Corel’s Painter IX; An Improved Application To Recreate Photographs

Now that Corel's Painter has arrived at version number IX, it gives some indication that the application has been around for some time, over a dozen years in fact. Even though it is very well established in the computer art and illustration worlds it is not as well-known in digital photography. Part of the reason is that in the past it had an incredibly complex user interface and a steep learning curve. It also demands hand skills, something many like myself lack. Indeed, that's a prime reason for adopting photography as a means of visual expression. Gradually, by adding broader, more diverse tools and a greater capacity to work directly with digital photographs through a cloning process, Painter has now evolved into a more friendly, simplified interface with a more direct command structure. With this version it has become an easily accessible facility to artistically and imaginatively
manipulate photographs.

Once past the sizing detour, and with your photo image file open in Painter IX, the first thing you need to do to be able to recreate the image with paintbrush strokes is to open the File menu and click on Quick Clone.
All Photos © 2005 David B. Brooks, All Rights Reserved

I have worked off and on over the years with earlier versions of Painter but never had sufficient time on a regular basis to fully learn and integrate its complexities. Like most programs, if I left it idle for a while and then returned I'd forgotten too much and became frustrated having to relearn so much. This time is different because Corel's Painter IX has become so much easier to work with and there is so little to memorize.

There is, however, one proviso. To be fully effective Painter is dependent on a computer user having a digital tablet input with a pressure-sensitive pen. In other words, you do have to paint with Painter. But because you are working from a photograph on a clone of the image it can be much more like tracing or painting by numbers. That still requires some eye/hand coordination, but I've done enough digital retouching, which is my justification for having a digital tablet, that adapting to what Painter requires comes easily, albeit with a little practice.

The photo image displayed on screen will now appear lighter and flatter. That is what Painter IX calls Tracing Paper. It is really the active layer that will record your paintbrush strokes. There is an extensive selection of Clone brushes that can be selected, fortunately by fairly descriptive names like Pencil Sketch Cloner. The menu to select brushes appears when you make a single click on the icon in the far right of the Brush Property bar just under the Menu bar. The Brush Property bar will be active if the brush icon at the top left of the toolbox is highlighted. Just go down the menu list of brushes and select one like Smeary Camel Cloner. The properties for that Clone brush will be set to a standard default, but you can make the brush size larger or smaller as well as adjust Opacity to the percentage of image density that is laid down by each brush stroke.

Hold on, don't go away yet--a tablet is easy to use and there are inexpensive models, plus if you do image cleanup retouching, do selections in images, or any layout or design work you'll find that a tablet is a great advantage. In fact, you'll probably wonder why you were ever satisfied with a simple mouse. For some years Wacom ( has been the main name in tablets, and they have both a Graphire model that starts at $99, as well as their more "professional" and expensive Intuos model line. In addition, Adesso (, the premium keyboard maker, among other accessories, just announced a full line of tablets with pressure-sensitive pens at affordable prices.

Once you have selected a Clone brush you can begin painting with it. I usually begin with the background. In this example I chose the Splattery Clone Spray to give the soft, out-of-focus background some texture. But any of the broader coverage, coarser Clone brushes are suitable for the purpose of painting in a background.

I believe the best way to appreciate Corel's Painter IX is to learn some of what it does and how to use the software, step by step. I'll assume you have some photo image files you can imagine as a painting. With Painter IX launched, go to the File menu and click on Open to select an image file. But, before you begin, there is one factor not mentioned specifically by Corel that you should take into consideration. If the image you selected is one made by a 4- or 5-megapixel digital camera, you can open and work with it and expect an effective result. But if it is a larger file, such as a scan at high resolution, you should down-sample it to a size like 8x10 or 11x14 at a resolution of 50-100. The reason for this approach is that the paintbrush strokes to recreate a clone of the image will be too fine and small to see in a print of a high-resolution image. So, by first reducing resolution, painting in a clone of your photo, and then restoring its resolution by upsampling to 300dpi, a print will then show the brush strokes effectively at its reproduced size.

(Left) As you paint on top of the Tracing Paper with a Clone brush, like the Smeary Camel Cloner I was using to brush in the detail in this flower, you can turn off Tracing Paper by clicking the small box at the top right corner of the active window frame. Then the photo image from which you are working disappears and what is on screen is just the image material you have painted. This allows you to see your brushing results more clearly, and allows you to fill in missed areas with more brush strokes, and otherwise refine the image you have painted. The Wacom pressure-sensitive pen I was working with, like an old-fashioned lead pencil, has an eraser on the other end. So, if you don't like the way a part of the image is painted in, just turn your pen around to the eraser end and remove a section and then you can repaint it in the way you want.
(Right) As a straight photograph this flower and bud made an OK composition, but not a really compelling one as a photographic print. So, I hoped I could do something with it in Corel's Painter IX that would make it a more appealing and satisfying picture. At least it would be good practice. So I first used the Lasso tool to select the background and painted it in with a Thick Bristle Cloner. I turned off the selection once the background was filled in, and continued, beginning with a small brush size of the Smeary Bristle Cloner to paint in the bud, then making the brush size larger for the open petals of the flower. I finished painting in the center of the flower with the Smeary Flat Cloner. Compared to the original scan file image from film, the Painter IX clone painting had acquired more texture and definition, just enough to make a 12x18" print that is much more engaging visually.

To get a good feel and perceptual understanding of what the brushes do in relation to the photo image from which they are getting color and density information, you should actually try all of the Clone brushes to paint in different parts of an image. You can paint in part of an image, see how it looks, and actually just close and trash the clone image (your original photo image is still open), and then click on the File/Quick Clone and get a fresh clone canvas back up to try other brushes. You should also try different brush sizes, as well as working with different Opacity percentages to get a feel for how these variations behave and what they produce.