Digital brush-up

Mike Treadaway

PAINTER 3. Graphics software for Research Machines, IBM and compatible and Apple computers, Pounds 375. DABBLER. Cut-down version of Painter, also for RM, IBM and compatibles and Apples, Pounds 75.

Both available from software dealers (check out discounts for education). Published by Letraset Software Products, 195-203 Waterloo Road, London, SE1 8XJ.

A couple of years ago, when Letraset released Painter 2, it seemed so wonderful and yet so different from every other painting package for the PC that using anything else felt crude in comparison.

Since then, although some of the features have appeared in other packages and there have been one or two attempts to produce something as "natural" as Painter, the package has remained a somewhat specialist tool.

Much of this is probably due to the heavy processing demands made by the package upon the computer hardware needed one definition of a fast PC being "it runs Painter at reasonable speed".

Now that adequately-powered PCs are becoming commonplace, Letraset has updated Painter with the release of version 3 and an offspring, Dabbler, has also appeared.

Painter 3 offers an even wider range of tools and techniques it's still the nearest thing on a computer to painting with real tools and materials. It's even possible to edit video sequences and to apply all sorts of visual effects to a film, providing that you have the time to edit each frame!

For the professional graphic artist, Painter remains at the pinnacle of what can be made possible using affordable computers. On the down side, the additional tools and techniques introduced, although organised in a logical manner, can appear somewhat bewildering to a new user.

So, along comes Dabbler. While still retaining the fun and realism of Painter, it presents you with a limited, but still useful, set of tools. You can, for example, still paint with watercolours on textured paper and see the paint "flow" over the surface as it mixes with other colours. Felt tips still "draw" like the real thing complete with slightly smudged edges.

As with Painter, the user interface is like nothing ever seen before but it is still wonderfully intuitive to use. My three-year-old daughter had no hesitation in exploring the facilities.

For specialist use, Painter still stands out in terms of facilities and the ability to do things that no other packages offer. It does demand a very powerful computer (at least 8 megabytes) and regular use if all but a fraction of the power is to be harnessed.

Dabbler offers a reduced set of tools but runs on ordinary computers (4 megabytes of memory is fine), and it encourages rather than bewilders the first-time user. While it can be used by young children, Dabbler offers a sufficient range of facilities to be useful at sixth-form and college level.

For educational use, I would go for Dabbler with, where required, Painter available for in-depth work files can easily be swapped between the two packages.

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