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Like many other lifelong artists, my early years were spent sketching and drawing whenever and wherever I could. I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember, and my primary focus was on cars. I was obsessed with cars from a very early age, and by the time I was 7 I knew that I wanted to be a car designer when I grew up. Sketching and drawing cars was my life, and I spent far too much time filling my school notebooks full of car renderings instead of actual schoolwork. Ah, the good ‘ol days.

Thirty years later, I’m still sketching – though not as much as I’d like. Computer graphics (and web design) was becoming the hot thing just as I was graduating from college, so I naturally fell into that and began pushing pixels instead of a pencil. But the itch to sketch and draw has never left me, and lately I’ve been evaluating some of the software options available for digital artists. There is some interesting stuff available these days, and technology has finally reached a point where freehand sketching on the computer is not the clumsy and awkward challenge that it used to be. Pressure sensitive touch screens and drawing tablets are the most important tools for digital sketching, and matching that hardware with good software will give any artist the tools that he or she needs to create stunning work.

Of all the software choices out there today, which is the best? In my opinion, there are only two real choices: Corel Painter and Autodesk SketchBook Pro. Adobe Photoshop can’t even compare to these two programs, as it doesn’t perform well enough to be able to follow fast sketchers – I draw really fast, and there are many times that Photoshop can’t keep up with me and the lines it renders are fragmented and chunky. With that said, these are my opinions of my two favorites: Painter Essentials and SketchBook Pro:

Corel Painter Essentials 4

“Essentials” is basically the “light” version of Painter. You’ll get all the basics of the full package (like a full palette of brushes, layer tools, pressure sensitivity, etc), but without complex tools such as the ability to draw vector shapes and create fully-custom brushes. As far as sketching goes, “Essentials” is all you need – the brushes are very sensitive, and it’s very easy to create lines with varied weight and thickness as you draw (just like you can with a real pencil). Every brush can be modified, allowing the artist to change the size and opacity very easily, and can be saved in a “favorites” panel for easy access. Drawing is very quick and easy, and the software is powerful enough to track your lines no matter how fast you draw – unlike Photoshop, which can’t seem to keep up with fast drawing even on the most powerful computers.

But the truth is that Painter was never intended to be just a sketching program. It was built from the ground up to be the ultimate digital tool for fine artists, and it contains a variety of prebuilt brushes and textures that are frighteningly similar to the kind of effects you could achieve on a real canvas with real paint. Painter is a very appropriate name for this program, because that’s what it does so well. From watercolors to acrylics to oil, Painter simulates any medium flawlessly.

The Pros:

  • Simple interface
  • Lightning-quick performance and brush tracking
  • Accurate brushes that simulate real media flawlessly
  • Ability to freely rotate the canvas/paper as you draw, just as you could with real media

The Cons:

  • Pressure sensitivity isn’t as good as it is in Sketchbook Pro
  • Can’t move the tool palettes around – they are stuck docked to the edges of the screen
  • No vector tools/shapes in the “Essentials” version

 

Autodesk SketchBook Pro 2010

The truth is, I was reluctant to try SketchBook Pro. I have been a very satisfied Corel Painter user for years, and I didn’t really see the need to try something different. But I read a lot of design forums, and I kept hearing more and more about SketchBook Pro so I thought it was worth a look. Long story short, I purchased the full version of the software in less than 24 hours of downloading the trial. This is a seriously good drawing program. Unlike Corel Painter, SketchBook Pro is designed for one thing only: sketching! It is not intended for fine artists, as there not any options available for creating watercolor or oil paint styles. All you get is a palette full of various pencils and pens (all of which you can fully customize) and a very simple and uncluttered interface. The best part about SketchBook Pro? Line quality and pressure sensitivity! Honestly, it’s just like drawing on paper – line weight is so easy to control with this program, and to me, there is absolutely no difference between sketching with SketchBook Pro and a real pencil on paper. It’s stunningly accurate, even more so than Corel Painter (which is saying quite a lot).

The interface is also very clever, and extremely minimal. There is a graphical control panel which can be docked to any corner of the screen, which includes shortcuts to all the main tools such as brush types, colors, layers, etc. This simplicity allows for lightning-quick tool changes, and allows fast sketchers like me to draw virtually uninterrupted – which is so very important when being “in the zone” while designing. Nothing frustrates me more from being distracted by my tools when I’m trying to get a good idea down on paper, and SketchBook Pro does an excellent job of not interfering with my workflow.

Another thing I like about this program is that it contains “guide” tools for drawing straight lines and circles + ovals. For an automotive sketcher like me, that is a huge plus. That reason alone is why I don’t use Corel Painter much anymore.

The Pros:

  • Line quality and the ability to very weight on the fly is butter smooth
  • The guide tools are very useful
  • Minimal interface
  • Ability to freely rotate the canvas as you draw

The Cons:

  • The shortcut menus take some getting used to
  • Not many brush / texture options for fine artists

Conclusion

If you are currently using Adobe Photoshop to draw and sketch, do yourself a favor and pick up one of these two software packages. There are definite benefits to having the correct tool for the job, and Photoshop was never intended to be a sketching and drawing tool. Once you try either of these packages, you’ll quickly understand why.

I prefer Autodesk SketchBook Pro over Corel Painter Essentials. For my style of drawing (cars + mechanical objects), Sketchbook pro offers greater freedom and more powerful drawing tools than Corel Painter. However, fine artists and painters will assuredly have the opposite opinion. Both are very inexpensive and well worth their price, so it may be beneficial to have both in your arsenal. I do.

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