Killer Download: Art for the artless

Not everyone was born with a paintbrush in hand, but with the right software just about anyone can create nice-looking projects. Check out this group of unique painting tools that just might inspire you to create your masterpiece.

Killer Download

Drawing has never been my strength. I love looking at art and can certainly appreciate an artist's skill and patience with creating something pleasing to the eye. But when it comes to putting a pen or brush to paper, I simply don't have the talent. I always admired my friends who had the gift of being able to draw, but it was a gift I never received. I'm sure there are many of us who have thought it would be nice to be able to draw at one time or another.

Fortunately artists (or maybe even just people who appreciate art) got together with talented software developers to make programs that help the less-talented create some decent-looking stuff. Obviously, there's no program that will turn you into the next Picasso, but with creatively made tools and brushes, you'll find you can create some very nice work. I probably won't quit my day job, but when I'm feeling the creative urge, it's nice to know there are programs designed to make art more accessible to the rest of us.

There are a number of programs that give you the tools to draw on your computer, but in this Killer Download, I've put together a group of apps that offer unique tools and methods for creating something with a bit more than just lines and shapes.

Choose from a huge list of brushes and effects for your project. (Credit: CNET Networks)

SmoothDraw is the most straightforward drawing tool of this group, but offers some unique brushes and features to enhance your work. You can use pens, pencils, air brushes, spray cans, water colors, and many other tools to get your preferred effect. To add more to your work, you can choose from a nice list of simple filters and effects. You also can experiment with layers and change several variables of each brush to get a different look. Though this one is the most straightforward, it doesn't offer the truly unique toolsets of the programs below, but as a paint program with some extra options, it's a good choice ($45).

The strengths of this app are the unobtrusive interface design and realistic brush strokes. (Credit: CNET Networks)

ArtRage makes your whole desktop the canvas, with an interesting and well-thought-out interface designed to stay out of your way. You get to choose from tools such as paint brushes, pencils, felt pens, and crayons, and each looks much like its real-world counterpart. The best thing about this program is the attention paid to your work with regard to the interface. As you get over near an edge, interface elements will automatically disappear to stay out of your way. Also, right-clicking removes all tool bars so it's just you and the canvas. There are a number of cool-looking tools you can unlock if you register ($25), but the included brushes and pens are fun to work with too.

Mandala Painter
This app lets you experiment with several variables to create the perfect kaleidoscopic design. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Mandala Painter was designed to help you create kaleidoscopic Mandala designs, but is loaded with options and features for simple drawing as well. The kaleidoscope effects are excellent, with tools for creating extremely simple designs or incredibly complex multidivision Mandalas (think: more mirrors in the kaleidoscope). You can also play around with filters for different effects and add layers to your project to get it just the way you like it. One feature that is truly unique (in a funny way) is the ability to play new age music from within the interface. If the jazzy flute and guitars don't get you in the creative mood, I'm not sure what will. A demo version watermark will stay on your work until you register ($29).

Not everyone was lucky enough to be born with the ability to draw or paint. With one of these unique paint programs on your hard drive, maybe you can fulfill your creative urges and produce something nice to look at in the process.

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.