I first became aware of MyPaint quite some time ago, when the author appeared on the Krita mailing list. Since then, I’ve been following this application quite closely, updating and building nearly daily. Although it resembles Art Rage, MyPaint isn’t a little toy application, and I’m very impressed with it.

It really does allow sketching as if you were working on paper. When I was trying out the charcoal brushes, I suddenly noticed myself trying to smudge the lines with my thumb. Well, despite having a touchscreen on my laptop, that didn’t work!

MyPaint has the following impressive features, among others:

  • Support for OpenRaster — which makes it easy to work with MyPaint and Krita in one workflow. (If you use Krita 2.x, preferably Krita trunk.)
  • 16-bit layers for smoother painting
  • really impressive brush engine. I think it would be easy enough to make a plugin for krita that re-uses this brush engine and make krita work with all MyPaint brushes, but whether it would perform well enough is an open question.
  • Smooth, smooth, smooth! And performs really well.
  • And most importantly: an almost natural feel when painting.
  • A very active development community with
    lots of interesting stuff happening.

One disadvantage for me is that it really is designed for the situation where you have a tablet in front of you and a keyboard aside, under your secondary hand. This means that if I use my X61t in tablet mode, I cannot easily access the brush palette or the colors. This is a design feature, though, and one of the places where MyPaint differs most from Art Rage. (The other is that Art Rage is not only closed-source software, but also not as good an artists’ tool by a long chalk.).


I recently got my hands on the source code for a painting application written from 1991 to 1993 by EPITA students in France — Olivier Brand, Olivier Raoul, Olivier Lahaye, Olivier Coquet, Frederic Losacco, Frederic Gaubert, Bertrand le Vern en Cedric Marsot. Their painting application — a school project — is called Rainbow and is a treasure trove of advanced ideas.

Apart from the custom real-time dithering X server that’s included somewhere, the version of the code Olivier Lahaye managed to retrieve for me from an ageing MIPS machine can paint using on-the-fly computed textures, deform an image by distorting a grid and lot, lots more. A very cool magic wand implementation.

More advanced code is somewhere on a possibly broken Amiga harddisk. Or not, but Olivier Lahaye is trying to hunt it out for me. This includes a SIOX-like algorithm for foreground selection and an intelligent fill routine that was able to texture an image of a green car in the countryside. Select the car, select fill: presto: a wooden car with all the shadows intact. Painting with just intensity. Paint with color, but not intensity.

To put this into context: in August 1995 Kimball and Mattis started on the Gimp. XPaint seems to have started in 1991, one year after Rainbow. Try to imagine what the libre graphics world would have looked like if an application with the capabilities of Rainbow would have been released under an open source license in 1993!


A Krita clone

It’s that it’s been around since 1997, and can do a lot more than we, but take a look at

It’s even got a performance tests menu item :-). I’m impressed by the application, not just by its price tag, but also by the fact that the author has made a more-or-less complete photoshop clone and has written his own cross-platform widget set for it.

In other news: Michael Thaler has improved the performance of our scaling routines by more than 100% while still retaining the excellent quality. We can now not only scale with the best, but also with the quickest!

More painting apps

A new crop of painting applications: Photoshop CS2, Deep Paint, Corel Painter IX and Microsoft Code Named Acrylic. Deep Paint is a gratis download nowadays, after having been discontinued by its company. Visit to get it. Acrylic is Microsoft’s Adobe killing bargain basket purchase from Hong Kong. Corel Painter IX, finally, is much, much, much better than the previous garbage. Oh, and I found a screenshot of the old Procreate Painter I got with my Wacom pad.

Photoshop CS

It’s ridiculous, of course, to add an application like Photoshop in this list. First of all, it’s not a paint app, but an image editor. Second, it’s so big that not even the 30 days of the trial version will enable you to get an idea of what it can do. And finally, it’s the standard along which all other applications are measured. That said, I still like version 5.5 a little better, and I definitely prefer the OS9 version. Somehow the way the windows version manages its palettes is very nasty. Oh, and CS2 doesn’t run under wine.

Deep Paint 2D

Vlatko Juric-Kokic was kind enough to draw my attention to the fact that this previously hideously expensive application is now a free download. It’s a funny application: not really pretty to look at, what with those non-standard tabs, and the brush dialog is quite complicated. But the effects are very convincing. It uses opengl for lighting and perhaps for more; just like Artrage. Fun to use, but, well, who’d want to spend a lot of time learning a binary-only end-of-lifer…

Microsoft codenamed Acrylic

A combination of a vector and pixel app, this one should sing to the heart of J.R. Tyrer, but it doesn’t appeal to me. The pixel features are, as Microsoft honorably warns us, unfinished and may perform a little badly. They do… Given that this app was bought in Hong Kong, it’s no surprise that
the default brush does a credible simulation of a Chinese ink brush. That’s the best I can say — for the rest it’s ugly, uses non-standard widgets, performs badly and feels cheap and nasty.

Corel Painter IX

Compared to the previous version, Painter IX is quite good. It performs well, it has a good selection of tools, including a mixing palette, it doesn’t crash as often, and performs a little better. The natural media simulation still feels like painting with color instead of paint, though.

Procreate Painter

I got this with my Wacom pad: it’s a fun app and quite well designed. Much more stable than Corel Painter that is the big brother of this application (or so I have heard).


Warning: this is a very, very vertical blog entry… It’s about toolboxes.

I’m busy redesigning the way Krita uses its toolbox. As you can see, we have a lot of buttons, and they are badly organized.

Currently, we’ve got an ordinary toolbar with all our tools, more or less like Paintshop Pro, with fold out buttons to select more specialized buttons.

This is similar to Photoshop, which looks a little more disorganized, perhaps because of the two columns.

Another style, one that is more often used with paint applications, is that of Procreate Painter. Here, we find a small set of tools. There’s one central tool, a single paintbrush that is used for all the freehand paint effects.

This the style that Corel Painter IX uses:

Deep paint 2D is practically the same as Corel Painter IX, except that the order of the buttons is different:

Finally, Microsoft Code Named Acrylic follows this lead but manages  to have small, almost unrecognizable icons:

More paint apps

More paint apps

In my last about this subject I said I’d discovered a few more paint apps for Windows. These were:

Add to that: e-Paint and the experimental and academic Chinese Painting on Phantom by Jeng-Sheng Yeh, Pei-Ken Chang and Ting-Yu Lien. Furthermore, there’s Gsumi, which does a nice liquid ink stroke, and Wet, which run on Linux.


Of course, by the time I was ready to investigate this crop of Windows apps, I was too late. Wizardbrush had already expired, but that application wasn’t very interesting anyway, with an unbelievably garish interface and few really impressive tools. Wizard Brush is cheap at $30,-.


You know, I think I’m missing something here. Why does this app exist? At first blush e-paint is about as capable as Microsoft Paint, with perhaps the added option of making paint strokes half transparent. Strokes aren’t anti-aliased, or not very well, colour options are thoroughly hidden and there are no fun art features.

E-paint is $29.99 and apparently you get a free book thrown in as well…

Nature Painter

Nature Painter is a bit posh, a bit pretentious. It presumes to present the user with a sort of training wheels for real art materials. What it is is a nice hand-holding 2d paint app with a gradient brush… Not as much fun to use as Art Rage, TwistedBrush or Smoothdraw, but worth trying out.

Art Rage

Art Rage is quite a lot of fun. For starters, it’s free (as in lunch, not as in speech, which is a pity), and it uses OpenGL to good effect to show a quite convincing paint effect. It’s easy to use, has an interface reminiscent of Alias Sketchbook. You have brushes, pencils, chalks, felt pens and a knife. Cool stuff. I wish I could peek at their source code. Oh, and they have implemented bidirectional paint transfer — hence the glass of water to clean your brush. This also mixes your paint, but the results are quite wrong. I think they are just mixing RG and B.

Chinese Brush

This is clearly an experimental application merely meant to show off the results of some very interesting academic research. That means that you cannot do much useful with it, or even that it produces great results — unless you have the phantom input thingy. I’m grateful to the authors for at least making their work available as software instead of a mere paper: not many researchers do that. And it’s quite probably that I didn’t install it right.

Checking out the opposition

While I’m bravely forging with Krita, I’m very well aware that mine is not the only game in town, and that it’s often a good idea to check out what other people are doing. An interesting conclusion is that natural-media type paint apps must be easy to do, since there are several cheap options that are really good. So: here’s an overview of what I’ve found floating about on the net. Most of it is Windows stuff; all of it trialware. Here’s my very cursory survey:

TwistedBrush by Pixarra

TwistedBrush is fun. I haven’t explored all the possibilities of this app yet — and I doubt I will, given the time-limited nature of the demo and the fact that I boot into Windows once in a blue moon. But the brush effects are way cool, the way you can define brushes and collect them (in the little box of marbles on the left) is actually prettyu useful. All effects work, the only thing missing is a mixing palette for colours. Definitely one to keep in mind.

Available for Windows, $49,95

Photogenics by Idruna

The main claim to fame of this app is that it can handle images with 16-bit channels, and handle them well, not in a limited way like Photoshop (which cannot paint in 16-bit). The other interesting idea is that filters don’t work on a selection, but as a brush; you paint with filters. That’s really nice, and a good idea. The tools are a bit limited, though, and the sidebar really doesn’t work all that well. But I have no doubt that this is the app of choice if you want to work with high-colour photographs or film material. I wonder if it uses OpenEXR.

Available for Windows, Amiga, Linux, Pocket PC, $699,-

Corel Painter

I regularly use the lite version of this app that came with my Wacom Graphire tablet on my mac. The lite version is fun, but a bit slow, and with a lot of lag in the painting. The full trial version for Windows is just as slow (even though the computer is about six times faster), and horribly buggy. That seems a Corel trademark, though, even in the days of yore, when I used Corel Draw on Windows 3.11, and their photo app, their apps used to crash regularly. It has a nice selection of brushes and things, but I cannot but feel that it has kind of over-grown, like an un-pruned vine. And, of course, as with all the natural media apps, Painter simply fakes the media, instead of really modelling oils and so on. Given the smooth, stable way TwistedBrush and Smoothdraw work, there’s no reason to invest in Painter.

Available for Windows, OS X, $249,-


I¬†frankly don’t understand this app at all. I think it’s immensely powerful, and can be a lot of fun to use, but I cannot handle it. It’s not that it uses some weird custom widget set designed to mimic the Amiga (so does Smoothdraw), but it can do things I wouldn’t know why I would want to do it. It’s intended, I believe for people creating cells for animation movies, and no doubt it’s perfect for that purpose. But it’s cheap enough to simply buy to experiment with, and there’s nothing wrong, in the end, with idiosyncracy.

Very interesting colour mixing palette — works almost natural.

Available for Windows, $67,-.

MS Paint

Hah! Got you there, haven’t I? Thought I would class this little thing in with the big boys. But actually, it’s what I used to save the screen captures of the other Windows apps, and it’s nice to compare to Kolourpaint, below.

Available for Windows, free

Paintshop Pro

A cheap, but capable, Photoshop-clone. Look at the nice way the wave brush morphs the paint I put down before. It’s not a paint app, rather
an image retoucher, but it can do a lot. It has nice pipe-lined brushes, a bit like the Gimp (which nicked the idea from paintshop pro), and can do everything Photoshop can do for you, as far as I can see. Maybe no CMYK, but that’s no biggie for the ordinary home user. Most colour inkjets are R*G*B* anyway. Only… The interface is so crowded, cramped and tiny that I keep clicking the wrong thing. Good tablet support.

Available for Windows, $84,-


When the previous incarnation of the company I worked for went broke, and was re-created from the ashes, a lot of superfluous hardware was sold to its employees. That’s how I got my Pismo powerbook, and with the powerbook came installed Photoshop. Since nobody at Tryllian uses Photoshop for OS 9 anymore, I guess I have a more-or-less legal title to the app. Two versions: 5.5 and 6.0. As far as I can see, the main difference is that the brush options are a sort of long toolbar in 6.0, taking up lots of screen space and cluttering my app experience. I really like 5.5; I was quite surprised how much I liked it. Especially after my father demoed a few features he was familiar with from the Windows version.

This is the app and the version on which I want to model the first version of Krita, both UI-wise and feature-wise (without of course making a complete and blatant copy; couldn’t do that anyway).

It’s interesting, by the way, that my first reaction after having drawn a line with the Photoshop brush tool was ‘Wow. That’s way better than the Gimp’. But Smoothdraw, TwistedBrush and Sketchbook do a better line.

Available for Windows, OS X, $649,-


The interface of Sketchbook — the little circle in the lower-left corner — is a remnant from the tablet pc days of Sketchbook. It’s actually very usable and leaves a lot of empty screen space for the drawing. Sketchbook draws a nice, smooth line, feels a lot like a 2B pencil in use. But the brushes are very limited — no natural media look-alike stuff, just fuzzy lines, sharp lines, wavy lines in various colours. Fun, but not as much as TwistedBrush or Smoothhdraw, and between three and four times as expensive.

Available for Windows, OS X, $179,-


I very much hesitate whether Smoothdraw or TwistedBrush is the better — sometimes I like TwistedBrush’s palette of brushes better, sometimes SmoothDraw’s row of tools. Both have a nice line, and are a lot of fun to use. Perhaps TwistedBrush captures the feel of natural media better, while Smoothdraw is easier to just start and sketch. Oh, and Smoothdraw works perfectly under Wine, too — almost a reason to plonk down $45,-, the price of a good book. And it’s in Delphi: parts of it are open-sourced.

Available for Windows, $45,-


Clarence Dang’s successor to the monumentally inept KPaint of earlier KDE releases. Actually quite a featureful application (beautiful zoom dialog) — but marred by one problem. It uses the QPainter class of Qt, which means ugly aliased lines, like Photoshop’s pen tool makes. But this app has come a long way in a few months.

Available for X11, OS X, free

the Gimp

Earlier versions of the Gimp were merely idiosyncratic: from version 2, the Gimp feels actively user-hostile. It might just be an impression enforced by lurking on the extremely unfriendly Gimp developers mailing list, but I feel that the Gimp goes out of its way to punish non-expert users. The very worst misfeature is the dialog you get when you close an image that has changed. Instead of telling you it’s changed and asking whether you want to cancel, save or discard, it asks you wether you want to cancel or discard, with discard being the default option. That has bitten me so bloody often…

The rest of the design, with all the floating palettes that take focus when you click on one (which means that frex. ctrl-s to save your image doesn’t work after you have changed a tool setting), the uglification set in with the move towards Gnome HIG-compliance, and countless other irritations make this an unpleasant app to work with.

Only… Except… It is the only free, capable image retouching app available. Krita doesn’t come even distant, let alone close. So it’s what I use to work with photos and produce screen shots, even screen shots of Krita. But I really wish the developers would quit being so arrogant and would deign to look at other paint apps, and look at what people are used to a bit.

Available for Windows, OS X, X11, free


Did you know that making a paint app is a whole lot of work? I cannot imagine how people can do that work and sell the result for a mere fifty dollars. I’m beavering away like anybody, working my fingers to the bone, neglecting all my other hobbies^Wobligations, and what have I to show for it? An app that can paint a little, zoom a little, and save a bit. And most of the work has been done for me, too. But it’s also fun to do, and an educational experience. I finally know why I should have taken a few maths lessons…

Available for X11, OS X, free


If I were in the market for a paint app for Windows — a paint app, not an image retouch app — then I would buy both Pixarra’s TwistedBrush and SmoothDraw. Both applications are easy to use, easy to learn, fun to use, so affordable they’re cheap, are in continuous development, have great effects. I wouldn’t spend money on either Sketchbook or Corel Painter. Particularly the latter is a bloated, buggy monstrosity while the former errs on the side of bareness. Dogwaffle is interesting, but not for me. Photogenics is cool, but not easy to use and certainly not affordable.

As for the image retouch apps: Paintshop Pro is no doubt capable and draws a beautiful line, but the busy interface get horribly in my way. I’ve got both Photoshop 5.5 and 6.0 for OS 9 — legally, I hasten to add — and 5.5 wins in my eyes because it’s got a cleaner, sparer interface and still plenty of power. The Gimp, by comparison, is a UI nightmare. Definitely not something to copy for Krita.

Ps.: There are, of course, others, that I haven’t investigated yet. Ambient Design produces Art Rage, which is actually free…. RightHemisphere has Deep Paint, which costs $45,-, and can also be used a Photoshop plugin. Nature Painter gives us Nature Painter Digital Canvas, which looks fun to use, and is now $39,95 — usually $49,95. Finally, Eusoftware has Wizardbrush
at $30,-. Time for a reboot…