Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 141 / JUNE 1992 / PAGE S2

How to choose and use a paint program. (Compute's Getting Started with Desktop Graphics) (Buyers Guide)
by Steven Anzovin

Paint programs give you the ability to create any image on the computer screen, from fine art to the most casual doodles. You don't have to be a Picasso to produce useful graphics and to have fun with these programs. In fact, paint programs are probably the easiest and most enjoyable to use of serious applications. Here's a quick guide to picking the right paint program and putting it to use.

Paint Basics

All computer pictures are composed of fields of pixels or picture elements (the smallest possible dots the computer can display). Paint programs do nothing more than allow you to change the color of each pixel to create a picture, as if you were a modern Seurat taking an electronic brush and applying a daub of color to each point on the screen.

The number of colors you can paint with and the number of pixels on your screen are determined by the graphics adaptor. Most paint programs today assume you're using at least 16-color VGA, and many work in Super VGA and even 24-bit true-color modes (true color requires a graphics card and monitor capable of displaying up to 16.7 million colors on screen at the same time). The newest and most powerful programs also require Windows 3.0 or Windows 3.1.

Typically, PC painters use electronic versions of traditional artist's tools-- pencils, brushes, paint rollers, erasers. So enduring is the legacy of the original personal computer paint program, Apple's MacPaint, that most paint programs today continue to use the same kinds of basic tools displayed in the same manner -- with icons placed in a row down one side of the screen. Click on the brush toool in virtually any paint program, and as you move the cursor, a brushstroke of color appears on the scree. Incidentally, a mouse or other pointing device is essential for effective painting.

Painting with


What sets one paint program apart from the next is the versatility and ease of use of the tools it offers. Before choosing a paint program, decide on the level of power and complexity you need.

Simple pictures for letters, cards, and reports can be created with a barebones program such as Windows Paintbrush, the paint program that's included free with every copy of Windows.

Paintbrush is like the Hyundai of the paint software world--it can get you to your destination, and you sure don't pay a lot for it, but you won't travel fast or in style. Its toolbox is limited to a pencil, brush, spraycan, eraser, paint roller, a few shape drawing tools, scissors for cutting and pasting parts of the picture, and a color palette. Paintbrush has power enough to give you a taste of what paint programs can do but not enough for any serious work.

A step from Windows Paintbrush is DOS-based Deluxe Paint Enhanced (Electronic Arts, 1450 Fashion Island Boulevard, San Mateo, California 94404; 415-571-7171; $149.95. It has a well-thought-out set of tools, the most useful being the custome brush tool. Using this tool, you can pick up any part of your painting, paint with it as a brush, distort it in dozens of ways, change its colors, and much more. Deluxe Paint is a good choice for artists who want a mature and easy-to-master program at a reasonable price.

Beyond Deluxe Paint Enhanced are powerful programs intended primarily for professional illustration and retouching scanned color photos in 24-bit color. One such programs is Publisher's Paintbrush 3.0 for Windows (ZSoft, 450 Franklin Road, Suite 100, Marietta, Georgia 30067; 404-428-0008; $495). Publisher's Paintbrush allows you to work with multiple files simultaneously, which is useful when you're compositing several different pictures into one. It also offers 24 predesigned special effects filters.

Other powerful paint programs include PhotoFinish (ZSoft; $199), WinRIX (RIX SoftWorks, 18552 MacArthur Boulevard, Suite 200, Irvin, California 92715; 800- 345-9059; $495), image-In- Color (Image-In, 406 East 79th Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55420: 800-345- 3540; $795), Aldus PhotoStyler (Aldus, 411 First Avenue South, Seattle, Washington 98104- 2871; 206-628-2320; $795), and Tempra GIF and Tempra Pro (Mathmatica, 402 South Kentucky Avenue, Lakeland, Florida 33801; 813-682-1128; $149 and $495 respectively).

The Future of Paint

One PC paint program that stands apart in its attempt to accurately mimic the experience of using traditional artist's tools in Fractal Design Painter (Fractal Design Corporation, 510 Lighthouse, Suite 5, Pacific Grove, California 93950; 408-655-8800; $299.95). With Painter, you can paint on variety of simulated papers and canvases, each with its own unique "tooth" and texture.

In tradition to the generic electronic tools, Painter includes surprisingly true-to-life water color brushes, Chinese brushes, and pallette knives, as well as pastels, charcoals, markers, and just about any other art tool you can think of.

Used with a pressure-sensitive, drawing tablet, Painter's tools become pressure-sensitive, too; so if you press harder on the stylus, your electronic brush will paint a wider or denser stroke.

Painter is well-suited to the computer artist who already has some training in traditional art techniques. It points the way to future programs that will include, not just visual effects, but even the sounds and smells of craating art.