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Software Review: ArtRage Studio Pro

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ArtRage Studio Pro, released by Ambient Design, is a more sophisticated and powerful version of their earlier ArtRage raster graphics editing software. Specifically designed for artists, designers, and other professionals, this is not a photo manipulating application. ArtRage Studio Pro replicates the look, feel, behavior and overall experience of physical art media and tools more accurately and authentically than any graphics editor I’d used before. All that’s lacking is a nostalgic whiff of linseed oil and you’d hardly think you were painting on a computer screen at all.

I’ve used several graphics editing applications, beginning with Jasc Software’s Paint Shop Pro, a PhotoShop® clone that is no longer available. I’ve tried out various drawing and painting programs from Corel, Smith Micro and other publishers (most now defunct), and I now have Adobe Creative Suite CS5. My current needs for such software fall primarily in the area of free hand digital drawing and painting for illustration work. In this regard ArtRage Studio Pro holds its own against costlier and more complex software. It is a joy to use.

ArtRage Studio Pro's basic window layout

The application workspace, which ArtRage Studio Pro calls its “window,” is clear, intuitive, and uncomplicated. The default layout makes tool and color selection simple and quick without sacrificing flexibility or options. The color and tool panels are at the lower corners of the window, ergonomically where you would reach for tools and your palette in a physical workspace. Control panels for some functions “float” and can be reduced to button-sized “pods” or opened up into larger displays. All menus are icon based and have text tags that appear on hover, and panels also pop open when icons are hovered or tapped. This makes the work flow of accessing menus and selecting options extremely smooth.

The application responds to various forms of input, including mouse and keyboard, pen tablet, tablets with multi-touch capability and touch screens. I have a Wacom® Intuos PKD-440 pen tablet, which I have found to sometimes be sluggish or inconsistent with PhotoShop® CS5. ArtRage Studio Pro invariably has an immediate response to the tablet and stylus. All menu selections can be made by tapping or dragging the pen stylus, as well as with the ordinary mouse and, in most cases, keyboard shortcuts. I’d never felt so entirely comfortable with my Wacom tablet as I am with ArtRage Studio Pro, and I’ve seldom adapted to a new piece of software so naturally. ArtRage Studio Pro feels like software designed by artists, for artists, out of love for the sheer tactility of art media and tools. At the same time, ArtRage Studio Pro exploits the advanced features of refined pointing tools such as multi-touch tablets and touch screens, combining the best of both tactical art environments.

different painting tools in ArtRage Studio Pro

ArtRage Studio Pro tools have various settings depending on the media each one replicates. Tools include oil paint brush, watercolor brush, airbrush, a paint “roller,” crayon, pencil, chalk (or pastel), ink pen and felt pen. Several additional tools are a bit more unusual and fun. A “Gloop pen” blobs color onto the canvas, a palette knife mixes and blends existing color, the glitter tube sprinkles particle shapes, like glitter, the paint tube applies a thick stream of color which can then be spread, blended or textured on the canvas, and the sticker spray drops small images into the painting. Other tools include an eraser, selection tool, transformer tool, dropper for picking color samples from the image, flood fill and text.

Watercolor painting effects in ArtRage Studio Pro

Colors may be selected according to Hue/Luminance/Saturation values or digital RGB values. Although ArtRage Studio Pro does not offer CMKY color, it does have a “real color blending” mode in which colors will mix and create new shades in the same way that physical paint pigment does on a palette. You can also set color selections for a greater or lesser metallic, or reflective, value. You can build customized color palettes of tones for a single painting or to reuse for multiple projects. Most other functions, such as stencils, stickers and filters, also allow you to create your own customized libraries of “favorites.”

an example of stickers in an ArtRage Studio Pro painting

Like PhotoShop®, ArtRage Studio Pro allows you to build your image up in multiple layers, each of which can be edited and manipulated individually, set to various levels of opacity, made visible or invisible and so on. I rely heavily on layering in my digital art and ArtRage Studio Pro offers full layer functionality. ArtRage Studio Pro also offers “stencils,” which are called masks in other programs and allow you to apply effects to your image such as fading and shaping. A “reference” function allows you to post small images on your workspace to use as visual models as you draw and paint, like you would thumbtack photos to your easel. If you need a bit more guidance, a “tracing” feature will place a transparent image on your canvas to use as a direct guide for your hand, without affecting your final image.

The painting canvas itself can be set to a variety of textures, simulating different kinds of paper or canvas as well as such interesting surfaces as concrete, tin foil and “plastic dossier.”

ArtRage Studio Pro native files are saved in a proprietary format, but may be exported into several standard image formats, including JPEG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, BMP and PhotoShop®-compatible PSD.

ArtRage Studio Pro is a specialized digital art creation application, and it excels in that specialty. More broad-spectrum software like PhotoShop®, however, include a wide menu of functions that ArtRage Studio Pro does not share. ArtRage Studio Pro lacks most of the image manipulation and special effects features of PhotoShop®, although it does offer color adjustment, blurring, and smoothing. ArtRage Studio Pro also lacks the extensive vector shape and line tools found in PhotoShop®. For someone like me, who does original illustration which is incorporated into both print and web graphic design, ArtRage Studio Pro will have a role in creating the basic art that can be imported into PhotoShop® for book covers, flyers and web applications. (This is no minor function: creating the basic art is at least 90% of the work.) For a visual artist who is just considering the transition to digital media and finds computers and high-end applications daunting, ArtRage Studio Pro is a perfect first step, easy to learn, natural to work with, and at the same time, giving polished, professional results.

ArtRage Studio Pro installs with a 111-page illustrated PDF manual that is a model of clarity. Other user support is provided online and in extensive user forums on Ambient Design’s website.

I tested the Windows version of ArtRage Studio Pro using a Dell Studio XPS workstation with a 22″ high definition monitor and Windows 7.

For more information, or to purchase or to view the galleries, forums and tutorials, please visit the ArtRage home page: www.ArtRage.com. ArtRage Studio can be purchased for $40.00 and ArtRage Studio Pro for $80.00 from the ArtRage web site. ArtRage 2.5 Full Edition is available for $20.00 and will be upgraded in the future. Some users of ArtRage 2.x are eligible for “Switch To Studio” discounts when purchasing one of the new products. A version of ArtRage for the iPad has just been released and is available from the iTunes store.

System Requirements:
Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7
Mac OSX 10.4 or later with 1GHz processor (Intel/AMD or PPC G4/G5)
1024 x 768 screen size, 512MB Memory, 100MB disk free.
Languages: English, French, German, Dutch interface. English manual.

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About Vyrdolak

Inanna Arthen (Vyrdolak) is an artist, speaker and author of The Vampires of New England Series (http://vampiresofnewengland.com): Mortal Touch (2007), The Longer the Fall (2010), and All the Shadows of the Rainbow (2013). Book 4 is currently in progress. Inanna is a lifelong scholar of vampire folklore, fiction and fact, and runs By Light Unseen Media (http://bylightunseenmedia.com), an independent press dedicated to publishing vampire fiction and nonfiction. She is a member of Broad Universe, New England Horror Writers, Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and Independent Publishers of New England (IPNE). She holds an M.Div degree from Harvard and is an outspoken advocate for the Pagan and LGBT communities. She is minister of the Unitarian-Unitarian Church of Winchendon, MA.
  • Very cool, Inanna. Thanks for this: “I have a Wacom® Intuos PKD-440 pen tablet, which I have found to sometimes be sluggish or inconsistent with PhotoShop® CS5.”

    I thought it was just me. I’ve never been impressed with using a tablet. Maybe it was just the tablet, and not me.