Review: Corel Painter 2019 — Just Another Update??

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As you start reading these first few lines of this review of Corel Painter 2019 you will likely find yourself in either one of two camps — either you’re already a user of what has been the gold standard for natural media and painting or you’re currently a curiosity seeker that has been using other programs for your CG art and fearful to take that plunge for one reason or another.

Every year Corel releases a new upgrade to Painter and you may have lacked the motivation to even give the new demo a spin. Sure, there are new fancy features, brushes, under-the-hood improvements — but you’re likely to only use maybe a handful of tools. That’s the problem with selling upgrades, your new and improved baby has to give users reasons to care about this year’s version.

A Little Full Disclosure First…

I have been using Corel Painter since it was Fractal Design Painter — back before OS X and candy-coated iMacs were roaming the earth. This was when QuarkExpress 3.0 was the standard for desktop publishing and you couldn’t find a printer who’d use anything else.

This was back when everyone was using freakin’ LightWave for 3D modeling. Remember LightWave? Of course you don’t!

You can tell, that I’m pretty long in the tooth when it comes to using Corel Painter. Back then, Painter was the established standard for raster based art. Although it has had many challengers over the years, Painter in my opinion still retains its crown.

Personally, I have only upgraded about three times. My last upgrade was Corel Painter 11, which has served me well for many years. But this year, Corel has tempted me with an offer that I had trouble refusing. (An upgrade from version 11 for $125 USD. See this press release for more information.)

When I began writing this review, I had not yet shelled out the money for the upgrade. So for most of this, I was using a fully functional demo of Corel Painter 2019.

System Requirements

You may or may not have the world’s most powerful computer. But we need to cover this before diving into all of the fun stuff.

Corel Painter 2019 is available for both Mac and Windows users running 64-Bit operating systems. You can get away with just using 2 GB of RAM, but who would you be kidding? Corel recommends 8 GB or more of RAM.

If you’re creating CG graphics, you should already have a 1 GB+ hard drive. If you’ve upgraded to a Solid State Drive (which behaves much like your RAM and without all of the moving parts of a traditional hard drive.), your experience will be improved.

Corel recommends using a screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1080. If you don’t know what your screen’s resolution is or if it’s smaller, don’t sweat it.

Any brand of graphics tablet will work with Corel Painter 2019. But most brands lack tilt and rotate functionality. Wacom branded tablets will allow you to get the most out of your Painter experience.

Requirements Under Windows:

As mentioned earlier, you’ll need a 64-Bit version of either Windows 10, 8.1, 7 updated with the latest Service Pack. On the hardware side, your PC will need to sport an Intel Core 2 or an AMD Athlon 64 processor that’s 2 GHz of faster. Corel recommends running a CPU with 4 cores or more. Painter 2019 now utilizes AVX2 instruction set support.

Requirements Under Mac:

If you happen to be a Mac user, you’ll need OS X 10.11 or better. Your Mac will need to sport a multicore Intel processor with 64-bit support. You can get away with a 2 core processor, but Corel recommends 4 cores or more.

From Download To Install

Downloading the demo is relatively easy on Corel’s website. Installation, on my Mac, took way longer than expected. (You time may vary based on your hardware and speed of connection.) Most software from major developers have to make contact with its mothership during installation, for a variety of reasons. I’m currently enjoying the wonders of VPN — a.k.a. Virtual Private Networking — (as of writing), so I’ll assume that’s what was holding me up.

Opening Corel Painter 2019 for the first time gave me a screen that asked to register. Once that was done, you’ll see a familiar sight if you happen to be an Adobe user — an intro screen with tutorials, etc. If this happens to be an annoyance for you, this intro screen can always be disabled.

The new intro screen in Corel Painter 2019 featuring new features, tutorials, and more.

The new intro screen in Corel Painter 2019 featuring new features, tutorials, and more.

The Interface

One of the biggies that Corel touts is the complete overhaul that they gave to the interface. Everything has been redesigned, down to the icons. This can feel discombobulating to long-time users. Out with the mid-grey tone, in with the darker interface. The overall look and feel is reminiscent of the open-sourced Krita.

Now if you’re one of those people who can’t stand a dark interface, never fear, Corel has you covered! In Windows, click over to Edit (Corel Painter 2019 in the Menu Bar on the Mac) > Preferences… > Interface, select your favorite color theme, and restart the program.

A screen shot of Corel Painter's redesigned user interface.

A screen shot of Corel Painter’s redesigned user interface. There are a variety of themes that you can choose from. Click to enlarge.

One of the first touches that you’ll notice are the little pop-ups that give an explanation and a small preview of what each control does. It’s a great touch for beginners. Most everything within the interface becomes self-explanatory.

Brushes, Brushes, and More Brushes!

Generally speaking, whenever a new version of Corel Painter is released, I usually brace myself to struggle with how brushes behave. With most releases, Corel’s programers usually tweak their brush rendering system to speed brushes up and/or to make them respond in a more natural manner.

As of writing, I’m currently using what is considered pretty aged for a Mac, a 2009 iMac. When Google Chrome with its 20 or so tabs opened at once is closed, there is little to no lag in Corel Painter 2019.

Personally, I generally don’t use brushes above 20 pixels. But even with the more processor intensive brushes, they function with little to no lag, which is awesome. Of course, the bigger the brush, the more taxing on your system.

If you happen to be one of those people who are somewhat obsessed with the watercolor medium like I am, you’ll likely be curious as to how certain software mimics watercolor strokes.

Painter has a ton of brushes in its default collection. For some strange reason the 2019 Library (collection if you will) is a confusing nightmare to dig through. It’s like digging through a box of random art supplies. The Real Watercolors are split into two groups. Pencils and Inks are mixed together.

This is a huge blunder for Corel. You may want to maintain your sanity by utilizing either the Natural Media library, which is a streamlined, more thoughtful collection of brushes of brushes, or step back into the Painter 2015 Brushes library or earlier library.

Using & Luvin’ Real Watercolors

When Real Watercolor brushes made their debut in Painter, they seemed pretty innovative, but were so processor intensive, they weren’t even worth using. They did a great job of emulating actual watercolors, yet much like with Digital Watercolors, you couldn’t utilize real world watercolor techniques.

As of this release, this has been the best, most usable version of Real Watercolors that can be vouched for. (I ignored Painter 2018, so I can’t give an opinion of how it handled those brushes.)

In Painter 2019, Real Watercolors are much faster and a lot more responsive than in previous versions. For whatever reason, you still can’t blend colors without having to switch over to blender brushes. But there are ways to work around that.

Sample dabs using Corel Painter 2019's Real Watercolor brushes.

Sample dabs using Corel Painter 2019’s Real Watercolor brushes.

Most of the Real Watercolor brushes provide specific effects. For example, the Soft Round brush creates a pooling effect, leaving a dark fringe around the edges of the stroke. Grainy Wet brush tends to have a splotchy texture. The Wetting Agent brush feels like you’re pouring watercolor onto your canvas. The Wet Eraser with enough pressure begins to stain your watercolor layer.

Using any of these brushes require some forethought. You’ll eventually use certain brushes for specific techniques.

An illustration of Baby Hopper colored with Real Watercolor brushes. Trademark and Copyright 2019 Chris Hilbig.

Illustration of Baby Hopper™ colored with Real Watercolor brushes. Trademark and Copyright 2019 Chris Hilbig.

While working on my sample piece above for this review, I discovered my goto watercolor brushes. (Soft Round, Grainy Wet, and  Eraser Dry) Coloring my sketch was relatively quick and easy for me. This new version of the Real Watercolors will likely replace my reliance upon Digital Watercolors.

Getting To Know Stamp Brushes

As you skim trough this review, you may assume that most of Corel Painter’s brush are highly complicated in nature. This isn’t the case with Stamp Brushes.

Examples of the Stamp brush at work in Corel Painter 2019

In fact, they function more or less like your old Adobe PhotoShop brushes. Stamp Brushes are flat shapes that can be applied. This is mainly useful for applying texture or patterns. Painter has had this functionality via the Image Hose brush. But honestly, creating a custom Image Hose brush is a pain to accomplish.

Corel Painter 2019 does allow users to tweak Stamp brushes in quite a few ways to allow for some interesting effects. For example, Stamp brushes are very responsive to paper texture. They also allow you to set the Merge Mode. This is how the Stamp brush blends with underlying pixels, similar to blending modes within your Layers palette. (If you’re a PhotoShop user, you’ll already have some experience with this.) You can further manipulate your Stamps by playing with many of the Brush palettes that Painter possesses.

Working With 2.5D Brushes

If you’ve ever used ZBrush before, you’ll be familiar with these types of brushes. Corel Painter 2019 doesn’t utilize the Pixol. (It’s basically a pixel that functions within a three-dimensional space, similar to a grain of sand.), Painter tries to achieve the same effects with their 2.5D Texture and Thick Paint brushes.

A sample of 2.5D Brushes

 

2.5D Texture brushes seems to be a new spin on Painter’s Impasto Brushes. They have an embossed look and rely upon image textures to give them some pop. The embossed effects are visible across all layers and can’t be covered up by other brushes. Much like in previous versions with Impasto brushes.) The interesting thing is that you can manipulate the texture via scale, move, rotate, and shear after laying down 2.5D strokes. It functions much like an image within a compound or masking path with in a vector program.

Thinking About Thick Paint

The enhanced Thick Paint brushes simulate thick layers of paint that allows you to dig in, blend, and layer on top upon. These types of brushes utilize their own special layer. So if you switch to a normal brush, Painter will automatically create a new default layer for your normal brush. Just keep that in mind if you like to swap between different types of brushes.

Corel Painter Thick Paint Brush samples

From top left to bottom right: Grainy Real Bristle Oils Round, Grainy Real Bristle Oils Flat, Real Bristle Trail-Off, Oils Palette Knife, Grainy Fine Rake, Grainy Oils Jitter, Smooth Round Oils, Paint Tube

Thick Paint brushes are great for creating big, loose strokes. But as I work with them, they become more difficult to work with as I go into a lot of smaller detail. Thick Paint brushes utilize lots of processing power. That means that those of you with older computers may needlessly struggle using these brushes.

Sample still life using thick paint brushes in Corel Painter 2019.

Sample still life using 2.5D and Thick Paint brushes in Corel Painter 2019.

 

Wow With Particle Brushes

an example of particle brushes in Corel Painter 2019

Particle Brushes are pretty interesting. The brush engine seems to take relatively simple shapes and jitters them in a seemingly random fashion. And some of them utilize a bit of color modulation. With these brushes, you’ll find all sorts of interesting effects and textures ranging from sparkles to fur.

Now You Can Use Your Fingers!

If you happen to be one of those fortunate people with a Surface Tablet or a Wacom Cintiq touch-enabled tablet, Corel has corrected, added, and/or fixed touch functions.  (This depends upon who you talk to.) Anyways, you pinch to zoom, pan around, and rotate your canvas.

Perspective Guides Made Easy

I really dig this latest implementation of the Perspective Guides. It seems much easier to use. (Especially compared to version 11.) You can also align your strokes based upon whatever perspective grid that you choose to use. This will really make a lot of people’s lives easier when it comes to perspective drawing. This is definitely a time saver!

Perspective grid tool in Corel Painter 2019

Perspective drawing is made easier using Painter 2019’s Perspective Grid Tool. Lines can easily be drawn toward a vanishing point.

The only issue that could confound most people, especially newbies to Corel Painter, is the fact that strokes are mirrored by default. “How do you kill this?” you might ask… Well, there’s no option within the Perspective Grid Tool! This sounds like a problem.

But this can be turned off by selecting the Mirror Painting tool and clicking Toggle Mirror Painting off within the top tool bar. This option should had also had been included within the options for the Perspective Guides tool.

Your On Screen Color Picker

Floating Color selector in Corel Painter 2019

This is a feature that has been present in quite a few painting programs for the past couple of years. Now Corel has finally swiped the Floating Color Selector for this version of Corel Painter. Use the keystroke Command/Control + 2  to make it appear or disappear. Even though the Floating Color Selector isn’t ground breaking stuff, it’ll be extreme useful for artists who prefer to focus on their art by hiding their pallets.

Exploring Flow Maps

What the heck are Flow Maps? That’s a great question!

Flow Maps are paper textures that directly interact with Real Watercolor and Particle brushes. You can bring them up by clicking the Window menu >> Flow Map Panels >> Flow Maps.

You can manipulate how a specific brush interacts with a selected flow map but clicking on brush’s respective panel, next to the Dab Options inside the Extended Property bar. Honestly Flow Maps have been hit or miss for me.

Audio Expression Brushes? WTF??

Using Audio Expression dialogue box that appears in Corel Painter 2019.

The first thing that you’ll see when you first select an Audio Expression brush.

This seems like some funky territory. When selecting an Audio Expression Brush, you’re confronted with a dialog window that tells how to get this started. Basically you have to bring up the Audio Settings panel and check the Enable Audio Input box..

When working with and Audio Expression brush, the expression of whatever brush you use is based upon the sounds that you create. From my experience, the louder the sound, the more extreme the effect.

It’s great that Corel is willing to take a risk, but me thinks that this is going to be a non-starter for most artists. Maybe this might be useful for more abstract work — I guess.

Auto-Painting For Slackers

That’s right you sloths! Do you like painting, but can’t stand the effort? Corel’s got you covered too! Thanks to the magic of Auto-Painting!

I lied, it take a little bit of work. Maybe in the next five years, you can yell from your couch to Siri or Cortana to have Painter auto-paint for you.

Basically you’ll need to bring up three panels — Under Painting to tweak with your photo’s color scheme, Auto-Painting to get things going, and the Restore panel for bringing back detail. Select your favorite brush and it’s on!

2 side-by-side examples of auto-painting done within Corel Painter 2019.

Two examples handsomeness using a photo and Auto-Painting in Corel Painter. To the left, done with a Sargent brush. To the right, done with the Pastel Tapered brush.

Auto-Painting requires some trial and error to nail down the specific look that you want. Some brush leave gaps or whitespace in between strokes. You can further manipulate your new auto-painting by clicking the Clone Color  button within the Colors pallet. Then paint in your adjustments.

Should You Buy Corel Painter 2019?

As we come to the end of this review, consider your needs as an artist or an illustrator and how Corel Painter 2019 could take your art to the next level.

Personally speaking, I’m pretty happy with Corel Painter 2019. Due in part to their very generous upgrade program with the discount (as of writing) as a nice bonus, I have no qualms pulling out my credit card to purchase this upgrade. Also I’m upgrading from Painter 11, which has served me well for many years. So this year, I can justify the upgrade.

That said, digital artists will likely fall into two camps:

  • Seasoned power users who have been painting digitally and using programs like Adobe Photoshop for years.
  • Greener users and users who haven’t been creating CG art for too long.

If You’re A Seasoned Artist…

Seasoned digital artists, lacking any debilitating issues after installation, will naturally gravitate to Corel Painter 2019. If you’re one of these people, you will defiantly benefit from Corel’s many powerful features and flexibility. It’s an easy addition for avid PhotoShop users since Painter 2019 can export to PSD with little to no issues.

If you do nothing else after reading this review, at least download and try out the demo. See for yourself if this year’s upgrade is worth it. Corel Painter 2019 has all of the features that a power user could desire. Any lesser program will seem like a trip back to a grade school art class.

If You Happen To Be a Newbie…

If you’re newer to digital painting, I can see most of you becoming scared off by Corel Painter 2019. It really does have an over whelming number of features that will take a while to learn. I will also assume that some of you are currently using a more affordable and/or more simplified painting programs that lack Painter’s pedigree such as Rebelle or Art Rage.

Greener/Non-Painter users might find it difficult to justify moving on to Painter 2019. A side from the overwhelming number of features, the price for the full version will be a deterrent for potential uses. Shelling out $430+ USD would be a hard sell unless you happen to work for a studio that exclusively uses Corel Painter.  If you’re running a consumer-range computer with about 4 Megabits or less of RAM and a less than stellar CPU that’s great for saving energy, but makes doing anything processor intensive a drag, you’re not going to love Corel Painter.

Corel Painter 2019 is basically an entire art store in one package. It simulates just about every type of natural media with its 600+ brushes. It is also one of the most powerful and flexible painting programs that currently exists. Corel Painter also has one of the most sophisticated brush engines ever produced, with Rebelle coming to a close second.

Painter is specifically designed for professional CG artists and allows artists to export their work to every major image format that’s commonly used in both print and web. (This includes PhotoShop as mentioned previously.) Corel Painter has been the standard in digital painting for a decade plus.

So is your doubt and fear about using Corel Painter 2019 is slipping, right?

It’s all good! You don’t need to take my word for it. If you’re ready to dip your toe into the deep end, download and test out a fully functional 30 day demo. That’s right, you can use Corel Painter 2019 without any restrictions for a month!

If it’s everything that I say it is, you can easily purchase your copy either at Corel’s website or at your local Amazon website.

(Making a purchase using either link provides a small commission to this website, thus paying its hosting fees. Thank you for keeping me motivated!)