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Tablet As Canvas: 13 Tablet Artistry Apps, Tested

Software for Windows Tablets: Painter 12

Painter is the classic natural media painting tool; it’s been around for years and the recent version 12 adds yet more brushes and paint types. Painter models not just the type of paint – oil, watercolor, pastel, charcoal, airbrush, pencil, acrylics, chalk, gouache, gel, impasto, felt markers, Japanese ink and just about any other medium you can think of – it also models the texture of the paper or canvas and the details of the brush, sponge, nib or palette knife you’re applying it with (in the case of watercolor and oils, down to the individual bristles). You can customize the brushes and the way paint is applied, down to how much paint is at the edge of a stroke and how dark that paint is or how hard the brush squeezes against the surface as you paint.

There are also tools to give you painterly effects; the Smart Blur takes a lot of the effort out of blending together colors you’ve already painted and you can have the strokes your draw automatically repeated to draw the other half of an object – or multiple angles of a kaleidoscope. Instead of gridlines you can display the ‘divine proportion’ (also known as Hogarth’s serpentine line of grace, a technique for getting pleasing proportions in a drawing). Plus you get standard computer art tools from drawing shapes to inserting text.

As you might expect, mastering the range of tools in Painter takes time. The interface is also designed to be used on a large screen with a Wacom pen rather than directly on a tablet; it’s crammed with menus, toolbars, dropdowns and palettes. You can use the Tab key to quickly hide and show the interface – or the command on the Window menu - but that’s not as convenient as having an icon or gesture on a tablet with no physical keyboard and common commands like undo and changing the brush size are fiddly menu items and sliders.

With this much power it might seem petty to criticize the interface – you can create any painting effect you can think of in Painter and the tools are unmatched - but working effectively on a tablet is easier with a simpler layout. It also needs a very powerful system; the most realistic painting effects were slow even on a Core i5 tablet and the software crashed more than once when we rotated the screen orientation. However, the system requirements for most Painter 12 features include any version of Windows running on a tablet (of course, the software also works on PCs and Macs--but not iPad, or Android tablets).