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Corel Painter Essentials 3

Digital painting and paint effects software By Dave Nagel
Summary: Painter Essentials 3 is a digital painting tool with a focus on natural media emulation. It includes a wide range of brushes that behave like natural media (acrylics, pastels, oils, etc.) so that you can paint images from scratch. But it also includes tools for applying "painterly" effects to photographs, including image cloning and something called "auto-painting," which draws brush strokes for you.
Publisher: Corel Corp. (
Platform: Mac OS X and Windows
Price: $89 (download version); $99 (boxed edition)
Users: Artists who wish to work in digital using familiar tools; consumers who want to apply paint-like effects to images

Painter Essentials 3 is Corel's latest consumer-level version of its rich digital painting suite, Painter. But like so many pieces of software labeled as "consumer-level" these days, Painter Essentials 3 is anything but amateur. 

You may be somewhat familiar with the Painter Essentials software line, as versions 1 and 2 have been bundled free (through license deals) with various graphics suites over the last several years, including the suite of software that ships with Wacom tablets. But Painter Essentials 3 is different from these previous versions. It offers, essentially, the core functionality of the pro-level Painter IX, and, as such, you're not going to be seeing it bundled free with anything else in the foreseeable future.

In fact, this is the first version of Painter Essentials that has been offered as a stand-alone retail package. And with good reason. It's the strongest version of this software I've seen to date, and it's an excellent entry point for artists into the world of digital painting. As a little added bonus, it's a safe point of entry because, if you start with Essentials 3 and decide to upgrade to the full version of Painter, you're not throwing away your money. In fact, buying Painter Essentials 3 and then upgrading to Painter IX from there works out to be less expensive than buying Painter IX at the regular price to start with. Not a bad deal at all. (It should be noted tough that as of this writing, Painter IX is selling for about half its regular price, $229, at Corel's online store.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the Painter family, it is, as its name might imply to some, a painting program. What this means is that the engineering in this program has principally gone into the creation of a sophisticated engine for emulating the types of media you might use for drawing and painting when you're not on your computer: wet paints, dry chalks and pastels, crayons, watercolors and the like. It also, of course, includes capabilities found in other graphics programs, like filter effects, cloning, canvas manipulation (cropping, resizing, etc.) and exporting to various file formats (TIFF, JPEG, etc.). But the main thrust is the painting. So it shouldn't be confused with image editing programs like Adobe Photoshop or illustration programs like CorelDraw, Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand. It's a dedicated painting program.

The Painter family, at present, is divided into two distinct products: the full, professional level Painter IX and the scaled-down Painter Essentials 3. There are many small differences between these two programs, but there are three major differences that I think are worth mentioning for those of you who are on the fence on this.

Brush features: The first is that Painter IX offers a fully customizable paint brush generation engine, meaning that you can create your own nibs, merge brushes and basically design your own, personal brushes using a couple hundred modifiable parameters. Painter Essentials doesn't have this level of customizability. Not even close. But you can select from a very broad range of preset brushes and modify certain parameters to customize them for your use.

Painter Essentials 3 includes 18 brush categories comprising some 76 individual brushes, including acrylics, airbrushes, artists' oils, blenders, chalks, cloners, pastels, palette knives, erasers, image hoses and digital watercolors, among many others. It's a well rounded collection of brushes, sure to suit most of your painting needs. But if you like making your own brushes, you simply won't be able to do that with Painter Essentials.

For customizability in Painter Essentials, you can modify the brush size, the type of path (freehand or straight lines), the opacity of the brush stroke and certain other parameters specific to individual brushes (like grain), but that's about it. On the plus side, the brushes do fully support the features of Wacom graphics tablets; you just can't modify how something like pressure affects the look of the brush. That sort of thing is pre-configured. For example, with acrylics, pen pressure affects the opacity of the brush stroke. With airbrushes, pressure affects the amount of spray coming from the nozzle, while pen tilt affects the direction and length of the spray.

Here's a sampling of just a few of the brush types included with Painter Essentials 3.

Artists' Oils are thick, wet brushes that blend
with themselves and other colors on the canvas.

Three examples of acrylic brushes.

Various chalks and pastels.

Watercolors (with and without salt). These brushes
retain their wetness properties after they're applied--
and even between sessions.

A final word about the brushes. Corel told me specifically that Painter Essentials 3 could not import brushes created in Painter IX. However, it can, and with very little trouble. This vastly expands the creative possibilities of Painter Essentials, given the wealth of free brushes available out there. I'll show you how to do it in an upcoming tutorial.

Animation: The second major functional difference between Painter IX and Painter Essentials 3 is in the area of animation. There's nothing much to say about this: Painter IX has it; Painter Essentials 3 doesn't.

Auto-Painting: And the third major functional difference is in the area of image cloning and the application of "painterly" effects to photographs. And it's one that's actually in favor of Painter Elements. In particular, there's a new feature in Essentials 3 called "Auto-Paint." It basically allows Painter to do the painting for you based on the type of brush you select and the parameters you set for the automatic painting process.

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Related Keywords:painter essentials 3, corel painter essentials review, brushes, beginning painters, digital painting software

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