Ambient Design’s ArtRage 4 carves out a unique slot for itself in the spectrum of Windows paint programs.
It’s fuller-featured than Modern UI programs like Fresh Paint. But despite being a desktop application, those features are contained in a tablet-friendly interface with large, easy-to-hit targets. It offers many distinct features vs. other low-cost options like Manga Studio or Sketchbook Pro. And it’s far less expensive than Corel Painter.
Whether you’re a pro or absolute beginner, you’ll find something to like in ArtRage 4.
I recently had the chance to test a beta version of the upcoming 4.5 release and it adds a lot of interesting new features. Although I don’t paint, I found most of the new features useful for line work.
The program is now available in a 64-bit version so it will allow you to take advantage of additional system RAM.
The new grid tool, including snap to grid, improves the software’s precision drawing capabilities and is very helpful for aligning elements or drawing straight lines or squares. The grid can also be added to reference images, a very useful addition. Combined with auto-smoothing in the ink pen or pencil tools, you can use a grid to create evenly-spaced wave patterns too.
If your tablet supports it, the pencil tool will allow live tilt as you draw. Make sure to untick the precise checkbox.
You can now collect your most used swatches and toolbox objects and reposition them in both pinboard and pod views.
The font picker now previews your selected font and you can change all text in a selected layer (without selecting the text) or mix and match fonts and formatting options within a single text block.
Although it’s clean and uncluttered, the ArtRage interface will take some getting accustomed to by experienced Windows artists. Instead of a toolbox, the tools and palettes are contained in two quarter-circles on the left and right lower corners of the screen.
By default, these can take up a lot of room on lower resolution tablets, but double tapping the corners of the palettes will minimize them.
The program also offers a compact workbench mode that is very efficient and easy to navigate. It’s also possible to scale the UI elements inside the ArtRage/Preferences/Panels settings.
The ArtRage UI defaults to a somewhat ugly lime green, but switching to a less nauseating shade is as simple as entering Preferences/Interface and choosing something more eye-pleasing.
ArtRage supports multi-touch gestures. In preferences, got to Input Devices and make sure Use Realtime Stylus and Use Touch Input are ticked and untick Use Wintab.
The biggest drawback in using ArtRage on any Surface Pro or other Windows tablet pc is that it doesn’t handle palm rejection well. It’s next to impossible for me to avoid leaving stray marks as I draw. So you’ll need to use an artist’s glove while you work to avoid needless frustration.
Each tool (oil brush, watercolor, palette knife, airbrush, ink pen, pencil, paint roller, felt pen, gloop pen, sticker spray, pastel, paint tube and glitter tube) loads its own paint presets. It’s fascinating to see how the tools interact with one another and the canvas. It’s very easy to get lost experimenting and playing with the settings.
Because it supports smoothing, Surface Pro 3 and other N-Trig device owners should have no problem with jittery slow strokes.
Sizing a brush is also a little odd: tapping and dragging in the tool size area scales the brush up and down. Double tapping allows numeric entry. Brush size values are expressed as a percentage rather than a precise pixel size.
Picking a precise color begins with clicking the appropriate hue, then tapping and dragging to select the brightness and saturation. The color palette also has a metallic setting which adds some specular highlights and reflections to your strokes.
ArtRage 4.5 will be available in mid-August as a free upgrade for registered ArtRage 4 owners. The software retails for only $50, so it should be within the reach of most users. A demo version is available for download here: http://www.artrage.com/demos/
If you’re looking for robust paint capabilities that won’t break the bank and don’t mind using a glove as you draw, ArtRage is definitely a worthwhile addition to any Windows tablet artist’s toolkit.
UPDATE: RothDog, whose image graces the top of this review has posted a time lapse video of the painting of the image. It condences the 24 hour painting into under five minutes but is well worth a look if you're interested in his technique.