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Photoshop versus Painter

In An Ideal World, You'll Own Both

By Jeff Dorgay

People always ask me, "Should I use Photoshop or Painter?" This is never an easy answer, and the one that comes to mind is usually, "get both!"

There is a lot more truth to this than you might think. I have been using Photoshop and Painter since they first came out and they are both really valuable imaging tools. For those of you working in a production environment who spend a lot of time resizing, cropping and color correcting, Photoshop is second to none in this area. With the current version of Image Ready, Photoshop is also a great tool for preparing web graphics.

Back in my day, Painter cost just as much as Photoshop, so this was always an economic dilemma. With this release, Corel has dropped the retail price to $249 and the upgrade from Painter Classic or Photoshop 5.5 7 (competitive upgrade) to $149. At that price, it makes good sense to own both. Even if you land one additional job this year from being able to create something cool in Painter, it will have paid for itself.

Listen Up & Plug-in
Photoshop 7 has a lot of great creative features, but its basic filtering and image manipulation capabilities have not changed that dramatically over the years. Most of the advances in filtering and manipulation have come from third party sources. My experience has shown that most of these plug-ins work in Painter the same way they do in Photoshop, so this will allow any of your favorite plug-ins to work double duty.

There has been a pile of good reviews of Photoshop 7 over the last year, so there is no need to go into great detail here. Photoshop is a great all-purpose image-editing tool that does allow you a number of creative effects, but its tools are really based on working in a darkroom. Painter, on the other hand is really more of an illustration program that has tools based in a fine art studio with traditional media. Those of you that draw and paint will feel right at home with Painter once you get used to drawing with a Wacom pen.

OS X & XP Ready
While both of these programs will work with older versions of the Mac and Windows OS, they perform best on OS X and Windows XP. Painter in particular works much better on OS X than System 9.x. Maximum performance requires as much memory as you can afford as well as hard disk space. A Wacom tablet is a luxury in Photoshop, but really is a necessity in Painter to take advantage of its additional functionality and to get that last bit of "painting feel". I suggest one of the current Intuos 2 pads with an eraser. The 6x8 pad is about $350 and is the best investment you will ever make if you find yourself spending a lot of time in Painter. (Its still a great idea if you are a power Photoshop user, and will reduce wear and tear on your wrist.) Wacom Pads come bundled with a free version of Painter Classic, which can be upgraded for the discounted price to Painter 8.

While you are getting wacky with the credit card, think about investing in a second monitor for palettes, especially if you become a heavy duty Painter user.

I think the crew at Painter coined the phrase "natural media painting" about 10 years ago and they have refined Painter tremendously with every new version. If you spend enough time with Painter, you really can create images that look like paintings. If you are new to Painter, I suggest one of the more popular Painter books and some training if you have the time (see sidebar).

Painter works all of the same popular image formats that Photoshop does, so there is a lot of crossover here. Like it or not, the Painter interface is starting to look and feel more like Photoshop, so for those of you new to the program it may make your life a little bit easier.

Quick Draw
You can import photos in Painter and then manipulate them, but the real power of Painter lies in its drawing tools. With over 400 new brushes, you will be signing up for Painters Anonymous before you know it. Not possessing any drawing skills myself, I really like the Sketch Effect feature. You can take any black-and-white or color photo and make it into a pencil sketch. I wish I had Painter 8 a month ago, when I had a client that wanted this very thing.

Like Photoshop, the learning curve in Painter is straight up. You can get in and mull around and produce results very quickly, but mastery could take the rest of your life.

If you are up to the challenge, get out your checkbook and your Wacom tablet!

Jun2003, Digital Output

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