100 new brushes improve Fractal Painter's effects

When Fractal Design Corp. and
MetaTools Inc. merged to form MetaCreations Corp., they upgraded Fractal Design Painter to
Version 5.0.1. It has the largest collection of mind-blowing image brushes I've seen in a
single program.

Painter installs easily and takes up about 37M on a hard drive. It will run on Apple
Mac OS, Microsoft Windows 95 and Windows NT, but unfortunately it no longer supports
Windows 3.x. If you don't have a Pentium system, you could try a 486DX CPU, but I doubt
you'd live long enough to accomplish anything. My recommendation is for at least 32M RAM,
regardless of the operating system.

Painter's 360-page user guide, logically organized and well-illustrated, is one of the
best manuals I've seen. I referred often to Appendix A, which showed all the brushes
supplied. The online help files were useful, and all icons in the palettes and tool bars
had tool tips.

MetaCreations provides technical support by telephone, fax and Internet. I called the
telephone support number around 11 a.m. on a Thursday and, instead of being placed on hold
in a queue, was instructed to leave a message and wait for a return call. I got answers
the next morning at 8 a.m.

On the Internet, there's a form to fill out and send to tech support. I posed the same
questions this way and got answers in about three hours.

I have mixed feelings about that kind of phone support. I like to talk to a person
rather than push buttons and leave a message. I hate waiting for return calls that might
never come. But sitting in a queue and watching the toll minutes tick by is no fun,

Leaving a message immediately is more efficient than waiting on hold for 20 or 30
minutes, then hanging up in disgust. Leaving a message via MetaCreations' World Wide Web
site was satisfactory.

Painter has established itself as the best image creation program for projecting
natural media effects.

It earned that reputation with its standard brushes such as chalk, crayon, pencil,
charcoal and watercolor. The latest version introduces more than 100 new brushes, some of
which are simply incredible.

The new F/X brushes include Fire, Glow, Bubbles, Confusion and Graphic Print. My
favorite in this group was the Bubbles brush, which wrapped the image area on a sphere and
repeatedly drew it on the canvas, varying the image as my pen moved.

Also new in Painter is the concept of tear-off tools. You can grab any brush from the
Brushes palettes and dynamic plug-in floaters from the Floater list to make custom

The Transparent Floater lets you create a transparent layer and paint on it. Painter
also improves the way it handles selections and masks. Users of Adobe Systems Inc.
Photoshop will feel more at home switching between Photoshop and Painter.

The Effects menu introduces Camera Motion Blur, Super Soften, Custom Tile and Pop Art
Fill, among other effects.

Though not new to Painter, the Image Hose is one feature that I really like. The Image
Hose paints not with colors but with images stored in nozzle files. When you load a nozzle
and make a brush stroke, the images flow from the nozzle onto the canvas, one after

If you have a graphics tablet, you can vary image size or color with your pen pressure.
Or vary the angle of an image by changing the direction of the stroke.

Painter's new interface is easy to work and shows signs of greater Windows
standardization, but I do have a couple of complaints.

At the most basic level, I'd like to see a Recently Used Files list at the bottom of
the File menu heading. More often than not, I find myself working with the last file used.
It's always easier to open as a selection under the File menu rather than selecting
File/Open, then answering the dialog box.

A status bar would be another nice addition. A well-designed status bar goes a long way
to shorten the learning curve of any new program.

Finally, Painter should assign functions to the right mouse button. I suspect its
developers omitted this item for Mac compatibility.

These are minor quibbles compared with everything that's good about the program. Even a
no-talent artist like me can put together backgrounds, textures and scratch drawings that
would be impossible in any other program. And they actually look good.

William M. Frazier, a PC hobbyist, is the postmaster of Ocean Shores, Wash.

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