Reviews, VFX

Painter 2018, the Wow! Factor revisited

Another year, another release of Corel Painter. The new version is packed with new features that guarantee jaw dropping awesomeness. There just seems no limit to Corel’s ambition to develop an application that is meant to create digital art that looks like the real thing. Combined with the newest Wacom Intuos Pro and its amazing natural feel, Painter 2018 is for digital artists to drool over.

Corel Painter 2018 deserves the title of best Painter version ever. It’s becoming tedious to repeat that message from year to year — with only a few exceptions over the past releases — but I can’t help it if it is true. There are new brushes, a better workflow, paint that looks like it’s really been deposited on the canvas — really as in real life, you know, with a brush or paint knife and messy oil or acrylic paint — the ability to paint directly on rendered 3D models, including depth, and even the ability to create patterns from a Painter document.

Thick paint appears to be the biggest news. The brushes that have been added in this category follow the load on your palette knife. When in real life, the paint becomes thinner as you spread out, you actually start seeing the canvas structure. That’s what happens with Thick Paint in Painter 2018 as well. This enables you to combine classic art practices with “Natural Media” on a digital platform. It mimics the look and feel of thick paint with remarkable fidelity, except that in real life you don’t have to change surface lighting parameters in order to change an observer’s viewing angle.

Natural Media is big in Painter 2018. There’s a whole Natural-Media brush library that is targeting artists transitioning from traditional to digital art. It is full of brushes that mimic traditional media, from pencils and pastels to oils and acrylics. A new feature that is based on user requests to make brushstrokes even more natural-looking, is random grain rotation. This slightly rotates the paper grain in each stroke, giving brushstrokes a more natural, organic look.

Drip and Liquid brushes allow you to paint on an empty layer and blend that layer’s colours with the underlying colours without affecting the underlying layer. I tried the Sargent Brush, which can be used on an empty layer to blend the currently selected colour with an oil-like transparency.

2.5D Thick Texture brushes are new as well. You can best use them on a 3D model rendered in 2D. Such models renderings are in different shades of grey to represent depth and perspective. They lack texture and colour. The 2.5D Thick Texture brush category promises to make that model look like it’s 3D without actually being 3D.

I initially couldn’t make it work the way the reviewers’ guide covers it. After reading the user guide on this topic, however, it turned out the Impasto > Draw to Color and Depth was set to Depth only instead. When used properly, the 2.5D Thick Texture brushes create colour as well as texture, which makes a rendered 3D model seem to have real 3D characteristics.

The Selection brush is a great addition. It lets you select part of an image as if you were painting with a brush. It’s great to use on photos when you want to create collages, for example. You can save these painted selections as a mask.

Speaking of photos, the compositing workflow has been improved considerably with new cloning transparency. In Painter 2018, you can use transparent and semi-transparent clone sources when creating a collage. This allows you to have all elements in a composite interact naturally. If you want to pinpoint the cloning of colours, you can even pick up colours from the centre of the brush dab.

Photo compositors can now also use a texture as a clone source and apply transformations to texture clone sources, so you can resize and shape them.

Finally, the new Synthesis feature allows you to capture and synthesise an area of a texture or document and reproduce it on a larger scale, using all the visual elements of the input sample. During the synthesis process, properties of the selected area are randomised, creating a new texture based on the settings that you’ve selected in the Synthesis panel. You can also save the texture to the Texture library for later use. Texture synthesis did take a bit of time on my old iMac, but it can create gorgeous results.

Painter 2018 costs $429.