Painter For Photographers

Corel Painter may not be as well known as Photoshop among photographers, but it offers some very exciting ways of working with photographs and producing artistic interpretations that just aren’t possible with any other program. Although Painter originally was designed for artists and painters for creating original artwork, it’s ideal for photographs and very compatible with Photoshop and other digital imaging programs. If you’d like to try the techniques here, you can download a 30-day trial of Painter 12 from the Corel website ( ). You can use your own photographs for the examples in this article, or you can download my original images.


For this example, we’re using my image "Woodland Stream." To get started, make a clone copy (File > Quick Clone), which creates a new empty document.

You’re probably familiar with the concept of cloning in other digital imaging programs, but instead of using it for making repairs, Painter uses this process to copy the original photograph so that when you start to paint, the original image will act as the source, but will be reinterpreted by your choice of a particular brush. It may sound a bit complicated, but in reality, the basic process is simple.

After making the clone copy, you need to select a brush. Choose the Smart Strokes brush category from the list on the left in the Brush Selector (hover your mouse over the icons to see the name) and the Sponge Dense variant from the list on the right. Change the brush size to 60 and the opacity to 82%.

Although I said that the new document created is empty, you’ll notice that there’s a light version of the original image visible—this is the Tracing Paper, which acts as a guide for painting. Turn this on or off by going to Canvas > Tracing Paper or by using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl/Cmd + T. Tracing Paper is only a guide and won’t show in the finished image.

To display the Auto-Painting control panel, go to Window > Auto-Painting Panels > Auto-Painting. Uncheck the Smart Stroke Painting option, then press the Play button at the bottom and watch the picture appear. You can stop it at any time by clicking the Stop button. Change the brush size to 30 and press Play again—the smaller brush reveals more detail. Now change the Brush variant to Chalk Soft and click Play again and see the different result.


Auto-Painting is great for a quick picture, but you’ll soon want to paint by hand, as this gives far greater control. A good brush category to start with is the Cloner brushes, as these are all set up for cloning from photographs. To try this technique, open my image "Lynx" and make a Quick Clone. Select the Cloners > Impressionist brush, and change the size to 100 and the opacity to 100%. Paint all over the image, turning the Tracing Paper on and off to see what you’re painting. When you’ve finished, reduce the brush size to 30 and just paint the head, following the features and emphasizing the light and dark areas.

When you’ve finished, go to Effects > Tonal Control > Equalize and adjust the Black and White sliders to fine-tune the contrast.


The two brush categories used so far are both designed for cloning from photographs, but most of the other brush categories are not and need some adjustments to make them ready. Here’s how.

For this example, we’re using my image "Black Crag." Again, the first step is to make a Quick Clone. Next, select the Oils > Flat Oils, and set the size to 80 and the opacity to 80%. If you try to paint with the default brush, it will add color to the image, so open the Color panel and click the Rubber Stamp icon at the bottom right—this changes the brush to a cloner. Most of the brushes in Painter are used in this way when painting from photographs.

Paint all of the image and keep the brush moving quickly. Oil brushes smear the picture, and this will serve as a rough under-painting. Reduce the brush size to 30 and move the brush more slowly to bring in more detail; the slower the brush moves, the clearer it will become. Paint the trees and sheep and a few selected details, but leave the background loose—if you paint everything very slowly, you’ll almost return it to a photograph, which isn’t the point of using Painter!


Deciding which brush to use for a particular photograph (with well over 600 different brushes to choose from) can be a problem for which there’s no easy answer. My solution is to make samples from each brush category—there are almost 250 samples in my book, Painter 12 for Photographers, and you can look through these to find a suitable brush.

As a general guideline, chalks, charcoal and pastels are great for when you want paper textures to show through. Oils, pastels and gouache are terrific for pictures that look very painterly. Try blenders for making very smooth, soft images and sponges for highly textured images.

The naming of the individual brushes also gives a good guide. Brushes with bristle in their names will show the bristle clearly, and greasy and smeary do what their names imply, while flat, round, square or calligraphic describe their shapes.


Often, a finished painting, particularly one made using an oil brush, will look really good when printed on a canvas, but this can be expensive. An alternative way to achieve that look is to apply a paper texture to the image. Open the Paper Panels (Window > Paper Panels > Papers), click the small thumbnail, and select the Artists Canvas from the list.

Using the final picture from the example above, go to Effects > Surface Texture > Apply Surface Texture, which allows you to choose a variety of textures. Select Paper in the top box, and you’ll see the texture has been applied to your picture in the preview. Before you press OK, try a few other papers; you can change the paper while the dialog box is still open. Return to the Artists Canvas, and press OK to add the texture. You’ll need to view the picture at a larger size, preferably 100%, to see the texture properly. This is a great way to add a texture to your finished picture.


Adding textures to pictures as you paint has a lot of creative p
ossibilities, and some brush categories are better than others at showing textures. The chalks and pastels, in particular, are excellent, especially when you make some changes to the brush as shown here.

Open my image "Arcade" and select Chalk and Crayons > Square Chalk. Set the brush size to 150 and the opacity to 33%. Then select the Rough Charcoal paper in the Papers panel. Go to Window > Brush Control Panels > General and change the Method to Cloning and the Subcategory to Grainy Hard Cover Cloning to emphasize the paper texture. Move the Grain slider to 11%—this is the most important control for adjusting the texture, and in most cases, the lower the slider, the more grain is visible. Paint the picture using the Tracing Paper as a guide, sweeping out the brushstrokes from the center to the edges, leaving the edge white. Increase the Grain slider to 15% and paint again in the center to add more depth.

The great thing about adding paper textures as you paint is that you can use different sizes by adjusting the sliders in the Paper panel and even use different textures in the same picture.

Blending Two Or More Photographs Painter 12 is particularly good for blending several photographs together, and this gives superb opportunities for making montages. Here’s a quick walk through how this works.

Open my image "Olive Grove" and go to File > Quick Clone. The Clone Source Panel should appear (if not, go to Window > Clone Source Panel). To add a second clone source, click the Open Source Image icon in the bottom of the panel, then select Open Source and open my image "Horse." You’ll see the two images in the panel; click on each of them in turn, and you’ll see the Tracing Paper guide change to the active source.

Select the Cloners > Coarse Spray Cloner, and set the size to 100 and the opacity to 30%, then click on the Olive Grove layer to make it active and paint the picture lightly, leaving the edges white. Now click on the Horse layer and paint the head of the horse in the center. You can switch back and forth between the two source images very easily.

The great thing about this new panel, which was introduced in Painter 12, is that you can build up a picture from many different originals easily. What’s more, provided you save the file as a RIFF file (Painters own file format), you can close the image and reopen at a later date with all the source images intact. Brilliant!


Painter has layers in much the same way as Photoshop, and files can be swapped between the two programs with layers, layer masks and the main blending modes intact. Layers are also good for using different brushes on each layer and then blending them together.

If you want to try something a bit different and give your images an artistic finish, give Painter 12 a try!

Martin Addison is a well-known British photographer and the author of Painter 12 for Photographers (Focal Press, 2011), available in both print and digital editions, with a companion website featuring source images and video tutorials. Visit his website at

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