As a long time Photoshop user I was always curious about another well-known software for digital artists – Corel Painter. Finally, I have decided to use it for a month to find out answers to the following questions:
What are the main differences between Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter?
Which one is better for digital painting?
Which one is more suitable for professional work?
Would it be possible to use Painter instead of Photoshop?
Note: This review is based on my experience and personal opinion, and some people might not agree with it. With that being said, keep on reading if you’d like to know my observations.
Let’s start with the most exciting part – brushes! You must agree, it’s the tool that every artist wants to test out first. I was very eager to try out every single brush in Corel Painter as soon as I saw a huge library of them, all grouped in different categories, such as Acrylic and gouache, Watercolors, Oils, Pens and pencils and many more. I was impressed with beautiful textures, stroke quality and blending effects of the brushes.
Corel Painter’s brushes look and behave like real traditional media so that you feel like you are working on a canvas or paper. At the same time, you can’t always easily transform, blend or erase parts of your painting without doing permanent damage to it, just like with traditional media. Painter forces you to be more conscious of each stroke that you make and your painting process overall.
After painting for a while, I became a little bit overwhelmed with the variety and amount of brushes to choose from, many of which have a very similar look. Even limiting myself to just one category, it often took me some time to find the right brush which was a little bit tiresome.
Overall, I was very impressed with the traditional look of these brushes and creative results that could be achieved using them. I am sure that all traditional painters out there will be delighted with what Corel Painter has to offer.
Just like in Photoshop, in Painter you can create your own or add custom brushes downloaded from the internet, though compared to Photoshop, there is much less of them to choose from.
Although Photoshop doesn’t have many brushes when you first open it after installation, you can very easily add a whole collection of traditional media brushes directly from Adobe’s website. These were originally tool presets created by an illustrator Kyle T. Webster who sold them as digital downloads. They became so popular that Adobe decided to invite their creator to join them, converted the presets to brushes and made them available as free downloads to all Photoshop users.
I did two quick sketches referenced from the same photograph, one in Corel Painter and one in Adobe Photoshop. Honestly, as much as I loved Painter’s brushes, I don’t see that much of a difference between the two images. Both programs in their current versions (as of 2019) provide tools which very successfully simulate traditional media.
The main difference however is not in the result but in the process of painting itself. Painter’s engine behaves more like real traditional media. You are not free to alter your painting once the strokes were put down (when it’s too late to Ctrl + Z) and erasing parts of it later on may leave marks difficult to conceal, even if painting on a new layer. This is much easier when working in Photoshop – it offers a balanced mix of both, traditional feel of your work and the convenience of using digital media. Thanks to that, it’s possible to achieve the same results – only much easier and faster.
There is a lot of similarity between Photoshop and Painter’s tools, however their functions and options are not always the same. Some tools available in Painter are not present in Photoshop and vice versa. Some are in both programs but are much easier to use in one or the other. Below are some of the tools often used in digital painting or drawing that I found worth mentioning.
Straight line strokes
This tool found in Corel Painter is much easier to use than the Shift + click method in Photoshop. It allows you to draw perfectly straight lines with any chosen brush and is particularly useful when drawing interiors or urban environments with a lot of architecture.
Perspective grid tool should have been added to Photoshop a long time ago but is still missing (as of 2019). Sure, there is the vanishing point tool but it’s not nearly as helpful and easy to use as the perspective grid tool in Painter. Here you can easily adjust the horizon level, vanishing points and grids. Not only that, you can switch on Perspective-guided strokes option for your brush strokes to automatically align with the perspective, which is a very convenient option and makes drawing in perspective fast and easy.
Transform tool in Corel Painter could still be improved. There is a lot of button clicking when trying to switch between resize, rotate or move an object. There might be some shortcuts to help with that, however I find transform tool in Photoshop a lot faster and more intuitive. I also noticed there is no warp mode in Painter that lets you warp contents of a layer in a controllable and precise way.
Let’s face it, the color picker in Photoshop is not very useful for painting. I much rather prefer the color wheel available in Corel Painter which makes it easier to stick to color harmonies and build a beautiful color palette for your illustration.
There is however an extension available in Photoshop CC which brings a simple version of the color wheel into the software. Adobe Color Themes allows you to pick a color rule, build a palette easily in a matter of seconds and the swatches will help you stick to your composition when painting.
Both programs have basic blending modes, such as Multiply, Overlay, Screen etc. and each software has a few modes that are not available in the other. Unfortunately, there is no Color Dodge mode in Painter, which I find myself using quite often.
It seems there are no adjustment layers in Painter which is a big loss for me as I use them very often. The biggest advantage of an adjustment layer is that you don’t need to apply the adjustment directly to a layer containing your art work and you can delete, modify or switch it off anytime.
Corel Painter can save files as PSD so that it’s possible to continue working with your painting in Photoshop. You can also create PDF files, though with limited options.
Some shortcuts are exactly the same in both programs so if you have been using one for a while, switching to the other one will be an easier transition.
When locking layer transparency in Corel Painter, it will apply to each layer instead of the current layer only. This forces me to keep locking and unlocking the transparency each time I switch between layers. I find that Photoshop’s layer transparency lock which only applies to one layer is much less distracting.
There is no doubt – Photoshop’s performance is a lot better than Painter’s. I work on an iMac with 32 Gb RAM and an i7 Processor and never experience any lag while working in Photoshop, unless the artwork is a meters tall banner. When painting in Painter however, I experienced slower performance when using some of the more advanced brushes, the erasers or when zooming in and out. It was noticeable enough to annoy and make the process of painting a bit less enjoyable. Photoshop allows for a faster and smoother process of creation without distractions in shape of lagging or less functional tools.
As much as I loved Painter’s brushes, some of the functions and the traditional look of my work, I would not choose it as the main software to do professional work for the following reasons:
Some essential tools, such as adjustment layers are missing in Painter
Limited ability to transform or modify artwork at later stages
Except for a few tools, Photoshop CC offers everything and much more than Corel Painter
I would choose to buy Corel Painter as an addition to my graphic software if:
I had a strong background in traditional media and it was my preferred style of working
I wanted to make my digital work look like it was created traditionally
I needed to use perspective grids often for architecture drawings done by hand
Corel Painter will force you to think more carefully during the process of creation, just like when working with traditional media. In a way it is a good thing and may help you improve as an artist, however when working professionally, sometimes shortcuts and conveniences available in Photoshop can save you hours of fixing or repainting an almost finished work when your client suddenly requests changes. It is also possible to achieve a traditional look to your work in Photoshop, without the restrictions of working with traditional media. In the end Photoshop seems to satisfy most of the needs of a digital artist on a tight schedule.