ArtRage: Digital Art at a Kid-Friendly Price

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artrageartrageArt programs are a dime a dozen. Ranging from freebie apps preloaded onto computers to professional-grade design suites running several hundred dollars a copy, you have a lot to choose from. However, as ArtRage proves, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a decent program.

The first thing you should know is that ArtRage isn’t Photoshop or CorelDraw, and it doesn’t position itself as competing with traditional graphic design software. The closest professional package I’d compare it to would be Corel Painter, which runs over $400 for a new license. Priced at an allowance-friendly $30 on Amazon (or downloadable for $25 from the company website) ArtRage gives you many of the features of the big boys without the sticker shock.

Basically, the program simulates the process of creating art with traditional media like acrylics using representations of artist tools — brush, pallet knife, water, roller and so on. And it does it really well. If you cover one swatch of paint with another, the dimensionality of the lower stroke shows through the top one — more than just laying down color, ArtRage does a creditable job of simulating the physical nature of the medium. But there are all of the hurdles involved with real painting — your brush dries out. Your colors smear together. ArtRage provides those effects to, giving users both the headaches of those limitations as well as the benefits of them — for instance, dry brush techniques.

On the other hand, you have the advantages of a computer program. You can save and undo. You can separate your work into different layers, to avoid smearing another layer with fresh paint.

One minor disappointment, the program seems oriented toward on-screen artwork. When you determine the size of the canvas, it presents display-sized options like 1024×768 at 72dpi. Just to test it out, I set it to 2000×2000 at 300dpi and there was a noticeable slowdown in program performance. Clearly, ArtRage is not meant for professional uses — but at the price, how could one complain?

While ArtRage works great with a mouse, you definitely need to try it with a tablet. I used an Adesso CyberTablet 6400, sub-$50 model that really accentuates ArtRage’s natural feel.

Holding the stylus and laying down strokes of paint, it’s easy to imagine you’re painting with a brush. In ArtRage, moving the mouse/stylus pointer changes the angle of the brush, and this works extremely well with the tablet. There’s definitely a learning curve, however. Your first though is to touch the stylus to the tablet, but this is the equivalent to pressing on a mouse button. You have to hover the stylus over the tablet, touching when you want to click.

Wired: ArtRage does an amazing job of replicating the painting experience via a computer interface — for a very reasonable price. Easy to learn and great for kids.

Tired: Underpowered and not up to professional specs. But what were you expecting for $25?

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