Painter 12
Price Full: £274.80, Upgrade: £142.80 | Developer Corel | Web |

The most eagerly anticipated launch in the digital painting sphere is (finally) here. Was it worth the wait? Has Corel listened to its vocal user base? Does Painter 12 live up to the hype? The answer is a resounding yes – and then some.

Painter 12 isn’t a simple update. It’s a hefty retooling of all that we’ve come to expect of the package and introduces new brushes, new features, new tools and workflows, even a brand new interface. What’s most remarkable about it, though, is that Corel has managed to implement all of these elements without confusing muddying the way in which we users understand how it works.  

There’s a very good reason for this – Painter 12’s new interface, tools, and control options are based entirely on Photoshop’s. There’s even a Photoshop workspace that mimics Adobe’s default palette and tools set up. Rather than deride Corel for such a move, they should be celebrated. Anyone now working between the two applications will find palettes in similar positions, similar shortcuts and workflows. For instance, the new Navigator panel is identical to Photoshop’s – and why shouldn’t it be? If Adobe can’t unify its palette, tool and shortcut options across its Creative Suite, why the heck shouldn’t Corel? Just like Photoshop all palettes are collapsible, editable and saveable, enabling users to create their perfect workspace, or create different workspaces for different painting jobs, such as a sketching mode, colouring or editing mode.  

Elsewhere there’s a new temporal colour palette. Ignoring the rather daft name for a moment, this really is a great implementation that presents Corel’s familiar hue ring and saturation/value triangle that makes it easy to select a range of colours used in your project and switch between them. In use, it speeds your workflow considerably, and given that you can now assign keyboard shortcuts to hiding and revealing tools and palettes, means it can be accessed with a single keyboard click, a colour selected, then hidden – all in a single movement.

The way in which the tools and functions are collected makes perfect sense, too. Canvas textures, papers, colour sets, gradients, layers, lighting, looks, nozzles, patterns, selections, scripts, weaves and brushes are all instantly accessible, which might not sound like the most jaw-dropping implementation, but by heck does it make Painter 12 easy (and fun) to use… especially the brushes palette.

Yes, Painter 12 includes more than 700 brushes (so many, in fact, that the install process requires multiple stages) that use the RealBristle system that made Painter 10 such as standout upgrade. Each is totally customizable. Find a brush, edit it quickly, then save it as a custom brush. A three-step process made super fast. These now include digital airbrushes, which work like blend modes on Photoshop, and an excellent Gel brush that that enables you to add a tint to an underlying colour – perfect for adding depth of field and highlights to a piece.

Of course, brushes are only as good as the digital paint they apply, and here too Corel has responded to requests for both water colours oil paints. Both are excellent, and give the most comprehensive and ‘realistic’ painting experience we’ve ever tested. Users can blend and bleed watercolours into each other, address paint to flow downwards as if affected by gravity, or seep in to the canvas or paper effect you’re working on, smudges smears and all. It really is a delight to watch as paint pools and ‘dries’.  

There are less notable implementations, again which appear influenced by Photoshop. A proper clone brush is best used for touching up photos than in any form of digital painting, while the mirror painting feature has limited appeal. Similarly, the kaleidoscope feature. This works very well, and is immense fun and does have a use in pattern creation. But really, how often would this be used in a digital painting workflow?

None of these quibbles really matter, though, as Corel has come up trumps with Painter 12. Yes, it’s derivative – it steals Photoshop’s best bits. But why the heck shouldn’t it if it adds so much to an already great application. If you routinely work between Painter and Photoshop, you’ll find the interface, new tools and functions a superb fit to your workflow. If you don’t rely on Adobe’s workhorse for editing, its best bits are now in one painting package – Painter 12.


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Rating: 4.5/5