ARTRAGE STUDIO PRO: PAINTING AND DRAWING TOOLS
From Ambient Design
ART RAGE … HERE TO STAY
Early Spring, 2012
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By Eden Maxwell
NEW YET FAMILIAR
When I first learned of the painting and drawing program ArtRage Studio Pro, my concern was this: Is this program for kids and hobbyists, or can I also create fine art that’s printable to museum quality standards?
Also, for a provocative change-up, trying out new art programs and their tools is a worthwhile challenge and adventure into your art, talent, and dedication to create. Fortunately, if you work with Corel Painter or Adobe Photoshop, you’ll find that ArtRage shares many of their standards and conventions.
You can still work with layers, blend modes, selections, and other familiar digital tools. Another big ArtRage plus is support for both imported and exported Photoshop images intact with their layers, groups, blend modes, and text layers.
NOTE: Something important to mention up front: The ArtRage PDF help manual is thorough, well written, and easy to comprehend. ArtRage also has an active and helpful online forum, which I contacted often, getting answers quickly, and professionally.
What follows are the main features that I worked with for this article. To provide a sense of the range possible with ArtRage Studio Pro, I've included a few of my recent ArtRage paintings—as shown below.
STYLE AND SUBSTANCE
With all its intricacies and possibilities, it’s no mean task to code a stable, useful, and adaptable painting program. To this end, ArtRage Pro is an intelligently thought out natural media painting and drawing package for producing artwork on your computer.
The generous range of artistic tools is mostly intuitive, saving you time from having to learn a wide variety of complex controls. The minimalist ArtRage interface is both well designed and fun, too. Children and adults of all ages will enjoy the lifelike feel and look of traditional art tools.
The User Interface is designed for quick visual identification, using icons to guide your choices. In turn, you can focus on your creativity instead of spending time navigating endless panels.
Most used functions such as tool and color selection are presented in a first tier of the interface, while deeper functions that requires less common use are kept aside in holding Pods that occupy minimal screen space. The interface is organized to maximize the space you have for painting, without requiring you to hunt for functions when you need them. ArtRage has succeeded here on all points.
PRESETS: TOOL CONTROL
ArtRage offers a basic yet versatile artist’s toolset. Each Tool has a range of options that can be adjusted to create a wide range of different, realistic effects, such as loading your brush with more paint, thinning your watercolor, or using a softer pencil. In turn, to get you started, each tool group features a list of included Presets, which significantly expands the usefulness of each tool. You can, of course, make your own Presets too.
Presets are a convenient way to store and recall settings for individual tools. You can store settings in a Preset, give them a descriptive name and icon (included or one that you create on the Canvas), and then later select a Preset to restore the tool to its former state. So, rather than having to remember which settings need to be adjusted to make soft pencil, or which Sticker Spray settings are required for a flock of seagulls, you quickly select the appropriate Preset.
NOTE: Presets do not store the color of the current tool.
Each tool has a collection of settings that can be adjusted to alter the appearance of the stroke. Click the Settings Pod and the Settings Panel expands with options, allowing you to edit the settings of the current tool.
The number of settings depends on the tool—from many settings to a few. When you select a tool the contents of the Settings Panel change to display the settings available for that tool. Selecting a Preset alters the values of the accessible controls in the Settings Panel to reflect that Preset. A handy ‘reset’ button restores your Preset to its default state.
THE PRESETS PANEL
Each tool has its own collection of Presets that are sorted into groups for ease of use. You can select which group of presets you wish to display using the Group control at the top of the panel. The Presets that are in the current group are displayed below in the main list. In addition to the current Preset collection, you can create your own collections of Preset groups, too. For example, you might want to save the Presets of a tool into a new group that you used on a particular project.
What tool was it? When working with a Preset tool, any change, such as brush size for example, to that tool’s settings removes the highlight of that tool in the Presets panel list. Now, you don’t know which Preset tool you are using, but it's no deal breaker.
FILE FORMATS, IMPORT & EXPORT
ArtRage uses its own file format (.ptg) to store your work. However, you can also import and export a number of different image file formats that include: PNG, JPG, TIFF, BMP, and others depending on your operating system.
As noted earlier, passing information between ArtRage and Photoshop is seamless. You can import and export Photoshop PSD format files that maintain your Layer and Group structures, Text Layers, and Blend Modes. Note that you will be working with RGB image files exclusively until you are ready to print the file, most likely from Photoshop. More about RGB and print settings further down.
PERFORMANCE / SCRIPTS
Most brushes are very responsive (no lag in many cases even at higher resolutions), including watercolors, which can be processor intensive. Not having to wait for your brushstroke to appear on the screen diffuses frustration while adding to the natural feel of ArtRage Studio Pro.
Depending on the print size and resolution, saving files can take a bit of time, say under a minute for: 19x13 @ 300ppi. But be patient. ArtRage Pro has a lot of computing to accomplish. To improve performance, I’ve experimented with good results at a lower resolution (19x13 @ 200ppi), then upscaling the image with the Perfect Resize Professional plug-in (also freestanding) for Photoshop from onOne Software.
You can also employ ArtRage script files, which can be use to recreate the image stroke- by- stroke, and to alter image size and resolution. Since script files record each stroke independent of file size considerations, you can play them back at different resolutions, allowing you to recreate paintings at different sizes for optimum printing—an option to consider, or, at least, fuel for experimentation.
EYE ON THE ART: TINT / TONE
In addition to the Color Picker wheel, ArtRage features a Tint / Tone Picker that keeps your eye on the artwork, as it provides a slightly different method for selecting color. When you choose this mode (command > option > click on the Mac) the Color Picker updates to display a free-floating circular Hue Wheel and a diamond on the Canvas where you can select the tint and tone of your final color.
To select the basic color you want, click and drag in the circular ring around the outside of the picker. When you have selected a basic color you can use the diamond in the center of the picker to select how light, dark, and grey the final color will be. The final color is still displayed in the Current Color Sample.
You can also store color sets from various sources on your hard drive in the Color Samples pod.
The image files you create with ArtRage are RGB only; there is no function to include ICC profiles, which is necessary for fine art printing. To control colors for printing, I exported my ArtRage files to (PSD) Photoshop. In Color Settings, I had already set my Photoshop RGB monitor workspace to Adobe RGB (1998). Since the RGB workspace is now standardized between ArtRage and Photoshop, the colors should be the same when viewing in either application.
After opening your ArtRage document in Photoshop (no color management yet) from the Edit menu, convert (don’t assign) to your ICC profile of choice. This method resolved any color shift from the ArtRage RGB document to my exported Photoshop file for printing.
NOTE: Since I’m working with mostly abstract art paintings, no one (besides me) would know whether there was a color shift, or not. However, if your work involves realism, the human eye quickly detects problematic colors should they exist, especially skin tones.
NATURAL PAINTING TOOLS
ArtRage handles colors beautifully, as they interact naturally with volume and depth, especially the oils. You can create expressive brush strokes with lifelike subtlety and variety. You can also create some intriguing effects with the Gloop Pen.
Also, being able to increase the metallic look of a color adds to the reflective perception and feeling of each stroke; even whites look different when adding more metal value to the color. The Dry Varnish oil Preset has a rich bold quality that would also lend itself to graphic design.
SPECIAL EFFECTS TOOLS
ArtRage doesn’t feature a special effects Preset category. But in many cases there are workarounds. For example, although there is no drop shadow command per se, you can invoke it manually or run a script, which you can find and download from the ArtRage forum, to create the effect.
Here’s the drop shadow manual version, which I find faster than the script. I’ve used this effect with good results.
1) Duplicate the layer with the intended drop shadow content.
2) Select the lower copy of the layer
3) Command J—Edit -> Adjust Layer Colors. Set the brightness slider all the way to the left and click OK.
4) Edit -> Blur Layer. Blur the layer depending on how large you want the drop shadow.
5) Right click the layer in the layer panel and choose ‘transform layer contents’. Use your arrow keys to precisely move the drop shadow, or drag it into position. Press the enter key when done.
Once you’ve tried this drop shadow effect manually, it’s quite easy and fast.
STICKERS TO LOVE / STENCILS, TOO
Children seem to be endlessly fascinated with stickers. But that doesn’t preclude adults from joining in on the fun, too.
I enjoyed working with the ArtRage Sticker system, which can be used in many creative ways. For example, you can add pre-constructed elements like ants, rocks, or seagulls to your paintings, or work with your kids and let them show you how it’s done.
Stickers are individual images that can be peeled off a sheet and applied to your Canvas, or sprayed onto the Canvas using the Sticker Spray tool. Stickers can be anything from objects such as sparkly gold stars, pebbles, and leaves to artistic effect stickers that simulate painting styles. In addition to the existing Sticker collection, of which there are many, you can also create new Stickers.
To suit your artful eye, Stickers can also be manipulated to reflect more than color information. Each sticker can have its own texture and even its own reflectivity, like the transparent plastic domed sticker, which has wonderful three-dimensional effect. Stickers can be tinted when they are added to the Canvas and they can also have their opacity and shadow adjusted. For example, if you want to place a tree into a scene you might not want it casting a shadow, but if you're sticking a gold star or seashells to a photo of your tropical vacation the shadow can look good.
In addition to Stickers, ArtRage also offers a wide varity of Stencils; they come in three different types that have different properties on your Canvas: Stencil, Ruler, and Guide. Stencils you place on the Canvas can be switched between these modes whenever you like. Although accuracy doesn't imply fine art, sometimes precision works perfectly on your artwork.
FLATTENED OR NOT
The most important property of a sticker is whether it has been flattened or not. Flattened stickers are applied to the Canvas, as if they had been painted on; they can no longer be edited as normal stickers can. But, floating stickers can be moved, scaled, and rotated to suite your needs. So, make your adjustments before flattening.
AN ART STORE OF SURFACES
When you start ArtRage the Canvas fills the window with a default plain paper, but there are a near endless supply of surface options available for painting or drawing.
CANVAS / PAPERS
You can choose from a range of Canvas Presets, tweak properties on the fly, or store your own. ArtRage lets you define the properties of your Canvas including texture and color to create a wide range of different surfaces. Giving your Canvas a distinctive bite can transform it from a flat blank background surface into an integral part of the artwork that adds an additional dimension to the final feel of the piece.
Canvas Properties such as texture and roughness exist independent of any paint you have applied. Note that chalk and watercolors are particularly well-suited media for making the most of effects created on rougher surfaces.
You can change the Canvas underneath your artwork at any point; new paint strokes will react to those changes. Canvas Texture can also be removed and the surface made transparent for exporting images with transparency masks.
As you work, you may find that you want to move, rotate, or zoom in on the Canvas so that the immediate working focus of your painting is in the center of the screen. There are a number of ways to manipulate the Canvas, including shortcut keys and a convenient Canvas Positioner that can be left open (free floating) if you find you are making frequent adjustments.
TRACING IMAGES: DRAG AND DROP
Tracing images goes back thousands of years, and the camera obscura was a cumbersome, yet popular tool among artists for capturing detail and perspective on paper, and then transferring those lines to a Canvas to complete the painting. Fortunately, ArtRage has greatly simplified this technique. You can now click on the Tracing Pod to choose an image on your hard drive for tracing.
Another convenient way to go is dragging an image file onto the ArtRage Canvas from your desktop or a folder residing on your computer. What happens next depends on the type of file. A single ArtRage Painting file (.ptg) will be loaded as a new file when you drop it. A non-ArtRage file format brings up a prompt to see if you want to import it as a new file, load it as a layer in the current painting, create it as a reference or load it as a tracing image.
NOTE: If you drop multiple files onto ArtRage and choose to load as a painting or a tracing image, only the first file alphabetically in the list of dropped files will be loaded as these options can only work with one image at a time.
Using a photo for reference while painting is a time honored tradition used by many great artists who would employ any new aid to create their works. ArtRage offers a clever solution to do so on the digital Canvas. Rather than forcing you to open another file—shrinking your working window down in the process—you can move about and pin photos directly on your Canvas, or depending on the zoom view, farther out onto the background pasteboard.
Once you have the Reference image pinned on the Canvas, you can then scale, rotate, and position it, and zoom in on its contents to display the proper reference area.
LAYERS & BLEND MODES
ArtRage supports industry standard Layers, Layer Groups, Opacity Adjustment, and Transparency Preservation; transparent overlays allow you to paint into your image without damaging paint that was applied earlier. You can paint elements of your image on separate layers and edit them independently of other elements, allowing you to make changes without disturbing the rest of your work.
Layer contents can be scaled, rotated, and moved independently. You can merge layers down one at a time. But, you can’t simply select multiple layers and drop them; you must group them first before dropping them down collectively.
Although you can add as many Layers and Layer Groups as you like to your painting, note that performance may be compromised depending on your computer's memory and processor speed. The latest release (3.5) of ArtRage Studio Pro does offer a preference option for invoking Multithreading to enhance tool speed by utilizing two processors—if your computer has them.
Also, layers do not have a lock option. If you want to protect the contents of layers, you must first group them and then close the group to do so.
It's convenient to know that ArtRage also supports Photoshop standard Blend Modes that change the way paint interacts with items in the layer(s) below. For example, the Watercolor Blend Mode in ArtRage simulates the variable properties of watercolor pigment based on the density of the paint on the layer.
NOTE: You don’t need a special layer for watercolors, either, which improves brush speed performance while providing immediate feedback, especially with mixed media pieces.
IMAGE EDITING & FILTERS
ArtRage Studio Pro contains a set of tools for applying tweaks to color values and other production requirements. Built-in Color Adjustment and Blur filters let you manipulate the final look of your image—including drop shadow effects.
As mentioned previously, ArtRage supports a wide range of Photoshop compatible Filters that can be used to process the contents of your Layers without having to switch apps.
Where is Milo?
HIDE & SEEK
As noted earlier, the interface is customizable. Panels can be torn off the Canvas and moved onto the desktop, and even to other monitors. The interface tint can be changed, and you can scale and rotate any of the floating panels in the application. You can shrink down an occasionally used panel, and expand one that you need quick access to.
While you paint, interface elements magically disappear, as the brush approaches; with this feature you can continue painting underneath panels without having to stop and hide them before moving on. You can also hide all the tools, leaving a totally blank Canvas. Shortcuts for sizing the brush and picking colors directly on the Canvas mean that you don’t need to see any interface elements while you’re focused on painting.
MULTITOUCH / WACOM
Multitouch (running Windows 7 and up) screen users can make app-like (mobile devices) gestures to control the interface and the Canvas, making it easy to choreograph objects about such as Stencils, Stickers, and Panels.
ArtRage takes gestures further. If you are using a Wacom graphics tablet that supports Multitouch you can use Multitouch Gestures instead of the mouse to manipulate the Canvas. In addition to Wacom's Bamboo tablets, the new Wacom Intuos5 now also supports Multitouch through gestures, finger taps, and swipes to navigate, pan, rotate, zoom, and more.
Pen pressure sensitive devices such as the Wacom Intuos line of tablets allow you to more realistically modulate your strokes, which, in turn, provides the optimum experience when using ArtRage’s painting and drawing tools.
THE DANCE: TOOL HUNTING
When working, I might suddenly want to use a certain tool, but it’s in another program. To make use of tools in other apps such as Corel Painter or Adobe Photoshop, I’ll begin a piece in ArtRage and then maybe finish it with Corel Painter, or go back to ArtRage for the finis; then I might do it the other way around. When switching back and forth between these art apps, you might notice variations in how paint strokes are interpreted—for example, more or less depth with oils. Despite such differences, I’ve had great success with this method.
TIP: If you apply an ICC profile to the exported ArtRage PSD file, then you will experience an unwelcome color shift (back to RGB) when reopening the PSD file in ArtRage. If you want to go back and forth with your image between apps, don’t color manage in Photoshop until you are ready to print.
You may also want to experiment with this feature. From the Sticker Spray tool, you can import compatible Photoshop brushes, which will appear in the Preset Sticker Spray list. To get the results you want, you will most likely have to tweak the controls for that brush in the Settings Panel.
NOT CHASING TWO RABBITS
So, we return to the question I posed at the beginning of this article. Does ArtRage belong in the fine artist’s toolbox? In a sense, I already knew the answer upfront. No matter the tools, the true artist will always manage to create art. Still, professional tools are no vice, as they do make a difference in the expressive quality of the work.
ArtRage doesn’t feature a vector tool, but I don’t see that as a shortcoming. Ambient Software, the developer, realizes the outcome of trying to chase two rabbits—too many markets. They kept an eye on their niche by focusing on mostly traditional painting and drawing tools.
I probed deeply enough into ArtRage Studio Pro to satisfy my concerns regarding its usefulness to me as a fine art tool. After a few months of working with ArtRage, the bottom line is this: All artists will benefit from having ArtRage Studio Pro as part of their digital toolset.
There’s a lot more to ArtRage Studio Pro than covered in this article; have fun exploring on your own. Download a demo and see for yourself. ArtRage Studio Pro (current version: 3.5.4) is a great product.
If you’re a professional artist, I know you’re accustomed to paying hundreds of dollars for a painting program. Don’t let the fantastically affordable price of $59.90 put you off. ArtRage Studio Pro is a full-fledged art program. And who doesn’t like a bargain?
ArtRage offers versions for Windows & Mac, including the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch 4. There’s also a streamlined Studio version (less features) for $29.90.
Ambient Design Ltd.
87 Bethells Road