The review has been updated after the release of Corel Painter 2022.
As a long time Photoshop user I was always curious about another well-known software for digital artists – Corel Painter. I have tested it out back in 2019 when I originally wrote this article. Now, after the release of Corel Painter 2022 I am testing it again to give you answers to the questions below. You can expand each question to see the answer right away, or keep reading for a more in-depth review.
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 – the brushes! I was very eager to test every single brush in Corel Painter as soon as I saw the huge library of them that comes with the software. They are grouped in different categories, such as Acrylic, Gouache, Watercolors, Oils, Pens, Pencils and many more. I was impressed with beautiful textures, stroke quality and blending effects of the brushes. Compared to the previous versions of Corel Painter, in the newest 2022 version the brushes are grouped better and easier to find.
Corel Painter’s brushes look and simulate real traditional media so that you feel like you are working on canvas or paper. At the same time, even if you create a separate layer, you can’t always easily blend or erase parts of your painting without doing permanent damage to it. Painter forces you to be more conscious of each stroke that you make and your painting process overall.
While painting my first sketch in Corel Painter 2022, I struggled to control the outcome of it. I was used to the full control I had when working in Photoshop. I kept coloring the sketch over and over again, but I couldn’t achieve the result I wanted. It definitely takes a while to get used to the way brushes behave in Corel Painter, especially to a digital painter like me.
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 the 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 love Painter’s brushes, I don’t see that much of a difference between the two images. Both programs provide tools which very successfully simulate traditional media.
To me, Photoshop’s interface seems more intuitive and easier to use but that could be because I have been using it for years already. I have also struggled to control my brush strokes in Painter and I found myself spending a lot more time on the same sketch which in Photoshop took a lot quicker to finish.
On a side note, I was happy to discover that thanks to Painter’s Brush Accelerator in the latest version of Corel Painter (2022), the brush lag which I had experienced when using the older version was much smaller and I was able to enjoy all brushes mostly without problems.
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 Corel Painter’s tool 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.
Mirror Painting is a tool very similar to Photoshop’s Symmetry Painting. While using this tool your canvas is split by horizontal or vertical lines and whatever you paint in one segment will be mirrored in the others. It is very handy and time saving when painting symmetrical shapes or patterns. In Photoshop you have slightly more options, such as splitting your canvas using a circle, spiral or parallel lines.
Perspective grid tool should have been added to Photoshop a long time ago but is still missing (as of 2021). 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 2022 works very much like the one in Photoshop. I noticed however, that there is no warp mode in Painter that lets you warp contents of a layer in a controllable and precise way.
Most Photoshop users complain about the color picker in Photoshop, and for a good reason. It 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. I was happy to discover that Color Dodge mode has also been added to Corel Painter.
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 have the option to 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.
Photoshop’s performance is still a bit better than Painter’s. When painting in Painter I experienced a slight lag when using some of the more advanced brushes, though in the newest version (2022) it has significantly decreased. Still, even very small lagging can make brush strokes less smooth to the point that they might need redoing.
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 as a digital artist, for the following reasons:
Some essential tools, such as adjustment layers are missing in Painter
Not enough freedom in transferring and adjusting the work later on
Less intuitive interface
Photoshop has more functions overall
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 very much 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.