Everyone has some experience with painting software - virtually every OS shifts with some sort of basic application. Painter IX from Corel shows you just how primitive these packages are, and hits out with some serious creative software. Don’t be misled by the funky box - this is a very hardcore package.

The box bears the inscription ‘For Artists, By Artists’, and this is key to understanding what Painter IX is all about. It’s not a toy, and looking at the RRP of over £200, this is glaringly obvious. The enclosed (and essential) manual is beautifully put together - someone has paid real attention to the impact of software.

Painter IX allows you to use the effects applied by traditional artists as well as the more contemporary digital masters. However, it won’t do the painting for you, so you have to be artistic to get this off the ground. We gave it test run in editing a few photos - not what the software is designed to do - but it will allow you to create effects you never thought possible.

There’s a huge range of options, from the humble pencil, through gauche, to watercolour. Of course, one of the beauties of watercolour is the blending of paints to create deeper effects on your canvas - which you can do in Painter. The advantage here, is that if you save your artwork, you can come back to wet paint and keep working. The manual guides you through some of the basic functions, but to really get your teeth into Painter, there are online tutorials at www.lynda.com for new users. Those who have used previous versions of Painter will take to it straight away, but find it is packed with new features and much faster than before.

There is also a large range of effects - the KPT collection has some great instant effects, like lightning, lens flare and so on, saving you valuable time. There are also some fun patterned pens, which will instantly apply some patterns. We put both these features onto an existing photo to make a very bizarre scene.

All it lacks is the artistic vision, which is needed to use Painter to its best effect. Some people might feel limited by the mouse, but Painter also supports Wacom’s tablet products that 95% of Painter users prefer to use for a more natural feel and superior performance.

Price when reviewed:

As stated above, this is a serious piece of creative software aimed at professional artists - the manual contains some great examples of work that have been produced. Some of the commercial work is familiar, such as that by Ryan Church (http://www.ryanchurch.com) who has done some of the Star Wars artwork, and well worth looking at to see just how powerful this software is. You should also consider that you need at least a 500MHz processor, 128Mb RAM, and a 1024x768 display, but it is recommended that you have power to spare if you are going to create detailed and large works - this applies both to Mac and PC versions. Even if processors of that speed are six years old, more memory is always better for artistic applications like Painter. Overall, what you can do given some time is simply mind blowing. Even as a complete newcomer to creating digital art, it is easy to see just how engaging it can be - but Painter is very powerful and recommended to committed digital artists.