Review: Corel Painter 11

A great tool for the artist used to working in more traditional tools. (July 29th, 2009)

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Product Manufacturer: Corel Corporation

Price: $399 US

The Good

  • Many tools that can be modified. Emulates many artistic surfaces, tools, and techniques. Works well with Wacom tablets. Additional brushes available on the Internet. Downloadable 30-day trial version.

The Bad

  • Expensive. Heavy learning curve.

If I have Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, you may ask why do I need Corel Painter 11? To me that is like saying, "I am going to paint the house trim with a 9-inch roller." It would work and you could do it, but it would be better and easier to paint the trim with a 3-inch brush. Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter are editing tools and they both have their own strengths.

Painter vs Photoshop

There are many similarities between the two programs. If you know Photoshop, you know many of the tools in Corel Painter 11, but you will also see that there are many more brushes, textures, and effects in Painter II. This version introduces no less than 40 new or enhanced features. Each tool has a number of customizable options you use to produce the desired effect.

A major difference between Painter and Photoshop is that with Photoshop the final image is a photo or illustration. Painter, on the other hand, helps you create an image to look like a piece of art. To do this, Painter uses features like layers, texture, selective transparency, and opacities. You take your artwork and add color, blur the background, darken high lights, increase contrast, and punch up detail. Much of this is done with brushes that you control using multiple sliders, plus they recommend you use a tablet to access the full brush controls.

Painter 11 Tools

In Painter, you use artist's techniques and lighting. When you are through, your image can look like an oil painting on canvas, or a watercolor on a rough or smooth textured paper, or even a pencil or charcoal drawing. You may use a photo or other art work as a template or use multiple templates, and of course, you can start with a blank document too.

Painter 11 Main Window

Painter 11 Main Window

Painter's tools can let you be creative by making subtle changes to your image. If you were to take a piece of chalk or a color pencil, you can draw a fine line. Give that tool a different angle and you get a broad stroke. Feather, blur, or soften your tool and it gives you still another result. Lightly touching your canvas brings some of the detail through the layer in which you are working. It provides brush stroke and air brushing to your image too. If you own a Wacom tablet, you can use its pressure sensitivity to enhance the effects and make your image appear even more realistic. Painter 11 now includes support for Wacom's top of the line Intuos4.

Painter Brush Controls

Brushes have a variety of characteristics depending on the media in which you want to work. There are over 30 of these preset brushes available including, pastel, watercolor, acrylic, oils, calligraphy, sponge, pencil, chalk, and palette knife.

Painter 11 Main Window

Painter 11 Brush Controls

If you select the pencil tool, you have over 20 different types of pencils to work with. You can select from a number 2 lead pencil to a carpenter's broad lead pencil. After you select your pencil, you can change the stroke, color, and make numbers of other modifications. You can use Painter's Brush Creator to develop your own special tools from scratch or change the presets provided.

Painter 11 Main Window

Painter 11 Paper Selector

Painter Surfaces

You can emulate a number of surfaces upon which to place your art. There are more than 20 preset textures available and you can modify them to create your own. Among these surfaces are smooth watercolor paper, rough canvas, linen, wood grain and worn pavement. Not only can your artwork's surface have a texture, it can have its own color too. Canvas is off white to yellow, other materials may be tan, green, or a variety of other colors. Painter sets up your background to give the impression you are using one of many common artist materials.

Apply Surface Texture

Apply Surface Texture Dialog

Layers are as important in Painter as they are in Photoshop. For example, let's say you create your seascape and want to add a lighthouse, some birds, and a boat. If you were using oil paint and didn't like the added image, you would have to paint it out and start again, but in Painter, if you put the background, a light house and birds all on different layers, you can modify, move or scale your work to compliment your ultimate result. You can see any or all layers on your workspace as you create the image. If you don't like what is on the layer, you can always change, hide, or delete it. When you are finished, you can merge all of your layers onto the background layer.

You can import and save files in Painter's RIFF format as well as TIF, PNG, Photoshop, Gif, JPEG, and Postscript. This allows you to enhance your photos and graphics edited in other programs with interesting textures and to add more traditional artist techniques to your final canvas.


Although you will find many of the Photoshop tools that work similarly, this is not Photoshop. If you know Photoshop it will help you learn Painter, but you will quickly realize that there is much more to Painter. This program is designed for those working with the tools of an artist, that is people who are used to using pencils, pastels, oils, chalk, or markers. The tools make delicate lines, sponge blobs, and mimic the wide movement of a brush or the heavy stroke of the pallet knife. The Painter user can use the point of the pencil and its side, to make a broad stroke or shadings. The tools let you blend or soften that stroke for a great effect.

I often use black and white clip art. I found I could easily add color to these images in Painter. I also noticed that if I removed the color information, I got very nice art work in gray shades.

Rick's Clip Art Edits

Rick's Clip Art Edits

Painter has a large learning curve. The user's guide and Corel's online tutorials are very helpful in learning this program, but there is a lot to this application. You might want to download the trial version from and work with it before making a purchase.
Editor's Note: Corel announced today a change in their upper management. You can see their press release on their site.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by Rick Curran


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