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Paint Programs for Pocket PC: carrying an infinite sketch book or Photoshop in your pocket
by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief

These are definitely cool times for artists and those into graphics— Pocket PCs have become powerful and handheld software developers so sophisticated that you really can have a pocket version of Photoshop or Painter on your Pocket PC. And PDAs are the perfect medium since stylus input is a given. If only we could have 256 or more levels of pressure sensitivity! I confess that I'm a weekend oil and pastel painter, and a Photoshop jockey during the work week, and have waited years for programs like the ones I'll review here. Every one of them is a good choice. Note that the sample images I've made are intentionally done in a variety of styles so you can get an idea of what you can do with Pocket PC paint programs. All of these programs have time-limited demos, so you can give them a test run.

Pocket Artist 2.0 by Conduits, ($49.95)

Conduits is an old pro in the Pocket PC software market. Their Peacemaker is bundled with many PDAs as are demo versions of their other excellent programs. I remember trying Pocket Artist when it first came out a few years ago. It was nice, there wasn't anything else like it out there, but I wasn't sure it was worth $49.95. With version 2.0, I feel it's worth it: this is a professional quality powerful image editing and paint program. This is one of my favorites!


While Pocket Artist's screen layout is the most barren, there are a wealth of tools to be found by clicking on the icons at screen's bottom. You'll see paintbrush, airbrush, clone stamp, pattern stamp, gradient and a paint bucket when you press on the paintbrush icon. These are the standard brush pre-sets, in addition you can select others which are installed with Pocket Artist. If that isn't enough, you can load Photoshop brushes too! Yeehah!

Other favorite tools standardized by Photoshop include eraser, dodge/burn, blur and sharpen, eyedropper and smudge. You'll get a large variety of selection tools, including rectangle, ellipse, column, polygon (wow), lasso and magic wand. The Photoshop standard layer effects such as Dissolve, Multiply, Soft Light, Hard Light and etc. are all there as well. Yes, you get layers!

The color picker, represented by the usual superimposed squares, will expand into a second level menu at the bottom of the screen when you click on it. You'll see a spectrum picker, color cube picker and RBG values. Once you've selected your color, you can click on the icon again to hide the secondary menu, freeing up more of your image viewing area.

File Formats and Undo

You'll have one level of undo (as with all Pocket PC paint programs, save every time you're happy with your most recent efforts because you won't get many levels of undo). Pocket Artist shines when it comes to file formats: you can open and save files in PSD, JPG, GIF and BMP format. How cool is it to be able to work with Photoshop PSD files! File sizes are reasonable. If you create a new image at 240 x 240 pixels, paint away, then save it as a PSD file, the size file will be around 150k.

Image Editing and Painting

Pocket Artist is a very good paint program. I was hankering for more brushes to make it a truly strong paint program. The folks at Conduits were ingenious: you can use Photoshop brushes (.ABR format)! Just drag your favorite Photoshop brushes to your Pocket Artist Brushes directory in your Pocket PC and now you've got a killer custom selection. Brush strokes are thick and juicy. . . I don't know how else to describe it— some paint programs have a nearly CAD feel to them, with all strokes being thin and precise, while others have a fatter feel. You can also load textures (any .jpg or .gif file) and gradients .GRD files.

As a Photoshop substitute, you'll likely be pleased with support for .psd file format, Photoshop brushes and textures, layers, layer effects, and a decent selection of image filters such as Motion Blur, Emboss, Finder Edges, Sharpen and Convolve.


An all-around capable program that works well for painting as well as image editing. If you're a Photoshop person, you'll love the built-in support for Photoshop brushes, .PSD files and layers. This is one of my personal favorites thanks to the un-cluttered interface, Photoshop support, number of brushes you can add and a good selection of filters.




Empty Chair: Pocket Artist

"Empty Chair" Painted with Pocket Artist 2.03

Pocket Artist screen shot


iPaint by Cobalt Interactive ($19.95)

iPaint is a newcomer to the Pocket PC paint arena. It's affordable, has a decent set of drawing tools and can save files in .bmp and .jpg format. The interace is intuitive, with available tools displayed in the lower and upper tool bars (you can hide the upper tool bar to get more screen real estate for your drawing). This is definitely a paint program rather than a Photoshop/image editor application. It takes up only 250k of storage space.


Your drawing tools include a pencil, airbrush, paint bucket and smudge tool. You can specify stroke thickness in pixels and select your color from a spectrum picker (the black rectangle on the top toolbar in the picture on the right). Drawing tools have a precise feel, and line thickness can be set very thin compared to Pocket Artist. I felt a I had a lot of control when drawing. You can set opacity using a 0 - 100% slider, and snap to a grid that offers several granularity settings if you like.

Other tools include an eraser, a selection tool that allows you to drag your selection anywhere on screen or cut it, a text tool that uses any font installed on your Pocket PC, and inputs using the operating system's standard text input methods.

Predefined geometric shapes include filled and unfilled rectangles and ellipses, and straight line.

File Formats and Undo

You can open, edit, create and save files in .BMP and JPG format via the Import and Export As menu commands. iPaint's native format is .csf. Future releases will support other popular image file formats. There's one level of undo.

Palm Reader: iPaint

Screen shot of "Hotdog Stand" I'd done in iPaint


While iPaint doesn't have the wealth of brushes, filters or file format support that more pricey competitors offer, it is a pleasure to use none the less. The drawing experience, including control, and color representation are very good. If you don't need every tool under the sun, but rather need an easy to use basic paint program, then iPaint is a strong contender.



Pocket Painter by Aidem Systems Inc. ($24.95)

Aidem Systems is a Taiwanese company that makes a large selection of Pocket PC software. Pocket Painter is a real bargin: it offers a nice selection of tools, several color pickers and support for .JPG, .GIF and .BMP files. The program takes up less than 400k of space.


You get 16 drawing tools, including pen, airbrush, water pen, oil pen, carbon (graphite) pen, chalk and smudge, lighten and darken. Lighten and darken aren't exactly drawing tools but they are under the drawing tools palette pop-up. In some cases, the word "brush" might be more appopriate than pen, but you get the idea.

Not only can you specify stroke width in pixels, but you can also specify stroke shape as circle (default), square, horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. The diagonal does a good job of mimicking a loaded oil brush stroke/chalk pastel used at an angle. Pocket Painter also offers pen pressure simulation.

For geometric tools you get a rectangle, ellipse and straight line. There is no autofill for geometric shapes, you'll need to use the paint bucket if you want to fill your shapes.

There's a nice group of selection tools including rectangle, ellipse, freehand (lasso), magic wand and a move selection function. More than enough for my needs!

All the standard tools are there too: hand, eyedropper, zoom, crop and fill. You'll get several color pickers beyond the spectrum picker, including a grayscale one.

File Formats and Undo

Pocket Painter supports .BMP, JPEG and .GIF files. There's one level of undo.

Image Editing and Painting

There are more than enough paint tools to make veteran artists happy. How about the Photoshop crowd? You'll enjoy many of the same controls and effects that you've come to know and love: brightness/control adjustment, hue/saturation, gamma, image flipping and rotation, rescaling, inverting and individual color level adjustments. Filter selection is excellent: a few include various blurs, sharpens, diffuse, emboss, mosaic and color warming/cooling.


This is one excellent program for the price! The selection of paint/drawing tools is strong and realistic, file format support is good and there's an excellent selection of standard Photoshop image manipulation tools and filters. Both image editing and painting are a pleasure with this program.


Cockfight: Pocket Painter

"Cock Fight" painted using Pocket Painter

Screen shot of Pocket Painter (image is a hacked Dejas pastel)



Photogenics by Idruna ($49.99)

Photogenics is the only program in this review which is a port of a desktop program. Photogenics for Linux, Windows and Amiga has "grown small" if you will, and now runs on Pocket PC. It takes up 1.5 megs of space. There are two flavors: Photogenics LE, which is less expensive and has fewer (perhaps a less intimidating for non-hardcore graphics folks) features and the full version we reviewed here. This is a powerful application, and has a unique metaphor for working with images. It has the highest learning curve of the programs we tested, but the learning is worth it if you're into serious image/photo editing! You'll get a desktop help file plus there are 3 instructional videos you can watch on the Idruna website. I'd put Photogenics into the image editing category. While it has paint tools, its strength really lies in its ability to manipulate images.

Unique Features

Instead of being limited to applying color to a virtual canvas, Photogenics allows you to use paint tools to paint on effects called "Modes" in Photogenics, which are similar to the concept of Filters in other graphics apps. Thus you can paint on effects such as Flip X Axis or Burn, Emboss, BasRelief, various blurs and color shifts, and many more. For example, if you select the flip X axis mode, only the portion of the image you paint over with the stylus is flipped!

Photogenics has "Experiment Mode": click on the lightbulb icon on the bottom toolbar, and whatever you paint essentially becomes a new selection. This means you can paint one effect on, then simply select a different effect (or Mode) to change what you've painted to the new effect. So if you're in Experiment Mode and paint onto your photo using emboss, then select BasRelief from the Mode menu, all the embossed areas will instead be BasRelief. While in Experiment Mode, you can use the eraser tool to erase just the selection you've painted on without changing the underlying photo. This is a dream eraser. Once you're happy with your work, pressing the Fix button on the bottom toolbar will essentially flatten your image and fix your work to the image.

You can open multiple images with Photogenics, and use the Image Control palette (shown at right) to select which image is in front, primary, secondary and so on. This is handy because there's a Rub Through filter that allows you to rub through the top image to show the image below. In the screen shot to the right, you can see that I've rubbed through a white image to reveal the pumkin photo below.


You'll get a paintbrush, pencil, watercolor, chalk pastel, sponge and smudge tool for your brushes. You can specify transparency, size and pressure for each of these. The default sizes are a bit large for Pocket PC size images, so you'll probably find yourself reducing the brush size.

There are free-form line tools, arcs, straight lines, text, various geometrics (filled, unfilled and gradient), a selection tool, eyedropper, a hand tool and more.

You can scale, rotate, invert, add space, zoom, add layers, manipulate alpha channels and collapse layers. There are quite a large selection of common filters (again, called Modes), and some neat ones like fire and neon.

File Formats and Undo

Photogenics supports JPEG, GIF, BMP, and TARGA file formats. Undo works differently compared to other programs: in a way it's limitless when you're in Experiment Mode. You can undo everything you've done while in Experiment Mode if you like, or rub out only the portions you're not happy with.


While Photogenics has some nifty new metaphors to learn and works quite differently from Photoshop, it offers creative power over image editing that no other Pocket PC app does. I haven't even covered all the features in this review. If you've been a Kai's Power Tools addict, love filters and experimentation, or just love to manipulate photos to make digital art, this is a program you've got to give a test run. If you want a Paint program that lets you draw and paint with simulated natural media, then this program is overkill and not as extensible via brush selection and brush add-ons as Pocket Artist.


Hilltribe Mom

Photogenics screen shot

Like these images? You can download my free Pocket PC Themes here!

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