January 20, 2009

ArtRage Starter Edition 2.5

Time for a sketch software trial. I’ll try to do one of these every day or two this week, weather permitting (my air conditioning is rubbish and it’s summer at the moment.)

I am trialling these on an iMac (20 inch screen, 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM) running Mac OS X Leopard (10.5.6). While I am using a Mac, everything should have a Windows equivalent that I am assuming is similar.

My input device will be a Wacom Intuos3 6×8 inch (A5) tablet that I picked up a year or two ago but have not yet used to its full potential. It is a great piece of hardware; I picked mine up with an educational discount at the cost of some bundled software.

For those of you without a graphics tablet, I highly recommend getting one. A Wacom Bamboo is only US$79. If you do any form of drawing activities at all - which should include nearly everyone who works on games - then it is invaluable.

Today’s review is for ArtRage 2.5 - Starter Edition. First, the skinny on the software:

Name: ArtRage Starter Edition 2.5
Company: Ambient Design
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Brief Description: Natural paint media software with a minimalistic GUI
Demo Restrictions: Special: this is the demo for ArtRage Full Edition
Cost: US$25
Web Link: artrage.com

ArtRage is a digital painting program, with an emphasis on “paint”. It simulates natural media: oil paint, chalk, pencil and crayon on canvas or paper. It combines this with a very minimalist interface in order to help the artist focus on creating rather than micromanaging tools.

The demo version, ArtRage Starter Edition, is actually a full program in its own right - no time limits, no crippling of save functionality. Many of the tools and functionality of the full edition are greyed out, but you can make art with just the Starter Edition alone if you want to properly trial the software out, or happen to be really skint.

ArtRage does not have a massive number of tools and brushes, but the tools it does have look quite nice. The Starter Edition tools are oil paint, pencil, felt pen, palette knife (for smearing paint around), chalk, crayon, eraser and the colour picker. Also included is an adjustable ruler, an example of a stencil: more stencils are available in the full version. You can also adjust the type of material that you are working on. Rough surfaces give a different texture to smooth ones.

It is important to note what ArtRage doesn’t have. ArtRage’s focus is on simulating real media, real art tools on real surfaces, rather than as a typical digital editing tool. As such, ArtRage does not have some of the basic features that most digital editing tools have, such as cut and paste (although it does have undo and redo for mistake prone beginners like me). The Starter Edition does not have layers; you will need to buy the full version for layer support. So if you are used to digital tool techniques such as selecting regions, cutting, pasting and transforming these regions to make your art, you’re out of luck with ArtRage. This isn’t that kind of tool.

That being said, one extremely handy feature ArtRage does have is that ability to rotate the entire canvas, just like you might do with a piece of paper to get the best angle when drawing curves on it.

Still, I am not looking for an all-purpose digital art editing tool; I’m looking for good software for digital sketching and concept art. How does ArtRage fare for my purposes?

First brainstorming through sketches. Well, ahem, yeah. I’m not much of an artist and I couldn’t think of anything in particular to brainstorm here. So it’s a simple cartoon guy and some shapes. For this test I didn’t put much care into perfect lines and curves; I just went at it. This is generally what I do when I’m just doodling around for ideas.

The drawing process feels quite natural. I didn’t feel like I was fighting against the interface. It’s extremely easy to move and rotate the canvas around with just the tablet. Overall, ArtRage feels very nice to sketch things with.

The pencil tool itself is generally okay. I may not have chosen the right settings, but it does not look quite like it would if I were to sketch with a real wooden pencil on an A4 sheet. But it is serviceable and it does have an “arty” look that I like. It is plausible that with more ArtRage practice I will hit the right settings for the look I want. I can also try the felt pen and paint tools instead if I want a crisper line.

Of note is the difference between the circles in the bottom right corner. The “fast” circle was drawn quickly from my wrist. You can see that the resulting circle is somewhat bumpy, which I assume is from the sampling rate from my Wacom. You can see the same bumpiness in the sphere on the left which was drawn the same way. The “smooth” circle was drawn slower using my shoulder and elbow and is smoother. This may be an issue if you draw curves really fast.

For a concept art sketch and given that my creativity in brainstorming seems shot today, I raided my archives of game project ideas for some character ideas to recreate. Above is one of them, roughly sketched out in blue pencil then with lines filled in with black oil paint. Note to self: must practice perspective, hands and feet.

Again, this was not that difficult to do. I never felt like I was fighting against the interface. Probably the only issue was switching between blue pencil and black paint - I’d have to choose the colours manually. The full version does have a colour palette option, so that might work better. Also in the full version I could do both the rough sketch and the paint on different layers rather than the same one as done here.

Overall, I think ArtRage handles my needs as a sketching program quite well. Certainly better than the other tools I’ve been currently using.

For additional features, what ArtRage does well is paint. You can smear paint around your canvas, and it interacts the way you would expect paint to interact. This leads to some interesting effects if you are a skilled painter, and results like a kindergarten finger-painting class if, like me, you are not. I would like to experiment more with the use of colour and the paint effects look like they could have some good uses, so this is a feature that is a big plus to me.

Furthermore, the great thing about ArtRage is the full version only costs US$25. This is very cheap as far as art tools go. At this price, I don’t think I can go wrong just buying the full version and seeing what it does.

In all, ArtRage is solid enough for it to be strongly in the running as my sketching program of choice. Due to its low price, buying the Full Version is an easy decision, and even if I do not use it as my primary sketching program it will not be money wasted.

Next test: Sketchbook Pro.

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