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…