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Software Review: ArtRage Studio Pro

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.

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  • Sue Lange

    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.