I can already hear the chorus of "WHAT, YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT PAINT TOOL SAI?!?" - NO GUYS I DIDN'T!!111!!!ONE!!!! I think I saw it mentioned a couple of days ago at Deviantart and the moment I read "it loads superfast" I knew I had to try it. And I think I am a bit in love!
SAI vs. Photoshop
Assuming you mostly use Photoshop for your digital painting, SAI has three peculiarities:
- it loads instantly, because it's super light (less than 5MB when installed), so it doesn't lag
- its default brushes allow color blending (putting it more in the Opencanvas/Painter league, but I'll get there in a moment)
- it just does that: digital painting. I think it's important to stress this part because Photoshop's ambition basically is to be an all-encompassing graphic program. You can use it for digital painting, for photo editing, for web design, there's even some vector function if you click on the dreaded pen tool. It's great to have so many things in one place but, aside from making PS hella huge, sometimes all you need is a blank canvas and some drawing tool with no frills.
SAI vs. Painter and OpenCanvas
Actually, PT SAI is more of a competitor to Painter and OpenCanvas. On my computer, Painter lags even more than Photoshop, which is probably the main reason I never got to learn to use it properly, together with the fact that if you mostly use PS, adapting to tha Painter commands is a bit difficult. On the other hand, it is the #1 software when it comes to simulate natural media, allowing such a variety of tools and textures that it's almost confusing. PT SAI isn't nearly as big: its brushes and textures are more limited, and don't really go for the kind of "is it real or is it digital?" authenticity Painter pursues. In this, PT SAI compares more to OpenCanvas, which I know in the beta freeware version (and is equally light on the RAM). Both of them have that smooth, soft feeling to the brush strokes (in any medium you choose) and the ability to blend them with the other colors on the same layer. For some reason, though, I found this feature to be much more manageable in PT SAI, while in OC (again: I don't know about the recent, to-be-paid-for versions) I kept getting the colors to blend in the wrong places : In general, I found PT SAI to be more intuitive than OC and Painter in terms of keyboard shortcuts and what-is-where, coming from a Photoshop background. It's different from PS, but what you need is easy to find.
Another thing SAI has in common with Painter is the mixing palette, along with color wheels and swatches. It's also more user-friendly in that respect, too - one thing I always hated about Painter X is how it forces you to re-select your tool when you use the palette (knife, brush, color picker), while in SAI you simply keep the brush you were painting with. Very straightforward.
Oh, I was almost forgetting about the thing I possibly love the most about SAI: its vector ("linework" in the fanmade English pack) layer. It allows you to use a freehand vector tool (yeah, suck it up Photoshop pen tool!) which you can use for inking digitally without getting that "trembling" feeling you might have with a non-vector line tool, especially if your tablet isn't all that great and/or is full of scratches (which is my case in both instances). The downside of vector lines is that they have no shape dynamics, but if you have patience, you can edit them anchor by anchor... or ignore it and simply thicken them by retracing over your lines, pretty much like you would do if you had to thicken rapidograph lines in natural media. Or something. Btw it's just great if you're looking for an art nouveau, or Adam Hughes, "clean outlines, soft painterly colors" effect. My kind commenter :devkuroitenshi13: has pointed out to me that even with the other non-vector drawing tools you can get smooth lines with the stabilizer - on the top right of the menu bar, it's the drop down menu called "smoothing"... quite obviously! But I didn't notice at first. It takes a while to get used to, but it can become a precious aid.
SAI vs. SAI
So it's kinda obvious that, at least after this first day of testing, that Paint Tool SAI gets the thumbs up from me. But what are its flaws? Well, the "it just does digital painting" has its downsides - for instance, there's no "import from scanner" feature, which means that you're going to have to open Photoshop or the likes anyway in order to acquire your lines and do some proper cleanup before getting to work. If you want to draw a straight line, apparently you have to resort to vector tools (with no way to tell whether your lines are perpendicular or not), which aren't very painterly. You can't draw basic geometrical shapes or use a polygonal lasso. In a nutshell, Paint Tool SAI can't be your only graphic program, because it does only one thing: paiting freehand. It does it really well, but you can't ask anything more from it.
So these are my first impressions. Lol, perhaps tomorrow I'll find a glitch or a file'll get corrupted or something... but so far the tests have been satisfactory.
Edited to add: I fixed some inaccuracies in the above review, and now that I've gotten better acquainted with SAI I can say I still like it a lot. I also used it to edit .psd files, back and forth with Photoshop, and I didn't notice any relevant altering as long as colors go. The basic layer effects such as Screen and Multiply seem to translate well from one program to another, too, so I think it's safe to integrate SAI in your usual Photoshop working routine.
That's it as far as my overview goes, I hope to make an actual tutorial sometime in the future :)
- 31 days trial of Paint Tool SAI in English
- A list of tutorials on Deviantart (and this is not a rethorical question, but why do so many people use the "painterly" programs to do cel shading?)
- Software comparisons at Conceptart.org