of Painter 7.0's idiosyncratic palettes. Other space-savers include palette grouping and shortcut selectors for art materials such as papers and pattern fills. We especially like the smaller Brush Selector, which displays the available brush categories and their variants in fly-out menus. Professionals will find Painter's redesigned interface very similar to that of other graphics programs such as Photoshop and Macromedia Fireworks. Most pros routinely use Photoshop to acquire and prep digital images, and the new Painter exports and imports PSD files better than previous versions. We successfully transferred files containing layer sets, layer masks, and alpha channels between Painter 8.0 and Photoshop 7.0. Our only complaint is that Painter does not support Photoshop's layer effects, such as drop shadows and glows.

Painter's industry-standard implementation of layers and channels delivers other benefits, as well. With layer sets, you can logically organize a complex composition. Layer masks are also a huge improvement over Painter's old masking technology. For example, in version 7.0, you could load a mask into a composition only as the current selection. Painter 8.0 allows you to associate a unique mask with each layer, providing a flexible, nondestructive way to hide or reveal portions of your image.

New functions enable artists to handle mundane tasks, such as finding the right color and designing a brush, with spontaneity. For example, you can mix an astounding number of pigments with a digital palette knife in the Mixer palette; the resulting blob behaves exactly like paint. You can sample the colors individually or save them to a custom set.

To create your own brush in previous Painter versions, you had to understand and choose between complex options. But the new Brush Creator lets you serendipitously discover new brushes. Its Randomizer function automatically generates variations of a selected brush stroke, and the Transposer can make an entirely new tool by combining, for example, a felt-tip pen and an oil pastel. The Tracker palette stores the 25 most recently used brushes, so you can hang on to your finds for future projects.

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The Sketch filter creates detailed pencil drawings from photos.

Painter 8.0 ships with 400 new brush variants in familiar categories such as gouache, oils, and acrylics. The one new brush, Digital Water Color, isn't really new; it's largely based on version 6.0's watercolor technology. Corel reinstated the simpler technique at the request of users. The Digital Water Color brush doesn't require a wet layer, so it offers faster performance and allows you to easily mix watercolor brush strokes with other media. The only new filter effect is Sketch, which converts photos to pencil drawings--very cool. We were pleased with the filter's intelligent edge detection, which resulted in realistically detailed images with both strong and delicate lines. On the most basic level, Painter 8.0 is easy to use: you simply choose a brush and start painting. However, to truly master the program's nuances, you'll need training or technical support. Luckily, Corel supplies different options.

If you purchase a retail version of Painter, you'll be eligible for 30 days of free (except for the toll) telephone support, available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET. Other free sources of assistance are Corel's online knowledge base and newsgroups, along with fax and mail (but not e-mail) communication with the tech-support team.

Corel's fee-based services include training from &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Eelementk%2Ecom%2F" target="_new">Element K, tutorials from &siteid=7&edid=&lop=txt&destcat=ex&destUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Elynda%2Ecom%2F" target="_new">Lynda Weinman, and telephone tech support on a per-minute, per-incident, or annual fee basis.

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