Corel Painter X3 review

Price when reviewed

These days most photo-editing packages tend to throw in a couple of semi-artistic effects and brushes, but Corel Painter is entirely different. For almost 30 years, Painter has dedicated itself to helping its users create real art on their computers.

The key to Painter’s approach and success is its extraordinary range of brushes. There are dozens of categories on offer, based on real artists’ tools – acrylics, chalk and crayons, gouache, markers, pencils, oils, oil pastels, watercolours and many more. Each category provides access to between ten and 30 presets, meaning that there are literally hundreds of brushes to choose from. Indeed, there are so many brushes that finding the right one can be difficult.

Thankfully, Painter X3 makes the whole selection process easier, starting by showing the name of categories next to their icons in the central Brush Selector dropdown. It also adds a new Brush Search option that lets you quickly find all brushes, say “pencils” or “oils”, even if these are spread over multiple categories. And, as you mouse over a preset, X3’s improved Stroke Preview now gives you a better idea of what each brush will look like when applied to the canvas.

Corel Painter X3

Finding the right brush is one thing, but what really matters is how well it works, and Painter X3’s brush engine is extraordinary. With the Watercolour brushes, for example, Painter’s simulation is based on dozens of interacting parameters, many of which can vary depending on inputs such as pressure, speed and direction. These parameters control not only the basics of size, opacity and so on, but the particular profile of the brush tip, how paint bleeds and dries, the level of wetness, the evaporation threshold, how the pigment diffuses and interacts with the underlying grain of the paper, and even the strength and direction of the simulated wind.

Manually adjusting these parameters is daunting enough to dissuade most users from moving beyond the preset settings, but Painter X3 tackles this issue head-on – there’s been a complete overhaul of how brushes are customised. Key to this is a reorganisation of existing panels, with many broken up into more explicit logical groupings so that, for example, the former catch-all General panel has been split into separate Stroke Attributes, Grain and Opacity panels.

The end result is that Painter X3 now provides no fewer than 34 separate Brush Control panels, which might suggest that the complexity problem has been made even worse. It’s thanks to X3’s dynamic and context-sensitive handling, though, that it hasn’t. Simply hit the new Advanced Brush Controls icon on the main toolbar and Painter X3 opens only those panels that are relevant to the current brush, with everything neatly organized into logically grouped tabs, and the most commonly used options brought to the fore. It’s such an obvious and effective solution that it seems bizarre that Painter hasn’t always worked this way.

As well as overhauling access to its brush engine, X3 builds in important new control over what it calls “universal jitter”. In the real world, no two brushstrokes are exactly the same. This feature allows users to mimic such inconsistencies by adding randomness to each brushstroke.

Corel Painter X3

Painter X3 provides all the brushes and control you need to produce any sort of artistic project from scratch. However, these days you’re unlikely to be starting from a completely blank canvas. New in Painter X3 is the option to load a reference image to give you inspiration, and from which you can sample colours. You can also now use a photo as the basis for setting up perspective guides (replacing the former grids), and even constrain your brushstrokes to these guides to accurately draw in one-, two- or three-point perspective.

The Clone command comes in handy here, too. This lets you automatically sample colours as you paint, and will even automatically and intelligently paint the whole image for you. Painter X3 has added the option to view your source and clone side by side, and you can also now directly edit the source image, and choose to commit or discard edits when you return to work on the cloned copy.

Disappointingly, though, that’s about it in terms of new hands-on power. Painter X3 notably fails to provide any real wow factor. Moreover, with Synthetik’s Studio Artist 4 making its way from the Mac to the PC last year, Painter now faces some real competition from a package that does. However, for those who simply want to emulate traditional practices on the computer, Painter X3 remains the better choice.


Software subcategoryGraphics/design software

Operating system support

Operating system Mac OS X supported?yes

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