Monday, January 02, 2012

Brush Review 2: Painter 10, Painter 12, Photoshop CS5

I used to paint mostly with custom brushes, but my old custom brushes aren't very practical for demonstrations since they confuse new students.  So when I bought Painter 12, I branched out into the stock brushes some more.  Here are some of the ones I liked: some new to Painter 12, some that have been around for a while, and one or two from Photoshop.
First of all, the "Real 2b Pencil" from Painter 12.  This is the only thing I use for drawing now, except occasionally the markers.  Why?  Because it feels exactly how you would want a digital pencil to feel.  The only problem with it is the fat Wacom pen's inability to lay completely on its side like a real pencil would.  But once you get used to it you'll never go back.  And it's a "cover" pencil so you can draw with any color.

Painter 12 finally got markers right.  I like quite a few of the new markers, but my favorite is the "Variable Chisel Tip," only I changed the Opacity control to pen pressure.  
The new markers basically treat a single stroke all as wet ink, and don't layer on new color until you start a new stroke.  If you've used art markers before you'll immediately feel how much better these are than Painter's old markers.

The next brush has been around in Painter for a while, but they've improved it just slightly for 12: the "Grainy Water" Blender.  Something about the way it blends feels really intuitive, and best of all, if you're blending line art, you can see the original lines underneath just like you do when blending natural dry media.   Lately I've been using this brush instead of an eraser when drawing, because the unique way it blends gives you a very natural feel.
The "Grainy Water Blender" makes two brushes I would have avoided before suddenly become pretty nice:  The "Real Soft Chalk" and "Real Hard Pastel."  The former is ideal for mixing and adding depth to your colors, the latter gives you a nice opaque color with some texture when blended.

One inherent problem with digital painting is that it will never feel as tactile and "right" as natural media.  However, digital media DOES provide extra controls and options that you may not have with, say, something like watercolor or oil paint.  So why did the Painter guys make their new Watercolor and Oil brushes even MORE painful and unpredictable than their real-life counterparts?  I don't know, but I'm going to recommend you use some of their older brushes instead.
The watercolors Painter 10 (or 9?) introduced are mostly just useful for adding texture to your image.  I really like the "Diffuse Bristle" for that very purpose.  If you absolutely must use the new watercolors for actual painting, the "Wet Wash Flat" isn't horrible.  But if you want something that does what I described above, in mixing some of the benefits/feel of natural media with the power and flexibility of digital, use the Digital Watercolors.  In my last post on brushes I think I liked the "Simple Water" best.  Well, the "New Simple Water" is even better.  Digital water color is best for adding color to an existing drawing, like this:
Original drawing
Fine details added using Real Soft Chalk and Grainy Water Blender
My favorite part: low pressure pushes the colors around and pulls some of the color out, much like the behavior you'd get when switching between a wet brush dipped in color and a damp brush.  If you want to have more than one layer of digital watercolor at a time, create a new layer and turn off "Pick Up Underlying Color" in the layers menu.  If you want to dry the digital watercolor (merge colors with the canvas) for any layer, the option is in the Layers menu.

The new Oil brushes are garbage, for the same reasons I cited above: less intuitive than the real thing, and nothing new added by making it digital.  Maybe a little less expensive and fewer health risks, but Corel could definitely do better than this.  The biggest problem is that none of the Oil controls can be attached to pressure, pen tilt, or any other Wacom settings.

I thought I'd throw in an addendum for Painter users who are curious about Photoshop CS5, or for Photoshop users who want the same results as Painter.  I'm sorry to say that for the most part, Photoshop does everything differently than Painter does.  It is possible to make a Painter brush feel exactly like Photoshop,  but getting Photoshop to mimic most Painter brushes is just impossible.  Photoshop does a few things well, like the way it handles Dual Brush effects and texture.  But its brushes don't scale well, making edges hard to manage, and its Mixer Brush Tool doesn't live up to hype.  In fact, CS5's Mixer Brush reminds me a lot of Painter's Oils, and you know how I feel about those.  You'll get much better behavior from modifying your smudge tool (which isn't as good as the Grainy Water Blender in Painter, but it's way better than the Mixer Brush settings for blending).


  1. alright so I need to buy painter 12 now :)
    Maybe when I'll get my tax refund :D

  2. Thank you for this post. I've been going back and forth on whether to get the new Painter (I'm still on Painter X, but my work has 12, which I'm still not used to.) You are definitely right about Photoshop and Painter. I find myself ping-ponging between each program to finish a picture.

  3. Amazing post, thanks Sam!

  4. I would LOVE to buy Painter... I can't right now, though. Hm. Maybe I'll just win the lottery. Have you made an article on how you have modified the smudge to make it more similar to painters water tool (which is the most awesome thing I have tried)

  5. As a heavy user of Painter's Digital Watercolors for many years I find your post very interesting.
    The point is I used to use it in a very different way than in your excellent sample.
    Being a political cartoonist haunted by tight deadlines (2-3 hs), I took advantage from its ability to allow a fast "modulation" of intensity of color, then to "dry" it and glaze over the result. Always keeping in mind a "watercolor" like final render.

    That was until ArtRage Studio Pro developed a watercolor engine very much alike the "real thing", which became my first tool of choice. Even thought it has pros and contras too. Namely, the beauty and risk of accidental occurrences, typical of real watercolors.

    In short, I still wait for a comprehensive comparison of the two by an independent, qualified artist like you. Thanks.

  6. Oh, phooey, phooey, phooey. I'm not an artist. I have PS and I can't justify buying another program for a person who is NOT AN ARtiST. But I loved those brushes, and I do not love the PS brushes. Thought it was just me and my ignorance. Now I see that ignorance is only the threshold into frustration.


  7. Wow! Excellent review, Sam. I've been thinking about trying Painter 12 (I've been a Photoshop user only for so long) and this review has convinced me! Thanks for taking the time to write and share it! :-)

  8. Gotta thank you heartedly for this, Sam! I've been trying Painter 12 but I have not gotten to use the oil brushes. The oil brushes were my mainstay in the previous versions of Painter and what you say here, saddens me! I agree with your comparison of PS to Painter, as well. While I'm digging the improvements in PS CS5, it's brushes still pale in comparison to Painter.

    Thank you again for this review!

  9. Thanks everyone!

    Heather: There are a couple other things I really like about 12 also, maybe I'll do a post about those too. Then at least you can see whether those are things you think would make it worth it to upgrade.

    Mads Johansen: The problem is, I've worked quite a bit with the smudge tool, but I can't get the behavior I want exactly out of it. If I manage to stumble on an ideal solution I'll post about it though.

    Bob: That is actually how I used the digital watercolors for the troll painting also. I did the skin color variations, dried it, then painted in the light and shadow. It's true though that this doesn't have a true watercolor look though, but if you want unexpected behavior that looks like traditional media then Painter's new watercolor brushes are awesome.

    K: Painter 12 would be a waste of money for someone who does not paint. _Painter_ 12. :)

    Lee Anne: Painter 12 has some really cool things to it, but unfortunately it also doesn't do some of the things that Photoshop does well. So I'd suggest painting an actual picture using the trial version (random brush strokes on a page don't tell you anything about the program) so you can see if it jives with your sensibilities and workflow before you put money down on it.

    Smugbug: Painter 12 kept some of the old oil brushes around and I still like those. It's the new oils from ver. 10 and the "real oils" from ver. 12 that I don't like.

  10. so which ones ore the new oil brushes and which ones are the old good ones?

    I use painter 11, does that version still have the old ones?


  11. Anonymous10:34 AM

    АБАЛДЕТЬ!!! Слизал пробную 30-и дневную версию, слов нет, удачная программа!!! НО!!! Есть и маленькие недочеты( в системе "seven x86"), это; слишком медлительная работа "брашей" при рисовании по объекту, и в настроойке монитора в 125%, панели инструментов "вылетают" за окно интерфейса. Следует ли мне менять "машину" на более производительную, или дождаться когда авторы обновят приложение? Да, и еще, не плохо было б установить русский интерфейс для этой проги, все же не космическую технологию распространил Corel'.

  12. Luca: Depends on which brushes. Painter 11 has some of the old oils, but the old old oils were taken out in version 4 or 5. The old oils were awesome and I don't know why they never made a comeback.

    Anonymous: Google translate didn't work very well, so I didn't quite get the gist of your question?

  13. Thank for you post is amazing.I from to Argentina !

  14. Anonymous3:38 PM


    I paint in photoshop, I used painter a while ago but 5/10 times it would corrupt my files (I think it was painter 6 or 8) so I moved to photoshop. I am considering purchasing painter again, but I'm just on a mission to make photoshop work.

    Now, I've seen some people do AMAZING things with photoshop painting, and I mean real painting not just photo manipulation. They just use basic hard brushes.

    Here are some pictures using just the basic brushes, hard and air. (hopefully links work) You are probably familiar with some of these people:

    I realize I probably have to go ask them, but you seem to know brushes like the back of your hand. Do you have any idea how they get that painterly look from photoshop normal brushes? I imagine they simply work on it...

    I'm taking your self taught lighting class right now, and I have to say it's worth every penny. I was attending Art Center College of Design, and your class exceeds any class I've taken there.

  15. Anonymous: You should try the free trial of Painter before buying, and use it to actually paint things. I haven't had many stability problems with it since changing to the "Legacy Brush Resize Tool" in the preferences (crashed all the time before that), but I know some other people have had lots of stability problems so it probably has a lot to do with your machine.
    As for getting smooth gradients in photoshop, there are a few ways of doing this. You can tweak the smudge tool to get some nice blending behavior, which allows you to paint more rough and soften things later. Or, you can use large brushes and modulate the opacity using the pen pressure. This technique might require you to use selections or other masking tools to avoid spilling onto other parts of the painting. Or you can layer in a rough or solid color on at first and then erase away or create a gradient in the mask of the layer. I haven't tried that one yet but I've seen others do it well.
    Glad to hear you're enjoying the class!

  16. Anonymous6:29 AM

    In the paint the custom brushes are goes to many old and its creating many problem and do confuse students for demonstrations. Bur if you buy painter12 then you can give easily demonstrations of your student.

    indesign training

  17. Great review. I haven't played around with painting using Painter 12 yet, but I've been a Photoshop guy for a long time now. As an interior painting specialist, I find that it's a great way to test colors and textures before putting the real paint on the walls.


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