Review: Painter Lite offers many of Corel Painter’s features for a fraction of the cost

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At a Glance
  • Corel Corporation Painter Lite

When I reviewed Corel Painter 12 last year, I enthused about how inspiring it is to use, and how it made me want to paint even though I have no artistic background (or talent, for that matter). That said, Painter 12 currently sells for $299, and that's a discounted price. That's no small sum of money if you just want to play around with some virtual paint. Enter Corel Painter Lite, a $69 version of Painter aimed at budding artists, hobbyists, and anyone who just enjoys painting.

On the surface, Painter Lite looks just like Painter: The sophisticated interface is still there, and you can tear tool dockers out and move them around. If you're using a pen tablet, you can calibrate Painter Lite for your own personal stroke style, just like you can with the full Painter.

Painter Lite’s welcome screen showcases a collection of art created with both Painter and Painter Lite, and makes it easy to get started.

A pen tablet, by the way, is something you really should get if you're serious about digital painting: You can use Corel Painter Lite with a mouse, but it feels a bit like trying to cook dinner with nothing but a spoon. When you use a pen tablet, Painter Lite reacts to your stroke pressure and the angle in which you're holding the pen, making for a natural painting experience.

The most important part of Painter is, of course, the paint brushes. Corel bundled no fewer than 97 different brushes with Painter Lite, including markers, airbrushes, watercolor brushes, special effect brushes, and many others. Notably missing are the Real Watercolor and Real Wet Oil brushes, two extremely realistic brush types that drip, dry, and blend in ways that impressed me when reviewing the full Painter 12. Still, the wide variety of bundled brushes makes it easy to create many different looks, from finely detailed pencil sketches all the way to large, expressive impasto creations.

Painter Lite comes with 97 art brushes categorized according to type and style. (Art: Greg Newman)

One interesting decision Corel made with Painter Lite was to remove the Auto Painting feature. In the full Painter 12 you can load an image, pick a brush and settings, and set Painter loose to recreate it with brush strokes, resulting in a convincing painting. I was surprised at the decision to drop this from Painter Lite, because in my mind auto-painting is mainly for people who aren't professionals and still need a hand creating the paintings they're after–in other words, exactly the sort of users who get into digital painting for the first time with Painter Lite. Still, if you're a beginner looking for an affordable auto-painting tool, you can always check out Dynamic Auto-Painter.

Just like the full Painter, Painter Lite supports layers. These make it easy to manually trace over existing photographs, or to separate your background and your subject and experiment with different brushes and looks. You can even make two alternative versions of the same part in your painting, each on its own layer, and toggle between them to decide which one you like best. You can also adjust a layer's colors independently of the rest of the painting, and apply effects such as motion blur or depth-of-field just to that specific layer.

Just like the full Painter, Painter Lite can adjust to your individual tablet pen stroke style. (Art: Skip Allen)

Things that have Lite in the name sometimes end up feeling like shoddy substitutes for the real thing. Fortunately, this isn't the case for Painter Lite: It feels like a powerful toolkit with plenty of possibilities for artistic expression. Whoever went over the full version of Painter to decide what to drop and what to keep for Lite made careful decisions resulting in a product that offers excellent value for money, and is fun to use. Painter Lite is more than powerful enough to get you started. If you ever outgrow it, the transition to the full Painter is a natural and easy one.

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At a Glance
  • Great for budding artists and hobbyists, Painter Lite lets you get creative with numerous brushes and effects. It's powerful and affordable, so the main investment you make is your time.


    • Doesn't feel like a scaled-down version
    • Affordable
    • Dozens of brushes


    • Steep learning curve
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