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A Closer Look: Photoshop's New Paint Engine

New creative controls bring a painterly feel to the ubiquitous image editor By Dave Nagel
I'd like to take a closer look now at the entirely redesigned paint engine introduced in Photoshop 7. "Redesigned" is probably an understatement, since Photoshop has never actually included a painting engine in the proper sense. Sure, it had an airbrush and paint brush tool, but these were designed for touch-up work, not painting. Photoshop has always been about editing, compositing and effects. With the new paint tools in Photoshop 7, however, this changes.

Now, I know the statement above is a source of confusion for some because whenever I mention painting applications in articles, such as Synthetik Studio Artist or Corel Painter, I invariably encounter the question, "Is it better than Photoshop?" But there's never been ground for a comparison before. They're not designed to do the same things. You create in Studio Artist or Painter, and you edit in Photoshop. You might not like this arrangement financially--you know, having to use two separate applications for graphics work--but it's for the best. When a program is supposed to be all things to all people, you wind up with a big, bloated, expensive piece of junk. Microsoft Word is an excellent example of this phenomenon.


This is not to say that Photoshop is becoming bloated or clunky. Just the opposite. I've been working with Photoshop 7 for some time now, and I find it to be the best release of this software to date. It's fast, streamlined and refined. The new paint engine doesn't slow it down or get in the way of anything else. It simply provides more options for how you want to work.



On the other hand, the new paint engine is nowhere near as sophisticated as the paint engines in either Studio Artist or Painter. Not even close. But Photoshop's paint engine does have the advantage of being embedded in the program that is the definition of ubiquity among creative professionals in all visual arts. So let's take a look at it.

Brushes versus brush presets
In Photoshop 6 and earlier, you had brushes. They were basically little patterns that defined where the color would be applied--circles, squares and funky shapes. You could adjust the size and opacity and play around with a couple other parameters, but, essentially, you were never dealing with anything more than size and shape. These tools were really nothing more than flat color applicators.

In Photoshop 7, you have Brush Presets. That is to say, you have a brush with size and shape, just as before, but each one has a set of dynamics attached to it. And this is the heart of the new Photoshop paint engine--dynamics. You don't just draw with size and shape, but with jitter, scattering, flow, texture and other parameters that turn Photoshop's color applicators into far more complex tools for the creation--not just editing--of digital art. What's more, the dynamics can also be applied to other tools in Photoshop besides just the paint brush, including the Clone Stamp tool, which allows you to do some pretty nifty tricks. I'll be showing you this in a future installment. Right now, I'd like just to focus on painting.


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