Painting is fun. Unfortunately, software for painting often gets a bad rep: I don't mean image-editing (Photoshop), but actual painting (Microsoft Paint). But Microsoft Paint is at the very bottom of the painting totem pole, often associated squiggly-looking Rage Guy memes. More modern tools like SpeedyPainter and Corel Painter Lite show that creating beautiful, natural-looking art using a computer is possible, and doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. ArtRage joins these accessible tools with its own touch-friendly interface and an attractive £25 price tag. See Group test: what's the best professional image-editing software?
Much like Corel Painter Lite and its older sibling, Corel Painter, ArtRage simulates natural media. Paper and brush both have textures; load your brush with paint and draw it across the canvas with one long stroke, and it will gradually fade out. Paint over an area again, and colors will blend, leaving visible brush strokes.
ArtRage's interface is simple to pick up, with most functions in easy reach. I tested it with a simple stylus and one of the new breed of touchscreen-enabled laptops, the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13. Radial toolbars at the bottom two corners of the screen let me quickly switch tools and adjust colors without fiddling with menus. Other tools show up as floating panels, which are easy to drag and resize using large, comfortable grippers, and automatically wink out of existence as you paint near them. You can pan, zoom, and rotate the canvas with two fingers, making for a very natural workflow. While most of the interface is touch-friendly, it's not all quite there yet: Adjusting layer opacity still requires the keyboard, for example.
ArtRage: friendly interface, simple tools
Once you get used to the friendly interface and simple tools, it's time to start playing around with some of the more creative features. Symmetry makes it possible to create interesting, kaleidoscope-like drawings, while stencils and rulers let you constrict your work in interesting ways, for a more accurate, geometric look. Stencils and rulers are made to look like physical objects lying on top of your canvas: You can drag them around and resize them, but they look like pieces of plastic or metal. ArtRage supports layers, too, and you can blur individual layers, adjust their blend modes, change their textures, and more.
When zooming in for detail work, it often helps to keep the big picture in mind. When watching videos made with SpeedyPainter, I noticed just how often artists would zoom in and out, again and again, to get a sense of how the work is progressing. ArtRage helps avoid this by offering a feature called Views. A View works like a little Polaroid snap of your painting that lies on top of your canvas while you zoom in to work on the details. Just like a physical Polaroid, you can drag the View around and rotate it. Unlike its real-world counterpart, you can also change a View's size, and zoom in or out on its contents. The same concept is used to show pieces of scrap canvas or other files for reference.
ArtRage feels deep and capable, but remains accessible and easy to start with. The attractive price tag doesn't hurt, either. Like most other painting software, it is usable with a mouse, but shines when used with a pen tablet or a touchscreen. See all: PC Advisor software downloads.