How can Paint 3D's brushes set the bar for art apps for realism and beauty, yet be so simple that the first mark a beginner creates is a masterpiece?
Introduced in 1985 with the advent of the earliest GUIs, Paint, everyone's first love with digital art and design, demanded an update that didn't just do it justice but also meant it could again become everyone's introduction to a new digital frontier. This time, Paint is paving the way for a 3D future by rethinking previously complex 3D software and bringing it to everyone. It's 3D for everyone.
As part of the Paint 3D reboot, a crucial factor of this was bringing new brushes to Paint that reflected the updated tech and digital art landscape to bring back a sense of artistic freedom and fun. I was the senior designer on this and found this a rare opportunity to bring my passion and skills as an artist into my day job as a designer. Who knew at age 8, messing about with the Pixel pen on rainy Saturday mornings, that one day I'd redesign the brushes for that same program!
I began a research phase of collecting examples of digital art iPad apps that I knew, loved and also loathed from my experience of using an iPad pro and quickly saw that so many apps copied one another, eventually entirely forgetting what a real world brush looked like, creating distorted impressions.
I felt it was crucial to take everything back to basics and look at what the real deal looked like, how real world brushes performed and how that might be transferred to Paint 3D. I cracked open my art tools and began noting and exploring aesthetics, dynamics and feel in a whole range of media.
I wanted to show how oils could differ so greatly, not just between real world and digital but also between pigments, how volatile and versatile their effects could be, dry vs wet, thick vs thin, opaque vs translucent and how the grain texture of the paper might be picked up through the stroke as it dried off at the ends. I was keen to explore how even something as simple as a brush depositing real media, could transfer into a first bridge between 2D and 3D digitally. A 3D brush.
Not all digital graphite brushes are made equal. Graphite is an example of a brush that can be hugely successful digitally, just requiring a true understanding of paper grain to brush behaviour with pressure to velocity to graphite hardness, and a realisation that a graphite head shape is rarely ever perfectly circular.
Similarly, I was frustrated with the offering of digital caligraphy ink pens. So many apps got the dynamics so wrong, such as high velocity increasing flow, defying the laws of physics! So I went out and bought a caligraphy set and stylus and began exploring how a true stylus might actually behave.
For Paint's fill bucket tool I wanted to design something that not just introduced better controls and accuracy around fill tolerance, but somethign that truly blended 2D and 3D together in a fun and beautiful way, making use of real world physics to let 3D paint drip over 3D objects, truly allowing Paint to stand head and shoulders apart from any other app. Inspiration came from Adobe's iPad app Adobe Sketch where real world physics mean watercolour brushes bleed through and merge together.
I worked closely with our dev team, setting the art direction and checking for quality control, adapting for changes and creating variables to tweak and test paint brush effects. Our collaboration was so efficient we completed well within our target time and went on to create two more brushes beyond spec, felt tip marker and crayon.
The final product was a suite of 10 (12 including the extra brushes) that felt correct and allowed a complete beginner to feel like an artist whether on 2D canvas or painting a 3D object with the simplest mark. You can see the results from my example sketches below.
The brushes are now live and can be tried and tested right on your PC or Surface.