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First Look: Corel Painter X

Universal Binary update adds 'RealBristle' brushes By Dave Nagel
Corel is Debuting Painter X today, the latest version of the company's digital painting tool. The new version brings some significant changes to the paint engine and to Painter's workflow and performance across platforms. We have a first look at this newest release, which is expected to ship in both boxed and "canned" form later this month. (And yes, that's "canned," as in the old classic Paint Can packaging.)

As with all of Corel's Painter updates, this latest version adds a host of new creative features that, alone, justify the upgrade price. But it also gains workflow, interface and performance enhancements as well.

Performance: new platform support
Prior to the acquisition of Painter by Corel, this program was, to put it mildly, sluggish. It was old code piled on top of legacy code, and it made for some frustrating painting experiences, particularly on the Mac.

But with the release of version IX, Corel brought the focus to Painter's performance issues, and it did so without neglecting the creative functionality that has always been the draw for Painter fans.

With version X, the performance enhancements are even more profound. The new version adds native Intel-based Mac support, while continuing to support PowerPC systems. The performance boost that comes from bringing Painter out of Rosetta is enormous. (You'll feel the difference on the first stroke.) But it also gains some additional performance enhancements across all systems, including support Windows VIsta, which Painter now supports.

Performance enhancements have been made in the areas of brushes, effects rendering and opening and saving RIFF files.

Creative: painting, image manipulation and composition
On the creative front, Painter X introduces a wide range of new brush capabilities using its new RealBristle Painting System. For those of you familiar with earlier versions of Painter, this new system will remind you a bit of the Artists Oils brush category that debuted in Painter IX. Like that previous brush category addition, RealBristle brushes also allow you to create bristled impasto strokes that can smear the existing paint on the canvas But, in addition, the RealBristle properties can be applied to other types of brushes as well, including Camel Hair, Static Bristle, Bristle Spray, and Blend Camel Brushes.

These brush characteristics can be applied to other types of brushes through the new RealBristle panel, which has been added to the Brush Controls palette in Painter X, including brush tip profile, roundness, bristle length, profile length, rigidity, fanning, friction, and height (for impasto).

Painter X also adds enhanced "photo painting" capabilities. You may remember that Painter IX.5 introduced three new palettes designed for converting photos into faux paintings with several rotoscoping tools. (This feature set actually appeared first in Painter Essentials 3, but we won't get into that.)

The three palettes--collectively referred to as "the "Photo Painting Palettes"--include: Underpainting, Auto-Painting and Restoration.

The Underpainting palette offers three categories of effects: image adjustments, edge effects and "Smart Blur." The image adjustments include preset contrast, brightness and saturation adjustments. The edge effects include three styles of vignettes (rectangular, round and jagged). And the Smart Blur adds a variable amount of blur to an image based on the contrast of elements within the image. The Under-Painting palette also includes a button for going into Quick Clone mode with a click of the mouse. In Painter X, this palette has been enhanced to include color schemes based on various styles, including Impressionist, Classical, Modern, Watercolor, Sketchbook and Chalk Drawing. It also adds in a feature that allows users to match the colors of any open image.

The Auto-Painting palette includes settings for creating automated paintings based on a photographic source image. You can choose from among the preset stroke types, then apply those strokes automatically to the image. You can also add randomization to the preset strokes to vary stroke length, brush size, rotation and simulated pressure. Version X now adds a feature to this palette called "Smart Stroke Painting," which applies strokes to the image based on the contours of the image, adjusting direction, brush size, stroke length and pressure as it goes.

The Restoration palette has not been modified in the latest release.

Finally on the painting side, Painter X also gains enhancements to the mixing palette, adding control for the ways in which multi-color selections are blended and providing greater control over the selection of color with bristle brushes.

On the composition side, the major new feature is Painter X's "Divine Proportion" (AKA "golden ratio," or some variation thereof). With this new feature, users can place a representation of the classical golden ratio guidelines on a blank canvas or overlay it on an existing image. The obvious advantage here is that, with this tool, users can readily develop compositions that are visually pleasing (assuming that a 1:1.61803398874989 ratio amongst elements of your compositions is automatically pleasing) or simply use the divine intervention to help decide where to crop photos.

The tool provides controls over the placement of the Divine Proportion guidelines, orientation, elements to include, size, grid display, opacity and levels. The new Painter also includes a tool (in the Tools palette) that allows you to position the Divine Proportion guidelines interactively.

The other composition tool added to Painter X is the  Layout Grid, which provides guidelines that follow the Rule of Thirds for photography. It can also be modified to create custom layouts.

And, finally, on the image editing side, Painter X now includes new Dodge and Burn tools. As you'd expect, the Dodge tool allows you to lighten specific areas of an image, while the Burn tool can be used to darken specific areas of an image.

Workflow improvements
So the new version of Painter is faster and offers more creative features than its predecessors. How about workflow improvements? Painter X does gain one major workflow improvement, plus several minor ones.

The major change is the addition of color management. Painter X supports ICC 4.0 color profiles and allows users to apply color management settings in preferences (accessed through the Canvas menu). Those preferences remain in effect until the user makes further adjustments.

Other new workflow enhancements include:

Improved support for Photoshop files, including layer masks, alpha channels and layer groups, as well as support for more Photoshop filters in Mac OS X.

Support for the Wacom Cintiq 21 UX interactive pen display and Intuos3 tablet, as well as  the Wacom 6D Art Pen.

A new Workspace Manager for creating customized workspaces.

And the rest
Introduced today, Corel Painter X is now available for preorder and will be available in two packaging configurations later this month: a standard boxed format for $429 and a Corel Painter X Limited Edition Can (paint bucket) configuration, which also includes the complete ?Learning Corel Painter X with Jeremy Sutton DVD-ROM, the Corel Painter X collectors poster and the Corel Painter X Composition tool. That version sells for $499. Upgrades run $229.

English version box product will be available through Corel and reseller partners in late February 2007. Japanese, French, Italian and German versions of Corel Painter X will be available throughout the spring of 2007.

A trial version will also be available today.

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