ArtRage 5 Review

As any reader of the blog knows, I’ve been an ArtRage user for years.  I started off with 3.x and moved onto 4.x when it came out.  It’s not the only tool in my tool belt (I also have Manga Studio, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Paint.NET), but it’s the one that I use almost exclusively for illustration work.  I noticed a few weeks ago that it had been awhile since I’d gotten an update to my 4.5 install, and I thought that perhaps the next version was out or would be soon.  So, I went over to the ArtRage site and found my suspicions confirmed.  Version 5 was newly available.  I was all ready to plop down my money for an upgrade (once you’re a user, you get new versions for 50% off, or so it has been since I’ve been using it) when I noticed that they were offering review copies.  Oh, ho ho.  I could get something I was prepared to pay for – not that they needed to know that – for the cost of a review?  Something I would have chatted about anyway?  Yes, please.  So, I threw my hat in the ring, and a few days later, the lovely Hannah from Ambient Design got back to me with a code for a free review copy.  Yes, score!  I’ve been putting it through its paces for the past few weeks, looking for new features, bugs, whatever little tidbits I could find that struck a chord with me.  Here’s what I’ve found.

The first thing I noticed was how incredibly quickly version 5 opened.  4.5 was no slouch, but it would usually take 10-15 seconds to open on my desktop computer.  5 took 2 or 3 seconds.  I was seriously impressed.  The next thing I noticed was the toolbar at the top.  Here’s a screenshot of my latest WIP in 4.5, which is the look I’ve always known.


Now, here’s a pic of 5.


So, a couple of things right off.  Notice how the top toolbar stretches across the entire top of the screen.  It’s also a little narrower as far as height goes.  For me, the toolbar is a big improvement.  The old always felt like it was floating over the top of whatever I was working on.  The new feels like a proper toolbar that’s out of the way*.  I think this also opens up the top toolbar for future expansion, which is already what I’m seeing (a new tool was added to the lower left panel, and the tool it replaced was moved to the top).  The only downside I’ve found is due to muscle memory:  I’m used to the zoom controls being on the left, and I’ve several times clicked Undo when I meant to click zoom out.  At least there’s a redo button, so it’s easily fixed.  Still, I sort of wish you could customize what’s on that toolbar and its placement like you can with Scrivener.

As you can see from the second picture, things are a little darker.  The new version comes with a Lights Out mode, which cuts down a bit on the amount of white.  I love a good, dark theme, and this is especially appreciated for those early morning drawing sessions when the last thing you want to look at is a bunch of white light.  Not much you can do about the canvas, but at least the rest isn’t so white.

There are a bunch of new features that come along with 5, just as was the case with 4.  For me, the killer feature with 4 was paint symmetry.  Derrick has that classic soda bottle shape, the 2-liter variety.  Paint symmetry means I don’t have to redraw the one side multiple times to get it to match up with the other.  5’s killer feature is even better, which brings me to a confession:  coloring is probably my least favorite part of an illustration.  I use the fill tool whenever I can to speed through it.  But if there were gaps in the line work, and there frequently are with my illustrations, the paint would bleed out.  I’d have to undo and paint with the paintbrush tool.  It was very time consuming, and I’d frequently wind up getting a bit of paint mix along the edges, throwing off the color.  But now, 5 has a gap tolerance setting on the fill tool.  I can turn that up a bit and fill away without it escaping the intended area.  Brilliant!  That alone was worth the cost of the upgrade to me.  Or would have been.  If I hadn’t gotten it for free.  Squee!  There’s also a slow motion option for paint fills, so you can watch as it fills.  Useful if it’s going to bleed out, you can stop the process so that there’s less to undo.

I could go on and on about how great ArtRage is, but you should check it out for yourself.  Go grab a demo copy and get creative.

* I realize it’s still taking up space at the top of the screen, but it feels different.

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  1. Oops, realized there was one more thing I meant to add to this: program crashes. In the 3.x days, I experienced a few crashes with the program, which resulted in some lost time, and some file corruption. Fortunately, I keep backups, so it wasn't a big deal, but it could have been. 4.0 seemed to knock most of that out, and I remember only a couple of crashes on 4.5, none of which corrupted my files. So far, 5 has been crash-free. It has hung on me once or twice, but only on opens and saves, but then it kept on trucking. Considering the size of the files I'm working with, I think that's to be expected. I've had worse hangs in Photoshop. So, if you were a users of earlier versions and that turned you off, I think you'll be happy with the stability of these newer versions.