With a filter or two, any photo-editing program can make a picture look like an oil painting, watercolour or pencil scribble. If you want to create original artwork that looks like artwork, rather than something quite obviously done on a computer, your only serious option is Painter.
Now under the Corel banner, Painter 7.0 improves the realism of certain real-media effects, fixes some fiddly interface issues and adds important new tools and features. Painter isn't like other so-called paint packages; instead, it uses detailed fractal techniques to give rough edges, non-uniform colour and even surface effects and underlying canvas texture to brush strokes. Oils look sticky, crayons crumble, felt-tips blotch and blacken when scribbled, and so on. It's the fine artist's choice of graphics software, and the use of a pressure-sensitive graphics tablet with Painter 7.0 is not just highly recommended - it's pretty much mandatory.
The biggest new feature in the version 7.0 upgrade is a much-improved watercolour action. Now subsequent brush strokes clash with each other realistically rather than just overlap. This is controlled from a new Water section in the Brush Controls palette, where you can adjust the wetness of the stroke, and how much it re-wets and picks up other strokes underneath. You also have sliders for controlling how the paint spreads and soaks into the paper, and then get to determine how this takes place over time by adjusting evaporation and dry rate sliders. You can even set what Painter calls a 'wind direction' angle for the soaking, by default pointing downwards to impersonate normal gravitational dribbling.
Another key upgrade feature is Liquid Ink - a new medium that acts like viscous paint. The best analogy would be DIY emulsion or gloss paint, applied with thick, overloaded brushes or slapped on with a palette knife. If you make several splodges adjacent to each other, they may blob together; or you can apply a smoothing swipe to run them into each other after you have already laid down the initial paint. In a clever twist, Liquid Ink can be erased, too.
Other upgrade features include a helpful diagram-based colour management dialogue window, and a couple of mono and spot colour filter effects. There is now a zoom slider at the bottom of the screen for real-time magnification, and you can capture colours from one image to use as an ink palette for creating a new image. As before, Painter can save to and re-open Photoshop files, but now it also supports type and other special layers (although not clipping paths or impasto effects).
The only problem with Painter 7.0 is that very little has been done to simplify the palette-heavy and often idiosyncratic interface.
Price: $999; $549 (upgrade)
Phone: 1800 658 850