Developed By: Ambient Design Ltd
ArtRage Web Site:

Whenever I'm trying out digital art software, most of what I'm looking for is a quick and easy way to create something I couldn't otherwise tackle with brushes and pencils. Strange then that one of my favourite applications is ArtRage, which does all it can to replicate traditional media in a digital form. However, it manages to offer all the benefits of digital art, while maintaining a decent representation of pens, pencils, paints, and pastels… to mention a few.

Prepare for a bit of a gush session throughout this post, as ArtRage is my go-to program for dedicated artistic software. Of course, I use Adobe packages like Photoshop and Illustrator more in my day to day life for work and art, but ArtRage's focus is niche and can really speed up spontaneous creativity.

In a direct comparison to Photoshop, ArtRage will lose on features and options, but it holds its own when it comes to what it does best: painting and drawing.

The interface can be a bit off-putting at first as it has a lot of large floating panels, but once you figure out what you want available at all times, it's easy enough to collapse the panels you don't need. Thankfully, there's a simpler Workbench Mode that collapses all panels to a simple toolbar at the top of the screen.

Despite having the option, I found that having the panels displayed most of the time was preferable as it's easier to change tools, palettes, and settings on the fly. Plus, for a Photoshop person like me, I like to have easy access to the layers panel at all times.

You don't have to work with layers, but ArtRage functions much in the same way as Photoshop when you do. There are similar blend modes (with a few decent extras) and similar options like grouping, merging, opacity, and hiding.

Most art programs I've tried have these options, so there's no real difference there, but every setting translates well to Photoshop if you decide to transfer it over.

One of the more niche options in ArtRage, which is also present in other art-focused programs, is a canvas setting. This allows you to set up the stage with a particular canvas so that you can emulate regular paper, rough paper, linen, stretched canvas, and whatever else you can create with the sliders available. It basically creates a textured layer that blends with those above it, so that when you apply colour to the stage, it adopts the natural peaks and valleys you might expect.

Sometimes it can be a bit annoying to deal with a canvas layer when you're trying to use a simple plain white stage, so I found it necessary at times to export the file to Photoshop and delete the canvas layer manually. There might be an easier way, but I haven't really looked as it's a minor gripe at worst.

ArtRage really comes into its own when you start using its tools which cover the core set of mediums that most artists would use. There are some extras like the Glitter Tube and the Sticker Spray, that I have never used in a meaningful way. In fact there are only a handful of tools that I use regularly: Oil Brush, Palette Knife, Ink Pen, and Pastel (not to mention the Eraser of course).

Each have all the adjustments you might expect, with the added benefit of specific parameters like the Smoothing slider on the Ink Pen. This is a lot of fun to adjust and use when inking a drawing that needs a steady hand; like a comic or cartoon. I'm not all that steady when using a tablet to draw, so this can be a lifesaver for those more intricate details.

For example, the heading graphic of this post made liberal use of the smoothing parameter.

Another example of a great tool is the Pastel tool, which I exclusively used to draw the Musician Series you can find in my portfolio. It works well with stylus pressure as a light touch produces a faint grainy feel, while adding pressure takes it to a rich and thick application.

There's a lot of fun to be had with the paint tools as well. Each brush has specific settings that simulate how much paint is on the brush when you press it to the stage, or how diluted the paint it. This sort of control is what really sets ArtRage apart from others that use the Opacity/Flow setting to simulate real world painting.

What's more, the paints on each layer will mix and interact with each other to create bleeds and gradients that would naturally occur. To help with this effect, ArtRage does some basic bump mapping to create ripples and brush strokes in the paint. It really makes you feel like you're using realistic paint, while taking advantage of the speed and efficiency of a digital work flow.

With some creative use of layers and blending modes, you can combine these textural effects with impossibly digital ones to make some interesting outcomes.

ArtRage is definitely a small niche program that focuses on performing a single task: replicating traditional media. Not to mention that it's a relatively cheap bit of software (I paid fifty bucks in a sale) that has the potential to provide loads of creative possibilities.

Even with its somewhat clunky UI and useless tools, there's enough here to make it one my most used art programs. There's definitely something to be said for trimming off the fat, as ArtRage delivers on making it easy to get thoughts onto the stage fluidly.

The biggest compliment that I can give ArtRage is that it never gets in your way. The best user experiences are always the ones we barely have to think about, which makes this a wonderful bit of kit for anyone working digitally. I can't recommend it enough if you're looking for something fun and creative to use… check it out.