A free painting program to free your creative mind
I remember back in 2004, I was browsing a graphics forum when I saw someone had mentioned this “really sweet free painting program called ArtRage.” Since I’m obsessed with both graphics and free stuff, I had to check it out. ArtRage 1.0 was available for MS Windows and let you paint on a big canvas with brushes that rendered realistic paint in the way the strokes would feel and paint would mix. I hadn’t really painted since elementary school, but I was pretty sure this paint was like real. I spent hours playing, blending and even saved out a few PNG files for showing off. It was a nice freebie to have in the toolkit. Finally a graphics program my mom might actually want to use.
In 2006 Ambient Design, the software company responsible for ArtRage, released ArtRage 2.0 and this little freebie has grown up quite a bit. Their free version, became even more enhanced, they introduced a decked out commercial version for USD$20 which makes things even more interesting.
ArtRage is more like an experience than a piece of software. Painting is a joyful past time right, but in the more advanced painting programs the joy is diluted by a clutter of palettes and widgets and options bars that will convince you to just take up knitting. You can tell the ArtRage developers saw a need for something a little easier. ArtRage has graphics power and flexibility without every button under the sun.
The interface is simply beautiful. A white canvas takes up pretty much the entire screen. Brushes in one corner, colors in another, and a little menu that gives you just what you need. Brush options let you control pressure and the amount of paint that you “load” into the brush so your strokes can be more dry or wet. Of course you’ve seen some of these options in Photoshop and Corel Painter, but not as easy as this. The real pleasure is with a drawing tablet, which is what ArtRage was really designed for in the first place. Perhaps it’s time to pick up an Wacom Intuos3.
Even just using a mouse, I’ll highlight the parts of this experience that I enjoy.
Ok , so my most current “painting” experiences mostly involve chocolate syrup on a scoop of ice cream, but the paint inside ArtRage behaves like I would expect it to. It brushes thick and wet and dries out the longer your brush stroke is. It mixes and blends and has a paint-like gloss to it. True oil painters might not feel that it is exactly natural, but it tramples most graphics programs “paint” and I promise it will impress you.
Easily add a reference photo, which can pin to your screen. Actually you can add multiple reference photos and place them anywhere you want. They can be resized and rotated so you can make best use of them. Use the eye dropper to steal colors from the reference pics.
Layers are the reason you buy the full version. Personally I can’t do without layers. I’m sloppy I guess. Each layer can have different canvas textures, including a transparent cell, which is the type of invisible layer most of us are used to. You can adjust layer opacity to paint on top of existing photos.
I mentioned this earlier, but Ambient Design had some killer intuition when they planned this out. The tools are easy to access and easy to hide. Right-click, or press Enter and all the tools hide giving you the entire screen to paint. Right-click and drag to reposition the canvas. They even implemented the same zoom keyboard shortcuts that Adobe uses ( Ctrl/Cmd++ and Ctrl/Cmd+- ).
They also have this stunning liquid effect when dialog boxes appear, but I’ll let you see that for yourself. Overall the interface is fresh and could be compared somewhat to Google’s Picasa image viewing program. There is one huge unique interface “thingy” I must not forget. When the tools are visible such as the color and tool pickers, if you are painting, these palettes will hide themselves as your stroke begins to ride over them allowing you all of the screen real estate when you need it. Unobtrusive tools! Sweet!
In the full version you get all the brushes. Oil Brush, Pencil, Palette Knife, Airbrush, Paint Tube, Glitter, Paint Roller, Eyedropper, Felt Pen, Chalk, Crayon and of course an Eraser.
The free version is missing the Airbrush, Glitter, Paint Roller, and Paint Tube. There are also some brush options that are missing in the free version but it is still great fun and has more features than ArtRage 1.1. I also love how you can drag the mouse across the tool size control and instantly expand the brush size.
You can export quickly to several image types, bitmap, JPEG, PNG (my favorite), and now layered PSD files. Hmmm, sharing files with Photoshop, that sounds downright good. Perhaps I would like to enhance my painting even more, by running it through Photoshop. Thanks guys! Maybe in a future version, some Photoshop filters could be implemented directly inside ArtRage.
You can rotate the canvas to any degree and zoom in and out. You can use the default canvas, or create your own custom high-res or low-res canvas. You can add a trace image to the background that you can use to paint over. The trace image takes on a transparent effect yet stays visible while painting on top of it. You can also import images including Photoshop documents. The .psd files I imported retained the separate layers and even honored the layer visibility setting. I could paint into or scrape the paint of existing layers. I haven’t tested anything like adjustment layers or layer styles to see if they are honored.
This program, I mean this experience, is joyful painting. It’s something that I think every school should be using in their introductory graphics classes. The way you create here you feel like you are no longer in front of a computer monitor.
Things I wish it had
There are a few items I think ArtRage could really use in future versions. I’d love to see a way to paste content into an existing layer or into a new layer. That way I could work more to build a piece from existing photos and paint layers.
You can import images, but technically this is really starting a new painting. I want to import images into other images of course. I’d like to be able make selections and even do some cloning of parts of a picture. For example I want to save time and not paint every blade of grass individually.
I’d like to see the ability to make custom brush tip shapes. This is an area where I am spoiled in Photoshop and Xara because these programs do this very well. Perhaps a future “selection tool” I wish for could be used to select a shape, or the brushes could be imported somehow, created with an extra utility. I also kind of wish it had a smudge tool, or some way to warp the pixels like with the liquify command in Photoshop.
Download this program. Both the free and USD$20 full versions are curiously tiny installers at just over 4 MB. Get ArtRage 2.0 here.
The free program is wonderful, but the commercial version was something I wanted for the layers, PSD capabilities and extra tools and canvas options.