I've been watching ArtRage grow since it first started. I've said to myself time and time again I wanted to give it a go, but never got around to do it. Now that I write reviews for Renderosity Magazine, I found the perfect excuse!
This is a program with a lot of features, packed in an intuitive, non-overwhelming interface, that makes for a breezy creative workflow. I'm trying the desktop version. Let's jump right in!
Look and Feel
I always insist in the importance of the UI/UX of a program. It's not just a way to get around tools, I can actually "feel" the difference between programs, just as much as if I was using different grips on a pen, or hairs in a brush. ArtRage has been unique in its UI since it first came out and I've always been intrigued by it. And since I haven't tried it before, I didn't know how the experience would be.
Well, let me put it simply: it feels great! Their "classic" mode is their original one, and it's very comfortable and unobtrusive, with convenient toggle buttons for panels and their signature tool palette and color palette corners. It's nice looking, straight-forward, and feels artsy but current at the same time. But if by now you're too familiar with docking panels to try something different, there's the Docking mode as well. Also, for dark themed UI fans, there's the "Lights Out" option, to turn UI elements dark.
One other thing I have to mention is the fact that if you have a panel open over your canvas when you're painting, it disappears temporarily while you make your stroke. I love this! When you're painting in a small pen display, like the 13" Cintiq Pro I have, you need this kind of function. It's so nice to see developers actually thinking about this stuff!
The first thing I always do is to just play with the brushes. It's just such a joy to open a program for the first time and have a feel for it. It's like opening new art supplies and just making random strokes with them to feel that first sparkle of newness, before you get serious and analytical.
My immediate impression while carelessly testing the brushes was how good they felt right from the start. They felt painterly, with nice pressure sensitivity and blending capabilities. Sometimes I have to spend a lot of time initially tweaking the brushes in other programs. This can be, of course, a matter of taste or habits. It depends on what your preferences are, but my point is I felt ready right from the get go.
After I spent some time with the brushes, I wanted to play with the brush engines and their parameters. It's a great thing there's the Brush Designer, that'll let you tweak and create your own brushes. Something new in ArtRage 6 that wasn't there before is that you can add volume to your Custom Brush strokes, or use any Custom Brush as an Eraser. So that's a good addition for users of previous versions.
I have to confess, I got a bit confused at times, and I figured this is because a couple of reasons. The first one is that you can use the brush designer with only some of the brush types. For the others, you can tweak the settings in the settings panel and then save them as a preset, but you can't launch the brush designer and have them appear there. Another reason is the name conventions for some of the tools and parameters differ from industry standards and that means if ArtRage is not the first painting program you ever use, you'll have to "translate" some of the names in your head, even if later on they make sense. So, for instance, the Palette Knife tool is for blenders and smudgers. You can adjust to that pretty quickly since this example is easy to figure out, but then you go to the Custom Brush presets and you find a whole category called "Blenders"… that have the Custom Brush parameters instead of the Palette Knife ones.
But what frustrated me the most was the fact there is no global Opacity parameter for all of the brushes that you can change while painting, like you would with brush size, something that is present in every single piece of painting software out there. It is such a standard, I don't know what would be the reasoning behind not having it there. Not only you can't change a stroke's opacity on the fly with a keystroke or stylus button: some brush engines don't even have an opacity slider! What?! I spent a lot of time thinking it was me that was not finding the way, only to find out (after forum browsing and searching) it was by design. I'm really not happy about this. Let's move on.
After my opacity rant and brush parameter struggles, I found the Sticker Spray and though "oh, a nice nozzle or color stamp type brush engine". And yes, it is that. But it's not only that. It's a very robust engine with a complex set of parameters. You'll get that from just trying the different presets that come with the program. From barbed wire, to fur and grass, and everything in between, there's a lot of diversity and amazing possibilities here.
Another great thing I have to mention is the smoothing parameters in some of the brush types, which can help you make better, smoother strokes. You can use this for inking and it will look great, even if you're a bit shaky with your marks.
A great feature that ArtRage has is the Canvas, which comes with a great variety of presets, nice parameters to work with and the possibility to create your own canvases. Not only will the canvas settings affect your background but also the brush strokes you make and the lighting characteristics that will show when you use thick paints.
ArtRage 6 comes with all the tools needed for a satisfactory workflow. This includes layers, reference images you can place around, and even tracing tools. I used all of these, and they work easily and intuitively. Layers have the standard operations and features including layer groups, blending modes, and they even come with Layer Effects (similar to Photoshop Styles).
There are stencils and rulers that you can use as masks and you can create and import your own (any grayscale image), although the program comes with a nice variety you can play with.
Layout tools include Grids, Guides and the wonderful Perspective guides, all of which you can make sets of and save for later use. You can use one- or two-point perspective guides and you can add walls, floors, major and minor lines.
Another lovely feature and one I'm always looking for is the Paint Symmetry. This allows for many lovely ornamental possibilities and, along with the smoothing parameters of a brush, can lead to beautiful mandalas. It's also useful to paint bilateral subjects like faces or butterflies.
Actions and Scripts
The last two features I'll mention are Actions, something that seems to be new in ArtRage 6, and script recording. The first record steps that you can repeat to automate tasks, while the latter allows you to record every stroke you make in a session, allowing you to reproduce it later.
I wanted to try ArtRage for a while now and I can say, apart from a couple of things, that it did not disappoint. It looks and feels nice, works well and there's a lot of painting you can do with it without the feeling of overwhelming controls other programs have. If you want to know more about it, check out their site, where you can download a fully functional demo:
Barbara Din is a visual artist, graphic designer, painter, interior designer, crafter, musician and writer living in Argentina. Learn more about Barbara and her work at the following links:
Barbara Din Patreon page
Barbara Din YouTube Channel