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Painting a perfect picture

ARCHITECH Now in its sixth incarnation, Painter has developed into an excellent program for replicating realistic natural media effects to create digital works of art

The first time I saw Painter, then a Fractal Design product, I was wowed by its functionality. The ability to replicate realistic natural media effects, and to create digital works of art on a desktop system was unheard of.

High-end systems were available but, due to their cost, they were only for the few.

Painter has developed over the years into an excellent platform for the expression of artistic endeavour.

The release of version 6.0 sees a refocusing on the application's core functionality: digital painting.

Previous versions have dabbled with 3

Dpainting and Web functionality. MetaCreations, like many graphics companies, saw the Web as an area that needed to be exploited even if its users didn't. With this release the company has concentrated on producing a world-class professional digital paint solution.

Painter 6 is the culmination of a great deal of development work in which improvements in workflow and speed have been considered as important as piling in new features.

The first thing existing users will notice is the much-improved interface. Borrowing from professional applications like Discreet's 3

DStudio Max, MetaCreations has designed the interface to free up as much screen real estate as possible while still keeping controls a couple of mouse clicks way. A system of collapsible floating palettes provides users with access to all the tools and settings via a series of tabs.

Brush controls are now all grouped together and not spread across a number of different palettes.

Painter was often criticised for the extent of its interface, which used to take up most of the screen. Painter 6 sees a much more rational approach to the interface organisation, with options not available for individual brushes or tools appearing greyed out. The palette scrolls within the window to provide access to further options. Shift clicking on any tab opens all the tabs; repeating this process collapses all the tabs. Sliders within palettes can be controled either numerically or by simply clicking and dragging with a slider.

The overall structure has been designed to reflect industry-standard applications like Adobe's Photoshop. This again is a welcome change as the developers have recognised that the most important aspect of any graphics application other than functionality is workflow. A new layering system better

eflects the way people work and does away with the old system of floaters. Layers are far moreflexible, with the ability to use selections on one layer to cut or copy an element from another, and can be included in groups. Unlike Photoshop layers, individual layers can still be edited while included in groups by opening up the layer group and selecting an individual layer.

While the interface improvements are a major element of this upgrade, the real power comes with the new implementation of Painter's brush technology. The development team has gone back to basics and rewritten the brush engine. A number of new brushes have been added and overall brush rendering time has been improved.

The speed improvements apply to strokes applied quickly as well as the more complex brushes. A caching

technology, known as multi-stroke spooling, is used to allow the user to work as they would with natural media without having to wait ages for the screen to catch up. Motion damping has also been implemented, creating a velocity buffer that smoothes the brushstroke path, preventing facets and artefacts that can occur when working quickly.

All the brushes are pressuresensitive and also work with the tilt function and brush

s found with Wacom's range of graphics tablets.

Painter should be used with a tablet, as much of the subtlety of the brushstrokes relies on variations of pressure. MetaCreations has dramatically improved mouse-only drawing but Painter without a tablet is like a cart without a horse.

The new engine renders continuous one-pixel lines of colour rather than applying paint as a series of dabs and dots, as was the case with previous versions. With the new bristle brush, paint is applied as individual bristles with each appearing as an anti-aliased line. As with real brushes, you can load brushes with different colours to produce a subtle effect. As each bristle can hold a different colour, the results are much more akin to real-world working.

Another new brush is an excellent implementation of a virtual airbrush. The technology supports Wacom's airbrush, including the flow-control wheel on the stylus. Just as with real airbrushes, those within Painter feature continuous time deposition, meaning paint builds up over time if the brush is held over a single point. A number of specialist airbrushes are included with the application. As well as the new set of air brushes, the brushes in 6.0 are excellent.The first time I saw Painter, then a Fractal Design product, I was wowed by its functionality. The ability to replicate realistic natural media effects, and to create digital works of art on a desktop system was unheard of.

High-end systems were available but, due to their cost, they were only for the few.

Painter has developed over the years into an excellent platform for the expression of artistic endeavour.

The release of version 6.0 sees a refocusing on the application's core functionality: digital painting.

Previous versions have dabbled with 3 Dpainting and Web functionality. MetaCreations, like many graphics companies, saw the Web as an area that needed to be exploited even if its users didn't. With this release the company has concentrated on producing a world-class professional digital paint solution.

Painter 6 is the culmination of a great deal of development work in which improvements in workflow and speed have been considered as important as piling in new features.

The first thing existing users will notice is the much-improved interface. Borrowing from professional applications like Discreet's 3 DStudio Max, MetaCreations has designed the interface to free up as much screen real estate as possible while still keeping controls a couple of mouse clicks way. A system of collapsible floating palettes provides users with access to all the tools and settings via a series of tabs.

Brush controls are now all grouped together and not spread across a number of different palettes.

Painter was often criticised for the extent of its interface, which used to take up most of the screen. Painter 6 sees a much more rational approach to the interface organisation, with options not available for individual brushes or tools appearing greyed out. The palette scrolls within the window to provide access to further options. Shift clicking on any tab opens all the tabs; repeating this process collapses all the tabs. Sliders within palettes can be controled either numerically or by simply clicking and dragging with a slider.

The overall structure has been designed to reflect industry-standard applications like Adobe's Photoshop. This again is a welcome change as the developers have recognised that the most important aspect of any graphics application other than functionality is workflow. A new layering system better eflects the way people work and does away with the old system of floaters. Layers are far moreflexible, with the ability to use selections on one layer to cut or copy an element from another, and can be included in groups. Unlike Photoshop layers, individual layers can still be edited while included in groups by opening up the layer group and selecting an individual layer.

While the interface improvements are a major element of this upgrade, the real power comes with the new implementation of Painter's brush technology. The development team has gone back to basics and rewritten the brush engine. A number of new brushes have been added and overall brush rendering time has been improved.

The speed improvements apply to strokes applied quickly as well as the more complex brushes. A caching

technology, known as multi-stroke spooling, is used to allow the user to work as they would with natural media without having to wait ages for the screen to catch up. Motion damping has also been implemented, creating a velocity buffer that smoothes the brushstroke path, preventing facets and artefacts that can occur when working quickly.

All the brushes are pressuresensitive and also work with the tilt function and brush ID s found with Wacom's range of graphics tablets.

Painter should be used with a tablet, as much of the subtlety of the brushstrokes relies on variations of pressure. MetaCreations has dramatically improved mouse-only drawing but Painter without a tablet is like a cart without a horse.

The new engine renders continuous one-pixel lines of colour rather than applying paint as a series of dabs and dots, as was the case with previous versions. With the new bristle brush, paint is applied as individual bristles with each appearing as an anti-aliased line. As with real brushes, you can load brushes with different colours to produce a subtle effect. As each bristle can hold a different colour, the results are much more akin to real-world working.

Another new brush is an excellent implementation of a virtual airbrush. The technology supports Wacom's airbrush, including the flow-control wheel on the stylus. Just as with real airbrushes, those within Painter feature continuous time deposition, meaning paint builds up over time if the brush is held over a single point. A number of specialist airbrushes are included with the application. As well as the new set of air brushes, the FX brushes in 6.0 are excellent.

Painter allows artists to go far beyond natural media. The image hose is still included, allowing you to paint with images. A new set of nozzles is included on the CD , with everything from trees to barbed wire. Perspective effects are simple to create by using pressure to determine nozzle size. Tilt can also be used to affect the way images are laid down onto the canvas.

One of the most impressive new features is Impasto. This replicates painting with depth, allowing paint to be built up producing a 3 Deffect.

When using heavy oils or the palette knife you are now able to scrape away paint and build it up to give work a real sense of depth. Controls allow lighting direction to be altered to vary effects. The palette knife now interacts with individual brushstrokes, responding to pressure and direction.

Painter was one of the first applications to deal with vector-based objects in conjunction with bitmap images. The range of text options has been increased. Text on a path is now available and, while its aesthet-ic credibility may be in question, it does have its fans.

Painter has long been an odd application and it is hard tofind anyone who uses it to its full potential. But for artists and those who want to produce paintings it is hard to beat. The ability to open photographs and manipulate them with Photoshop-compatible plug-ins as well as produce works of art from scratch will please many designers and graphics professionals.

On one level Painter can be used to produce works of art and on another it can produce excellent textures for use in 3 Dmodelling. If you are an artist looking for new ways to express yourself or want to dabble and have some spare cash, give it a go.PRODUCT Painter 6 PRICE £299. Upgrade £149 SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS Mac OS 8 or later, Windows 95/98/ NT 4.0, 32Mb of application RAM (64Mb recommended) CONTACT Computers Unlimited +44 (0)181 358 5857

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