Software Spotlight: ArtRage 2

ArtRage 2

I had heard of Ambient Design’s ArtRage software before, but I never really desired to try it out. After all, why would I need another program cluttering my computer when I already owned Photoshop? Well, I recently sat down and finally gave it a try, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s fun, unique, and intuitive, and the price is very hard to beat (free!).

What is ArtRage?

ArtRage’s website describes it as an “easy to use, stylish painting package that lets you get painting from the moment you open it up.” It is different than Photoshop, which is intended to be an image editor for photographers. ArtRage is meant specifically for painting and its interface, tools, and features all work toward replicating the traditional painting experience.

How ArtRage is Better Than Photoshop

Since Photoshop wasn’t meant to be a painting program, ArtRage will be easier for artists to learn and use. The brushes blend differently and look more natural, and you can do things like tilt your canvas or “wash” your brush. ArtRage is more similar to Corel’s Painter software in this way. In fact, if you are thinking of buying Painter, I would recommend trying ArtRage first. Painter can be very intimidating with all its various brushes and tools, most of which you probably won’t use.

Why Keep Photoshop Around?

You will still need Photoshop to edit your images, convert to different formats, and basically do anything outside of the “oil painting” style. I’d imagine that ArtRage can be a great tool to use alongside of Photoshop, not a replacement.

A Tour of ArtRage Free Version

What might be confusing for Photoshop users:

  • Resizing the image
    When you open up ArtRage, it automatically creates a new document. I like to paint on something bigger, but in the free version, the option to Resize the Canvas is grayed out. To create a bigger document, simply go to File->New and enter a new size in the resulting window. Note that this will replace the document you already had open, and you won’t be able to resize your new one once you’ve created it (at least in the free version).
  • Clean and dirty brushes
    Rather than painting solid colors as in Photoshop, the brush tool simulates oil by blending into the colors around it as you paint You can further this feature by turning off the Auto Clean feature, found on the left side of the screen at the bottom of the brush settings. This makes it so that the color on your brush stays “dirty” according to what colors you paint on. When you turn the Auto Clean off, a glass of water will appear at the bottom right of your screen. Click on it to “clean” your brush and return to your original color. Cute, huh?
  • Layers and Tracing Images
    Layers are not supported in the free version of ArtRage. If you import in Photoshop image into ArtRage, you will have to flatten it first, otherwise the program will crash. You can, however, put a “tracing image” onto your ArtRage painting. This will put your image on top of your painting, as if it were on a separate layer at a lower opacity, and you can turn it on or off as you need it. This feature is a little annoying because the white space on your drawing still shows and is not “multiplied” as you would do in Photoshop, so you can’t see accurate colors when your tracing image is on.
  • Resizing the brush
    In Photoshop, I would normally use the bracket “[ ]” keys to resize my brush. But this doesn’t work in ArtRage, and at first I couldn’t find how to do this. The solution however is easy and kind of cool: click and drag your cursor over the brush preview in the bottom left of the screen, and watch as your brush quickly changes size.
  • Saving a Photoshop file
    You can’t simply “Save As” and choose to save a .psd file. Go to File->Export and choose the Photoshop format. If you’re working with the free version, this will be a flattened image.

The Difference Between the Free and Paid Versions
After trying out the free version of ArtRage, I decided to just go buy the full version. Here are a few of the features that I liked:

  • Layer support and the ability to import/export layered Photoshop files
  • Custom textures
  • Save color swatches
  • “Pin” a reference picture on your board
  • The ability to use thinners on your oil paint

You can also find a comparison on ArtRage’s website here.

Overall, I think you can get away with just the free version. You can work around the limitations, and some features such as the glitter and paint tube brushes were a bit extraneous. You can still import/export flattened Photoshop files and the included canvas textures work well. But the added features did make things easier, and at $20 I would hardly call it a waste of money if you do decide to buy the full version.

Who is this software for?

I think the people who will most like this program are traditional oil painters trying to transition into the digital medium. The tools, brushes, and palettes are all designed to work with the same flow and methods. All of the basic oil painting tools are included in the free version.

ArtRage is also great for beginning digital artists. Compared to Photoshop and Painter, it is easier to learn and MUCH more affordable.

Who this software isn’t for…

Watercolor painters won’t find much use for ArtRage, as there isn’t any watercolor effects or tools. For that, stick to PS or Painter. Texture lovers will also want to work in Photoshop. Even so, it isn’t a huge investment to simply download the free ArtRage and try it out. I am personally going to be using it for sketching and as a tool to use alongside my daily Photoshop painting.

Download ArtRage Now


If you decide to give ArtRage a try, let me know what you think. Leave a comment on