Tag Archives: Corel

REVIEW: Karen Sperling’s Painting for Photographers: Landscapes

Karen Sperling wrote the first Corel Painter manual when the program debuted in 1991 and can be considered one of the very first evangelists of that product, which is still the gold standard of digital painting applications. So I was excited when she contacted me to request a review of her Painting for Photographers, Volume 2: Landscapes DVD.

This two-hour set of lessons covers watercolor and oil painting techniques as well as bonus lessons on oceanscapes and cityscapes. Karen has been painting in Painter for a long time and her training and technique are smooth and confident. She has a painting method that works very well and is based on painterly techniques like building up color and developing the whole canvas first before focusing too much on specific regions. All the lessons are begun from photos rather than en plain air and the photos are included on the DVD, so users can train with the same material after watching the lessons.

I also appreciate the inclusion of art history into the lessons. Karen explains basic painterly concepts by showing works by Hopper and Cézanne, among others. Digital painting straddles the fields of digital art and traditional painting, and you can’t achieve your best work without being versed in both fields.

There are a few aspects of the lessons that I think can be improved. The lessons provide a variety of techniques and examples, but I also some repetition: for example, there’s not a lot of difference in technique between cityscapes and oceanscapes. Also, the paintings that Karen creates in this DVD don’t seem to have much detail. For example, one lesson has a dockside scene with various boats. The final painting is missing almost all of the boats’ masts and rigging, as well as details on the buildings in the background. I would like Karen to demonstrate how these details can be created in Painter because I think they enhance the final quality of the work.

While the content and the delivery is good, I think the production quality of the DVD can be improved. Here are some of the things that bothered me:

  • The lessons feel like they are in a PowerPoint format, with title cards often cutting into the flow of the video. Text overlays and more use of the lower third of the screen would be a better solution.
  • There is a lot of background music being used, and it was louder than Karen’s voice so I had to use volume control quite a bit. She acknowledged the unbalanced sound and plans to correct it on future releases.
  • I also thought some of the music was distracting and would like to hear something less obtrusive.
  • Sometimes Karen would use graphic elements like a color wheel to demonstrate techniques and principles. I think this is very good but it looks like Karen illustrates her points by literally drawing on the graphic in Painter with a hard brush. It looks pretty cheap—a more slick presentation can be created in After Effects or even Photoshop with not much extra effort. I think top-notch production quality is particularly important for digital artists.
  • A lot of the lessons consist of Karen painting in between her lecturing. This is where users get to see Painter in action, but most of the time it is sped up and Karen lets us see only a quick progression of the painting process. We can see Painter settings and the color panel dart in and out of view but can’t discern much other than that. Showing the entire painting process in real time is obviously not feasible, but I would like to see more focus on Painter and how to work with the application.

Painting for Photographers, Volume 2: Landscapes
Karen Sperling
US $139.95
Rating: 7/10

REVIEW: CorelDRAW X5 Adds Useful New Features


I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to review CorelDRAW® X5, one of the older graphics applications in use today. X5 is version 15 and marks CorelDRAW’s 20th anniversary. To put this into perspective, remember that Adobe Photoshop and ACD Canvas were created only 13 years ago. CorelDRAW has remained relevant and CorelDRAW X5 has some new features I recognize from what Adobe has done with Creative Suite 5 (CS5) this year.

Finding a better asset manager

The CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X5—of which CorelDRAW X5 is a part of—comes with the new Corel CONNECT file manager. There’s plenty of file managers and browsers on the market, and I think the best ones focus on speed and leanness. Adobe Bridge is an example of one beset with performance issues over the years, and Photoshop CS5 and InDesign CS5 now have a “Mini Bridge” that’s much leaner. Corel CONNECT is lean from the start, with a rather bare-bones interface that doesn’t get in the way. There’s also a tray at the bottom of the interface you can drag files on to copy their contents. I still think Photoshop Elements‘ Organizer may be the best file manager on the market for its leanness and good design, but Corel CONNECT is a spare but serviceable alternative.

Corel CONNECT does double-duty as the gateway to the clip art, fonts, photos and templates that have always shipped with CorelDRAW and the Graphics Suite. I remember buying CorelDRAW early in my career just for the fonts and clip art, and it’s still a huge amount of creative material thrown in for free. At $499, I don’t know if it’s still a bargain if you don’t use the software itself, but it’s a very economical product if you do use CorelDRAW.

Great support for multiple formats

CorelDRAW is really exceptional at handling the multitude of file formats thrown at it. It does have its own image format but I prefer to use Photoshop (PSD) and Illustrator (AI) formats with CorelDRAW. The application and read and write both, and it’s advertised as reading CS4 apps but I tested some CS5 files too and CorelDRAW read them without a problem. Remember that CorelDRAW X5 shipped before Adobe announced CS5! The only downside is I had trouble bringing complex Illustrator graphics into CorelDRAW X5. I couldn’t tell if transparency or the sheer complexity of the file was to blame, but I’d recommend keeping complex Illustrator graphics in Illustrator.

There’s also some improvements to the way CorelDRAW handles graphics for the web. A new pixel preview is very helpful and reminds me of a similar new feature in Illustrator CS5. The Export For Web dialog box is also a good addition, and I think it is laid out more clearly than Adobe’s comparable dialog box. The one thing I don’t understand is why the JPEG settings allow for CMYK output, but everything else about Export For Web works well.

New tools make CorelDRAW X5 a specialized application

CorelDRAW X5 introduces several new tools, and I find that they make the application quite specialized and able to do things I don’t see anywhere else. The B-Spline tool refers to some complex mathematics but for the illustrator the result is a tool that builds very smooth shapes easily. I prefer this tool to anything in Illustrator or CorelDRAW because I find it tough to get that level of smoothness—even with the Pen tool—without some tweaking to finesse the anchor points.

CorelDRAW X5’s improved Connector and Dimension tools also include a new tool, Segment Dimension, that can detect the sides of an object and generate dimension markings for separate sides. Interior designers, architects and technical illustrators will find these tools very useful, though other designers may not need such technical tools. Creative illustrators will probably be more interested in the improved Mesh Fill tool, which works just like Illustrator’s Gradient Mesh but with a different interface.


There are several other improvements to CorelDRAW X5 and the Graphics Suite, including document-level color management and easier color handling between applications, but I wanted to focus on the tools specific to CorelDRAW X5 and its development as a multi-functional workhorse. It doesn’t have the range of tools Photoshop and Illustrator might have, but it has some specific tools I don’t see elsewhere and I am impressed by the strides made in web graphics and digital asset management. It would be a good buy for many designers who need good software at a good price.

CorelDRAW X5
Part of the CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X5
US$499/$199 upgrade
Rating: 8/10

REVIEW: Corel Painter 11 Produces Beautiful Work, Makes Small Improvements


Corel Painter is one of the few applications that is a gold standard in the design industry but is not produced by Adobe, which is refreshing to me. The new Corel Painter 11, produced two years after its previous version, arrives in a small environmentally-friendly package and comes with a batch of new features, both large and small, that together make Painter 11 an interesting upgrade.

New hard media variants


Painter has always boasted a huge number of brushes and media, but Painter 11 adds to the heap with 40 more hard media variants in a variety of media including acrylic, chalk, colored pencil, watercolor, pastels and pencils. Ten of these variants are in the new Markers category, which is worth exploring; I particularly enjoyed the Leaky Marker and Dry Chisel Tip Marker, and the Fine Tip Marker made some cool effects at larger sizes. The Markers are designed to emulate rendering markers.


A Hard Media palette has also been added to the gob of Brush Control palettes, offering control over tip shape and behavior when given varying degrees of tilt and velocity. The palette performs perfectly and gives more control than most users will ever need; the one thing I wish it had is a reset function. I also wonder if 20 Brush Control palettes is too many. Corel should consider the usability difficulties inherent in such a large palette interface and perhaps streamline the group.

One more thing: I am so excited to see Painter 11 now organizes its brush category menu in alphabetical order!

Selecting and transforming

Painter 11 Transform tool
Painter 11’s Transform tool gives users the same transform functions found in Photoshop and other image editing apps.

The other two major features added to Painter are the Polygonal Selection and Transform tools. Painter is arriving late to the Polygonal Selection party: Photoshop and other graphics applications has had such a tool for years. Painter has traditionally focused on recreating the painting experience, but I think Corel has realized users also need the selection and transform features found in other applications. Thus, the Polygonal Selection tool makes its debut—along with the Transform tool, which functions a little differently than Photoshop’s Free Transform function but does all the same things. Here’s a tip: hold Option when you select the Transform tool from the toolbar, and Painter will create a copy of your selection or layer and transform that, leaving the original untouched.

A variety of productivity and compatibility enhancements

My reviews of Adobe’s CS4 applications grappled with the dilemma of whether an upgrade succeeds by its new killer features or its small improvements in efficiency. I have always expected upgrades to wow users with great new features, but CS4 focused more on productivity and Adobe has been promoting this as “the new killer feature.” Painter is a mature application and, if Painter 11 is any indication, Corel may be pursuing the same productivity goals. Many of Painter 11’s new and enhanced features are small tweaks designed to make things easier:

  • The Colors palette now includes the controls previously found in the Color Info palette, and it can be enlarged up to 800 pixels wide for easier color selection. I’m very glad they made this change, because the small color triangle made it hard to select an exact color. I’m also glad to see one palette do the job of two. However, Painter 11 also has new Color Variability and Color Expression palettes that creates a net gain for color palettes.
  • The Mixer palette has been similarly enhanced so it can be enlarged like the Colors palette. The Painter documentation also says users can add mixer swatches to the lineup of swatches on the Mixer palette, but I was only able to add mixer swatches to the Color Sets palette.
  • The keyboard has become a more useful tool in Painter 11. The arrow keys adjust the saturation of hues selected in the Colors palette.
  • The messy Color Managment dialog box from Painter X has been redesigned into something much simpler and effective. Painter 11 requires just an RGB and CMYK profile (Painter X managed five profiles for a variety of hardware and colorspaces) and the profile handling options are in plain view (in Painter X, users had to click an unmarked icon). Painter 11’s color management options are still no match for Photoshop’s, and there is no method to create custom settings, but it is an improvement. One more improvement: unlike Painter X, Painter 11 allows access to the Color Management dialog box without an active document open.

Color Management box comparison image
Comparing the Color Management dialog boxes from Painter X (top) and Painter 11 (bottom) shows a major change—from confusion to relative clarity.

Painter 11 is also compatible with more third-party technology and image formats:

  • Painter 11 understands color profiles in a variety of image formats, including PSD, TIFF and JPEG. It also open PNG files, which Painter X could not do.
  • Tablet pen tilt is better understood by Painter 11, adding realism to digital brushstrokes.
  • Painter 11 is optimized to run on Intel Mac, PowerPC Mac and Windows Vista PC computers.
  • According to the documentation, Painter 11 has improved its handling of Photoshop (PSD) files, with support for layer masks, alpha channels, layer merge modes and layer sets/groups. I tested this with a PSD file I used for a retractable banner project, and it seems both Painter X and Painter 11 understood the file perfectly except for layer styles, Smart Objects and text layers (which are rasterized).


Painter 11 is a solid upgrade, with a couple major new features and several smaller improvements designed to enhance efficiency and third-party compatibility. Those using Painter IX or older should consider the upgrade: for US$199, you’ll get a good assortment of new tools and compatibility improvements. Painter X users have a tougher choice because I don’t believe there is a big difference between Painter X and Painter 11, and in any case a $200 upgrade in today’s economic climate may be a harder sell for any user. A free trial of Painter 11 is available at www.corel.com so I would suggest you try before you buy.

If you have never used Painter before and are considering Painter 11, I would heartily recommend it if you enjoy painting and drawing. Painter has always offered the best painterly experience found on a computer, and Painter 11 is an improvement over its predecessor.

Painter 11
Rating: 8/10