Art Programs- user reviews and preferences

Discussion in 'Artists' started by Steve B, Sep 21, 2011.

  1. Steve B

    Steve B Moderator Moderator

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    Hey,
    Since I started doing digital art last year, I've been using Artrage and Sketchbook Pro a lot. Recently, however, I've been taking classes on using Painter 11, which I've been uninspired by- it's way more complex than I want for my illustrative uses, and very unintuitive. Plus, I seem to be able to make the same final products more easily in Artrage and Sketchboo Pro so far.

    However, recently, Agent 9 suggested using MyPaint in a thread. Or I think it was him. I looked it up and it seems like a pretty nice program, but I've never used it. Then I thought, hey, there must be lots of art programs one might use for different purposes. For example, I've never used Paint Tool Sai, but I know many do.

    If you're interested in sharing your perspective and experience, I'd love to hear why each of you uses the art programs you do. Also, I'ld be just as curious why you DON'T use different art programs. I'd like to educate myself on the subject, and it seemed like it might become a good reference thread to link to.
     
  2. bahaya

    bahaya Pen Pal - Newbie

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    Hey Steve B, this is great topic. I am an occasional 2d artist and also last year, i was more curious about digital painting and decided to take an online class. You can see some of the work i did on my blog: GUITANIMATOR
    During the class, i learned how to use Painter11, Photoshop and Paint Tool Sai. The stuff on my blog was done using all 3. I think i can't tell, which software i used for which painting, because i forgot. I gotta keep practising more...But i have favorite programs:

    Paint Tool Sai: My favorite software, because the program file itself is super small, only 5MB, so it loads up very fast. It has all the basic tools you need to create art, so it is super simple to use. The stroke engine is just awesome, when you draw curves, it is just smooth, no jagged lines or anything. Also you can mix colors very nicely. The vector function is also very cool, because after you are done tracing and have the lines, you can go in and add line weight where you like it. The interface is easy and you get used to it very quickly. However, it doesn't have many blend modes and my version also doesn't allow to use text. For freeform drawings and paintings, this is it for me.

    Photoshop: Not much to say, it just does everything and is the standard pro software, but for my taste, way too bloated, i think i use only 10% of all the features. One thing is, you can't really mix colors, so you have to use a layered approach. Once you get used to that, no problemo.

    Corel Painter11: I kinda feel the same way about Painter like you. I was overwhelmed by the brush choices, i think i spent more time figuring out the brushes than creating my picture. I guess if you want to really simulate traditional medium in a computer, this might be it but for more quick stuff, i'd prefer other software.

    Artrage: This one came preinstalled with my EP121. I kinda like the pencil but everything else, i don't know...not for me...

    Sketchbook Pro: I recently stumbled across this and i like it. also great for quick sketches. The pencil feels very similar to the pen in Paint Tool Sai, that's great. The marker tool is nice, it behaves like real markers and the airbrush is smooth. I'd use it for marker sketches.
     
  3. Steve B

    Steve B Moderator Moderator

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    Hey, thanks for the info on Don Seegmiller. I looked it up and it looks interesting. I'd be interested in your review of the experience.

    I've been taking a series of classes from the Digital Art Academy online for Painter 11-- the whole space is Painter focused. Took the intro class this summer and the 2nd one is just ending this week. Each one's been 4 weeks long. The classes are fine, that's not the problem- I actually like the set up a lot, and for the price (35$) you get a hell of a lot-- 2-3 hours of videos each week, pdfs for the videos, forums for posting and sharing (where the teacher posts and helps), and a 1 hour group-session live video chat with the instructor each week. Pretty amazing, frankly.

    It's nice to hear about Paint Tool Sai, btw. I've seen it, but have never really used it. Oddly I've never really used much in the way of vectors. I know Manga Studio also allows vector work for line weight. From the videos I've seen of artists using that though, it always seems like they spend a ton of time moving vectors around in minute ways, when they could just redraw the line and get something more fluid...???


    Painter 11--

    It's really Painter that I've struggled with. I actually use Artrage 3.5 a lot- I love the interface, as a tablet user, and the tools function easier. But I'ld heard so much about Painter I thought I ought to try and figure it out. I've decided that for Painter, everything, everything, everything is built on the brush engine. And thus, if you get a brush set up the way you want, it'll do almost everything you need- lay down paint, blend, bleed paint to the edges (I do watercolors), create texture all in one. This is nice if you've got the right brush. If you don't, I find it hell on wheels to set one up.

    I've spent 2 month-long classes figuring out the interface and how to use it (custom palettes to speed up brush selection for example, importing new brush libraries, figuring out what all the menus do, etc, etc), but I've now come to decide that besides all that basic stuff you really have to understand the brush engine and the oh, 20 dials and controls you can change for each one to actually get the program to do what you want. Otherwise, I feel like you're kind of searching in the dark for the result you want. I've spent waaaaay more time than I care to think of just sitting around making dabs with that program, trying to figure out what each brush does. If I find one that works I record it or bring it into a custom palette, but I don't actually know why it works. This is a pain. I'm trying to decide if I want to take a class there on Creating Brushes in Painter 12 or not, as that sort of seems like what I really need to know, in terms of actually painting versus understanding the interface.

    Painter also crashes and is unstable. Artrage never crashes, which is awesome.

    Painter 11 is also clearly designed for use on a desktop with a keyboard. There are lots of pull down menus that are a pain to navigate with a pen, and there are lots and lots of palettes that you need a big screen for, because they need to be open. This seems to have been remedied in many ways for Painter 12, as there are now lots of better ways to navigate. So, I may test it and see what I think.

    Painter is, for sure, much faster than Artrage is at times, in terms of moving layers around and what not. Artrage can be oddly slow at times, say, deleting layers, etc. (though it's faster after the recent update, which makes it multicore compatible). And Painter clearly does much more than Artrage, though I'm still unconvinced I really need 80% of the extra tools it offers. Finally, I do have to admit that once you get the right brushes set up, painting in Painter is relatively straightforward, and very expressive. It's the "getting there" part that's been no fun.

    Artrage--
    Artrage seems to have simplified the set up in some way, and this makes it much much straightforward to use, but doing things often takes more steps. What you can do with 1 very complex brush in Painter takes a watercolor brush, a blender, and a paper texture in Artrage to accomplish- say, a wet into wet bleeding color that dissolves into paper color. Thus, I can get by with about 10 straightforward settings in Artrage, but I have to switch around a lot more. In Painter, I have about 30-50 brushes I'd need to use and select (after figuring out how to make them, or finding them), but I wouldn't need to switch around, tool to tool, as much.

    I do find the set up in Artrage much, much more tablet pc friendly. It's very easy to navigate with a pen.

    Artrage looks from the outset likes it's too simple, and can't accomplish much, but there are professional illustrators that use it to great effect. Painter and Photoshop clearly have more bells and whistles in terms of image manipulation, vectors, etc, but, for just laying paint down, I think Artrage is wonderful. I also have to say that it's ability to interact with paper texture, and how one can use imported textural qualities to create things, like dry brush effects, etc. is wonderful. Easily on par with Painter, IMO, at least as far as I can tell so far.

    I just can't seem to trust the fact that I'm getting as much out of it as Painter (if I knew how to use Painter), so I keep plugging away at learning Painter. Then I keep coming back to Artrage because I can actually create images in it, whereas I just don't get much done in Painter because everything takes so long/is so complex.

    Nick Harris has some great finished work coming out of Artrage that you can see on his website. So does Jon Hodgson, another illustrator doing stuff for some Lord of the Rings stuff-- video game? something like that.

    I also have to say that Artage has a great online community at it's forums, where people are interested in making tutorials, uploading textures and canvases, sharing images, and testing the limits of the program. Mostly amateurs and hobbyists of varying degrees of skill, though some work being produced in really very very good. Still, that's one of the nice things about stuff like Photoshop- there's a million tutorials and forums and users out there to learn from.


    Sketchbook Pro-
    This is where I do all my roughs and penciling here. This program is just so responsive and easy to setup. It doesn't do everything, but what it does it does very very well. Great for inking and charcoal like pencil work that is fluid and easy to build images with. It can actually do a lot though, if you're good at importing textures and whatnot. If you look up Nick Harris again, he has samples of the finished work he's doing in it. It's good stuff.

    *****

    Anyways, that ended up being much longer than I anticipated, but I've been trying to figure out the wrinkles of each program. Hope it's helpful to someone. ;P Would love to hear from others!
     
  4. cmenice

    cmenice Scribbler - Standard Member

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    Great post @Steve B

    I started digital painting in 2010 with the release of the iPad. It took almost a year with the iPad before I started to "get it". Then I had a very productive 6 months with iPad painting. After this very productive time (I was getting great results), I started to wonder about eventually printing my work. After some testing, I realized the iPad is completely inadequate for large print work, unless you work exclusively with Vectors.

    The quest for being able to paint large digital canvases led me to a tablet Pc. But not only can you paint large canvases, but the tools on the PC/Mac are full tools, unlike the iPad. Whatever I use on the Tablet PC translates directly to a computer, whereas the apps I was using on the iPad, don't translate well to any "process" in a different application on the PC/Mac. This was bothersome to me. I didn't want to be spending all this time "learning" apps on the iPad to have that NOT transfer to the PC. That said, I've all but abandoned the iPad. It gets very light use for sketching or doing compositions.

    Softare I've tried for PC:
    Adobe Photoshop
    Corel Painter 12
    Serif DrawPlus
    Sketchbook Pro 2011
    Artrage Studio Pro
    Twisted Brush
    MyPaint
    PaintTool SAI

    I could probably write a pamphlet on what I've tried and why I'm not using it, but I'll try to keep it short.

    Art applications I'm not using in no particular order.

    Adobe Photoshop: The most important reason why I'm not using it is because it's slow. When I created a canvas of say 5,000 x 5,000 the brushes lagged a lot. Even simple round brushes. I'll most likely find my way back to Photoshop (more on this later), but for now it's not for me.

    Corel Painter 12: Slow like Photoshop. You can get some really interesting effects like real media with this application. A larger canvas was problemsome with watercolor brushes, but worked ok with oil brushes. It's a massive application with loads of features, but ultimately too buggy. I had a lot of crashes. I think there is a massive memory leak too, it was hogging memory like nobody's business.

    Twisted Brush: Again, slow at high-res. I'm sensing a pattern here. Lots and lots of brushes. I just didn't feel it.

    MyPaint: This one was ok, but I had a hard time figuring things out. It wasn't that intuitive to me. It feels incomplete (and it isn't at 1.0 yet so I guess it is). I don't understand how the canvas sizes work because I couldn't even find a way to change the canvas size. I don't know :shrugs:

    Now to the applications I'm using, in order of most used/favorite:

    1. PaintTool SAI: This has to be my favorite painting app so far. This app is ridiculously fast. That 5,000px x 5,000px canvas yielded no lag with a 500px brush. Incredible. I think it's pretty intuitive, but it's not really apparent how powerful this application is until you go looking for stuff or read some tutorials. It shocks me a little every time I use it. I should also note, that I was weary of buying this app because it hasn't seen an update since 2008. I contacted the developer (I think it's a one man show) and asked him if SAI was dead. He said it's not, that he's re-writing the code from the ground up. I don't know, I think it's nice as is. I haven't really tried any of the vector tools that bahaya mentions.

    2. Artrage Studio Pro: For the same reasons I like PaintTool SAI, I like Artrage. Simple on the surface, but really powerful underneath. I like that it mimics real media. Constant development are pluses. I'm using this so I don't have to buy oil paints.

    3. Serif DrawPlus: This one is interesting and I'm still in the courting phase with it, but I like what I see so far. This is a completely vector based app, but with a twist. It allows me to use vectors, but it dresses them up with textures to make them look like brush strokes. It's really interesting. I would recommend downloading the "free" version of the app to try it out. (I've also heard their PhotoPlus app is a dumbed down Photoshop like tool so it might be useful for painting, but I haven't tried it yet).

    4. Sketchbook Pro 2011: I like the tools in this one, but it's mostly been replaced by SAI at this point.

    @Steve B - I think you and I are at a different place with making pictures. I've spent some time thinking and stepping back from painting. I'm trying to take a different perspective on painting so my choices reflect that. For a while, I was after that ultimate watercolor tool (but digital) like you. But for me personally, I've decided that I need to learn to paint in a more "simple" way. That's why I like SAI so much. I'm not trying to do digital watercolors, I'm just trying to do digital. When I think I'm better at digital, then I'll work on watercolors.

    Do you have any links to really great digital watercolors? Personally, I haven't seen many I thought were that great ;-). No Sargent's, Zorn's etc. Maybe I missed them.

    This is my own journey and maybe a bit more than what you asked for?

    I'm also poking around the Artrage forum too. Maybe I'll post some things to the gallery soon.
     
  5. thatcomicsguy

    thatcomicsguy Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    @cmenice:

    Thanks for your review-push of PaintTool SAI!

    I'd noodled with it once before but gave up quickly when I encountered some of it's initial annoyances. I'm really glad I gave it a second chance, due to your insisting on its quality.

    Wow. I really am quite impressed with its inking algorithms and responsiveness, with all the nib characteristics right there in the interface, easy to understand and manipulate. Its footprint and speed are phenomenal, AND it allows easy canvas rotation without making my GPU blow a gasket, something I never thought I'd see my Tecra M4 able to do. Very, very cool.

    I will, of course, be needing to continue using Photoshop for my day-to-day, as SAI's drawbacks include. . .
    .

    • -No polygonal selection ability (WTF???).
    • -No way to 'preserve hard edges' when transforming and scaling.
    • -No .tif support.
    • -No font support.
    • -The Right Click stylus button is utterly wasted, (though it can have one alternative keystroke macro linked to it). I really like Adobe's linking of the Right Click to the context menu for whatever current tool you happen to be using.

    But my god, I was just complaining to somebody about the annoying matter-of-fact inking experience in Photoshop; even at its best, it has poor line drop-off and at certain resolutions, line quality gets juddery. SAI solves all of that nicely by using algorithmic maths to interpret and put down what the artist actually intends. It's too bad I'll have to muck around with translating my work flow between two software packages. I really appreciated being able to do whole pages in a single program, but SAI, I can already see, will make that annoyance worth it.

    Photoshop is an amazing tool; it does virtually everything, and most of it at a reliable, professional level, filling the gaps so many other programs leave, and even the inking in CS5 seems to have been improved upon, but SAI's footprint, blinding speed and inking/drawing experience and its ability to rotate the canvas without taxing my GPU make it pretty fantastic! I'll be doing some pages on it to see if my initial impressions hold up, and then I'll buy a copy.

    5000 Yen? That's a very reasonable price for such a piece of software.

    Cheers!
     
  6. Steve B

    Steve B Moderator Moderator

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    It's really interesting to hear these "reports" on different programs. I was thinking: it would be very cool to see some drawings from these different programs, to understand what each is offering. The stickied art thread is nice, but rather vague.

    I'll try and post a few pics later on to share. If the rest of you have something, it'd be very cool to see how you're using different programs to create different images- or how you're using different programs to create different elements in the same image. People post stuff on Deviantart, but it's often very vague about how they used each program. I'd like to know more about your processes.


    Also, I have a few questions after reading these really interesting posts-

    Re: Photoshop-
    I know it's used a lot, clearly. LOL! I've also been told it's really very expensive. How much is it costing?

    My other concern is how is it at doing stuff that looks like natural media? There's some beautiful stuff done on Photoshop, no doubt, but most of it (all of it?) has a very digital feel to it. It's clearly very good at image-manipulation, and it seems like it runs very quickly and smoothly, which is nice. I've just never really known if it does the sort of work that I'm looking for- digital watercolors, sketching, etc.- or, if it does do it, if it does it any better than the programs I'm already using.

    You know? So, I guess one of my major questions is what does it do really well? Better than other programs? Then I'd know best how to apply it (or whether I'd gain a lot if I used it), versus other programs.


    Re: Paint Tool Sai-
    It sounds very nice.... Will have to explore and report back. Having looked at screen shots, it looks like everything is in Japanese? I was always a bit turned off by this. Not that I don't like Japanese- ha! Just that I figured the menus and help files weren't in English. Is this true?

    The idea of a very fluid brush stroke is very enticing though. This is one of the things I've really loved about Sketchbook Pro. Smooth, functional interface designed for a pen, and smooth, fluid brush strokes. For those that are using Paint Tool Sai, does it basically do everything that Sketchbook Pro does?

    @thatcomicsguy- Why is the polygonal selection tool so important to you? Just trying to understand it's application, as it's something I never use. Perhaps I'm missing out on something.

    Re: Serif Draw Plus-
    This also sounds very interesting to me. I'm interested in pencil and line drawing with texture to it. I've not had the best results so far. Artrage has a good engagement with texture, but the pencil tools, IMO, are rather stiff in terms of the lines they put down. If I could somehow get the textural effects of Artrage with the fluid, expressive line of Sketchbook Pro, that would be wonderful.
     
  7. thatcomicsguy

    thatcomicsguy Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    Okay. . , after doing some real work in Paint Tool Sai, I can report the following. . .

    There is a lot there to recommend; canvas rotation is awesome! Basic screen rendering is awesome, (graphics are sharp at every level of resolution, unlike Photoshop which only sharpens up at every percentage level divisible by 4). And inking is a joy. . , sort of.

    When drawing things like hair and faces and arms and such, then Sai is great because the algorithms naturally assume you're trying for smooth lines with perfect curves and delicate line drop-offs. For faces and hair, especially in the world of Manga, that's exactly what is called for. In fact, I think there is a very good chance that Sai was designed expressly to accommodate people who want to draw pretty anime girls.

    However. . ,

    If you want to draw things which are NOT pretty anime girls, like say. . , a building or a tree or a stretch of cracked tarmac, or pretty much anything which isn't a human face or figure, then having perfect curvy lines come out of your stylus is actually very annoying. Photoshop's matter-of-fact, what-you-give-is-what-you-get interpretation of stylus input is required for total control.

    Also. . .

    I ran into a memory issue. My maxed-out 2 gig system has always served me well in the past, but because you can't tell Sai to work in black & white, for me just to do a plain B&W line-work page, it's still allocating huge amounts of memory to color data, so a B&W image ends up taking an unnecessarily huge bite out of RAM. Sai was still extremely fast, so I figured, "Who cares, so long as the job gets done?"

    But then. . .

    I accidentally erased a whole page by hitting a wrong button, (Sai has a handy 'delete layer' button right out in the open.) and when I went to 'Undo' this, Sai choked and said, "Not enough memory to perform operation. Command aborted" (or something to that effect). Page gone.

    And so I lost the last ten minutes of work.

    To be fair, I did have Photoshop running concurrently, and when I tried to duplicate the error with Sai running by itself, it wasn't a problem. But still. . ! If Photoshop runs out of RAM, it knows to use virtual RAM so nothing gets lost like that. What a stupid bug.

    I should note that in the two years I have been using Photoshop CS4, I have not once lost data due to a crash or a bug. --And I use Photoshop every day. That's very impressive, and it has taken Adobe 20 years to refine their software to that point of reliability.

    Paint Tool Sai, by contrast, has several bugs I ran across, and that last one actually kills your work. -An exposed button on the screen right next to other buttons you commonly use which deletes everything and wont let you get it back. Wow. A genuine self-destruct button.

    I would love to see Paint Tool Sai brought up to prime time. It has some truly awesome features; its tiny footprint and high speed are wonderful, putting to shame so many other bits of bloated software. It's easy canvas rotation, and image presentation are very refreshing after working with Photoshop. But in spite of this, Sai is simply not there yet.

    I might use Sai when I need to draw big, perfect manga faces, (tee-shirt designs spring to mind), but for regular comics production work? It's not up to snuff for my projects.
     
  8. thatcomicsguy

    thatcomicsguy Scribbler - Standard Member Senior Member

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    @Steve B: Whups; we must have posted in the same couple of minutes. I didn't see your last post before mine went up.

    I think an art-by-program page is a phenomenal idea! --Allowing demo-pics which show off specific strengths/weaknesses offered by each program.

    Specific to your question. . .

    A polygonal selection tool allows me to lift the stylus up from outlining a complex image while holding down the Alt key so that I don't lose my place. This means I can pause to scratch my nose or re-position my hand or just jump ahead on a long stretch of straight line. This dramatically speeds up the process of selection since even curvy objects are loaded with straightaways allowing you to just leap-frog around and select areas at high speed with very little effort.

    Sai or any program which doesn't offer this simple feature, turns the act of complex selection into a challenging obstacle course where if you make a mistake, you have to start again. By itself, this makes the program broken, IMHO, for coloring or gray-tone work. For wet-media simulation, it wouldn't be a problem, but when you want to color by area-fills, the selection tool becomes vital. It seems weird to have such a lack in Sai, since anime work is all about area-fill coloring.

    In fact, I noticed in several of the tutorial videos for Sai that people will do the line work in Sai and export to Photoshop for coloring for exactly this reason.
     
  9. cmenice

    cmenice Scribbler - Standard Member

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    I'm really starting to like this thread!

    @thatcomicsguy - sorry you lost that page! I wasn't sure what that erase layer did, but if you hover over it, a tool tip does pop up telling you. I also tend to read help files, but I'm a bit of an odd duck.

    I get what you mean about SAI being very smooth, but you can change the Stabilizer to help with that. You might also try the tool labeled "Binary" which is kind of like a more jagged pen.

    You are right about every pixel costing more memory. On the FAQ page, there is an explanation about why that's the case SYSTEMAX Software Development - PaintTool SAI - FAQ and more specifically SYSTEMAX Software Development - PaintTool SAI - Other Questions

    I agree that SAI can't and won't hold a candle to PS, but I like it because it's fast and pretty easy to use. I'm not doing mission critical work. I'm mostly drawing gestures on an A3 350dpi canvas. For that stuff it's been cool. I haven't lost any work yet or had any crashes. I think you are luck with PS, when i used it on my Mac, it would crash all the time.

    So for what I'm doing, I like SAI and Artrage a lot. I'm not sure if that will change as my needs grow, but trying to learn PS seems almost as hard as learning how to draw.

    @Steve B - SAI is a Japanese program, but there is a translated "unofficial" version that is in English. This is the version you want. Here's the link Paint tool SAI in English

    The demo will last for 30 days then it costs 5250 yen, which when I paid for it was about $70.

    Photoshop is on sale today only Sept. 27 for 30% off, which makes it just shy of $500 :)

    Do you mean to say, regarding DrawPlus, that you're trying it and not getting good results? I do think because it's vector based, it takes a slightly different kind of thinking to draw with that app.

    We might consider a flickr group to share images made with various applications. There are specific application groups, but our group could be specific to "Tablet PC/Cintiq Art Apps" and used for sharing knowledge as well as images.

    Cheers!
     
  10. Steve B

    Steve B Moderator Moderator

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    Well, I downloaded Paint Tool Sai. Right off the bat, it seemed very good for fluid inking. Does anyone use it for other stuff? I read some tutorials, and saw some really interesting stuff done re: textures and creating brushes. This did seem like it was going to require a reasonable amount of time though, to get it all up and running. It's not one of those just "start it up and go" sort of things. The tutorials seemed to show how you had to put this here, and open that there, and edit this there, etc. It seemed like the sort of process one might do if you were a tinkerer-- like thatcomicsguy! :)

    I know I mentioned it before, and haven't done so myself, but it would be really interesting to see some stuff done in these different programs. For example, with Paint Tool Sai almost everything I find is manga-focused. It's nicely done manga, but that's not what I'm interested in. I'm most interested in these textural effects I saw, but was curious if anyone has used it that way. Do you think we should start another thread to share stuff? I figured we should just go for it here.

    Also, yesterday I began to look into Sketchbook Pro 2011, with the Copic Markers. I already really like SKP 2010, but this seemed like a dramatic improvement. There's an even better layout, easier for use with a tablet pc (for example, an easily accessible icon for transparency, moving a layer up or down in order, as well as a lagoon just for layer functions). The results I've been seeing from some of the people using the Copic Markers also looks really good, in terms of color work and smooth blending. Well, I wsa impressed enough that I bought it for 55$, so we'll see how it goes. I'll be reporting back on it, I'm sure. Of course, I'm sure the new re-issue will be out in a few months, but who cares? It just looked to fun!

    I'll try and post some stuff I've done with Artrage, Painter 11, and Sketchbook Pro. Perhaps this'll finally get me to start a blog, so I can embed them in the posts.
     
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