Recently I have been playing a bit with natural media applications, and I am especially fond of Artrage and its nice balance of power and simplicity.
Artrage studio Pro is a much improved version of the Artrage standard application (or its advanced version Artrage Studio). Of course there are quite a few differences between these three options. You can check out which is best for you with the comparison chart provided by the developer (pdf).
Artrage is very powerful and sophisticated, but not overwhelming. Its interface is welcoming and intuitive, yet it offers as much control and power as you need to create artwork that makes you think you are using real paints, pencils or ink —without the mess on your drawing table or studio! (> Read the whole review)
I like to see many new options and power at hand without cluttering the elegant and clean interface of the program. If you are using any drawing or painting tool and you reach the edges of the screen, where the Artrage palettes are, they temporally disappear, so you still see what you are drawing. Release the button of your mouse or stylus, or paint away from the menu, and the toolbox will reappear back in position.
This version includes selection, transform, eyedropper, paint bucket, and text tools in the left corner toolbox.
Each group of tools in Artrage offers a variety of presets to mimic different techniques of traditional drawing and painting. The improved toolset includes a variety of brushes, including the so-called gloop pen —a tool that lets you quicky spread expanding, wet strokes not unlike pools of ink, or watercolour—and a sticker spray.
Some of the gloop pen types are ideal to add some realistic watercolour-like highlights in your illustration. The rather humorous names are actually very descriptive, with names like “pseudo water blob” or “instant shaded pipe”.
|The new ArtRage for iPad app|
There is a way to paint in Artrage for every artist. For instance, if you like using the painting knife to spread and mix paint, you can just put some paint blobs with the paint tube tool, and then use the painting knife to drag the paint around, much like you would do with the real stuff. As you would expect, you run out of paint once you have spread away from the blobs.
Layers are a pretty much standard feature in painting and drawing programs, and Artrage provides the expected power of layers to organize your painting. Layers, together with the blending modes you find in high-end painting programs, are extremely useful not just to keep your workspace tidy and organised, but also let you apply different effects selectively. For example, you can non-destructively texturize an illustration, or part of if, by adding a layer with the desired texture on top and playing with the blend modes. Usually the overlay mode gives good results for this effect, with a lower opacity (20% or so).
Another way of achieving the desired natural paper or canvas look is by selecting the surface properties: type of material and roughness. The properties of the surface instantly modify the way your brushstrokes look once you paint on Artrage, but if necessary you can turn off the material to export a flat version of the artwork, with all the necessary transparency masks.
Stickers and stencils are another way to build up your illustration from preexisting references and clipart. The sticker spray is a very convenient way to fill sections of your work with repeating elements: very handy to create forests, grass, a village, footseps, leaves, crowds, skies just by repeating some individual elements. You can easily create new presets or import ready-made presets to your installation of Artrage. Presets can also be neatly grouped into preset groups for an easier and more logical access, for example by categories or by project. Creating new items for your stencil and sticker galleries are as easy as saving any picture in png format and putting it into the stencil or sticker presets folder.
You can easily use drawing helpers like reference materials, which you can spread on your virtual illustration board, pin in position, move around or rotate.Tracing materials are equally easy to use. Just import any image and it is automatically dimmed so you can begin using it as a reference to draw on top.
A good painting application needs an intuitive and easy way to pick colours and store swatches. The bottom-right colour picker is a rgb or hsv circle quarter in which you easily select the desired combination. For more control a tint picker is also available, so you can finely tune the amount of the chosen hue, by choosing from pure white to the pure colour. In the colour swatches, the new metallic settings gives a configurable shiny look to the material of the paint. The swatch sample book provides convenient storage of particular colours to reuse.
Many other options to further process your image and export it to a number of standard formats are available via the program menus. The studio pro home page gives comprehensive details about the program features.
If you want to see for yourself what you can do with Artrage, nothing better than a visit to the galleries in the community pages. A very active forum is also available, where you find useful advice, tips and tricks. The digital magazine ArtRageUs is also recommended.
ArtRage is an inexpensive program ($63 for the higher-end version, Studio Pro, $32 for the intermediate (Studio) and only $16 for the basic version, all of them available both for Windows and Mac OS X. A newer iPad version is also available to carry your studio wherever you go and paint with your finger! I have also succesfully tested it on Linux Ubuntu using Wine (a free Linux program that lets you run Windows programs right inside Linux, with no need of a separate Windows installation or licence). Most versions of ArtRage get the gold rating, meaning they work just fine in Linux through Wine.