Virtual Painter 5



Feature: P+A America has taken over the Virtual Painter plugin
Motivation: The result has been a powerful upgrade and here is what that means

Digital photography is bursting in popularity. The graphics field which was limping along after the 2000 bust has taken off in the past two years. 3D graphics and gaming has helped to pull the field along, but it is digital images and what to do with them - presentations, calendars, albums, etc which have built up a vigorous cottage industry. Finally, photofinishing, how to take a digital image and make it look better, has exploded in interest.

And one aspect of photofinishing, how to give an image a painterly quality, has started its own culture and following. See for example popular groups on such as Image Manipulations, Corel PaintShop Pro Art, Retoques Digital, Cincur Digital Art Pool, Painterly and many more. Our Artful tutorial tracks some of the more attractive painterly plugins; so when I stumbled on the new Virtual Painter 5 I had to take a look - and I was not disappointed.

Virtual Painter

Virtual Painter 5 is both a standalone program and an Adobe plugin that allows users to add
one of 16 painterly stylings (see screenshot above) to their image. Once a paint style is chosen, users then have great control over the final finishing look of their chosen painterly styling with sliders for Scale, Rendering, Coloration, Material, Focus, and Distortion. This gives users a remarkably fine touch to achieve the exact painterly look they want.

For users familiar with earlier versions of Virtual Painter, the single most dramatic change is the improvement in the quality of each of the 16 stylings. In the previous edition, this reviewer found himself using 5 of the stylings 80% of the time (Watercolor, Oil Painting, Airbrush, Gouache, and Impasto) and virtually ignoring 4 other stylings (Rectangles, Triangles, Embroidery, SilkScreening). So the first thing I did when I loaded up Virtual Painter 5, was to try out my 4 old nemeses and see if I could safely ignore them again.

Surprise! The new High Definition paint stylings are so good, that I can no longer ignore any of the 16 paint styling - they are now all brought into play. Yes, even Embroidery and Triangles. Virtual Painter 5 has improved the quality of its final rendering in 3 ways. First, the attention to details in all the stylings has been improved greatly. For example, before one could detect a block effect when applying the material setting, so the image sometimes, looked like it had been rubber stamped with the material backing - no longer. Second, Virtual Painter 5 calls their new scaling capabilities Dynamic Scaling - and it really does make a difference on images from 500x300 pixels to 5000x3000 pixels. Big images used to get "washed out".

Third there is the new Hi- High Precision renderings that the Virtual Painter 5 artists deliver.
oldTake a look at the old Oil paint styling (which you can still get with Virtual Painter 5 - just right click on the Blue Hi icon and a popup will allow you to toggle between Hi Rendering mode and the old Virtual Painter 4 mode). This is at the Small setting for all the controllers. The oil painting effect comes in and out of the image. Along the edges is where the brush strokes are most distinctive. Also the colors are very subdues and the lighting is fairly bright - a bit more than in the original.

Now look at the same image after using the same settings but with the new Virtual Painter 5
and its Hi setting. The new rendering certainly changes the image. First, the oil painting strokes are strong and distinct throughout the image. Second the overall brightness of the image is more true - less influenced by smearing. Third the controls now work more predictably. Scale is now moving the texture and drawing lines in an expected fashion. Ditto for the Coloration and Rendering controls - less sudden shifts at the start and end of the control settings.

Finally the Focus and Deformation sliders now work more predictably with the drawn focus rings in Adjust mode. The overall result is as noted at the beginning of this review - more of the 16 stylings come into play for potential use than ever before.

How to use Virtual Painter 5

Virtual Painter 5 can be used in standalone mode and that is one of the simplest and most effective ways to learn the ins and out of the program quickly. Just run Virtual Painter 5 from your desktop. The included User Guide and online Help systems are both quite helpful and will gets users started quickly and effectively. Apply the different stylings and get used to how the controls work.

But to get the most out of Virtual Painter 5, use it with your favorite photo editor. Here are 3 things I do all the time. First, use Virtual Painter layers as the background layer in Orton effects (see our how to here). The strong colorings and lines of the new Virtual Painter 5 work well in many Ortons. Second, use the selection/masking capabilities of your photo editor so you apply Virtual Painter 5 to only a portion of the image. I have a shot through the Window in Hyde Park - and just the Window area is Virtual Painted with the strong Fauve Oil Painting look. The result has a tension between natural and surreal.

Finally, Virtual Painter 5 stylings work well with other filters. I use Photoshop's Spatter and Dry Cut Filter in a second run over portions of a Virtual Painter 5 stylized image to either soften effects or bring out the stylings. Really the sky is the limit here.

Two peeves with Virtual Painter persist. First, with directional stylings like Pastels(Saplet) and Color Pencil(Plince) where stroke direction is so very important - I have no control. In contrast Xaos Paint Alchemy allows me control on the direction of strokes and the random variations from that basic direction. Second, there are times I would love to put colored daubs or strokes on the canvas before applying Virtual Painter 5. True, I can do it right now but I have to back out of the plugin, apply the strokes, and then go back in - cumbersome.


Virtual Painter was the first plugin I used to try to achieve a painterly style to my pictures. It was quite a revelation. First, images that were basically good but slightly out of focus or had some blemishes and therefore were confined to the scrap heap - they suddenly had new life. In addition, to get very close to the Painterly look I wanted and then doing the finishing work in Corel Painter IX or Right Hemisphere DeepPaint was a huge savings in time. Finally, some of the renderings by Virtual Painter 5 are so fine they need no justification.

(C)JBSurveyer  Home  Plugin Overview  Gallery of PhotoFinished Images