As a piece of software, Krita has had an interesting history. With origins in various projects reaching back to 1998, Krita eventually became a free image-manipulation tool like Photoshop, or GIMP from about 2004 to 2009. After that time, the open-source program recruited students to work on its improvement, and in 2012 the Krita Foundation was formed to raise funds to continue supporting the completely free software. In 2015, Krita launched a Kickstarter campaign to take things to the next level. After smashing its fundraising goal, Krita got a basket of goodies added to it, making it unbelievably powerful, especially considering that the company still doesn’t charge for the product.
Unlike Photoshop, Krita is more aimed at straight-up illustrations, and so it’s a compelling tool for game designers, illustrators, comic creators and other makers who draw from scratch. You can, of course bring in photos and work on them just fine in Krita, but if photo work is your primary goal, you’ll likely want to get a more specialized software package.
However, when it comes to painting, Krita is hard to beat.
You’ll find all the usual tools here including the chance to choose from over 100 different preset brush styles (including pens and pencils), as well as the chance to completely customize your own brush by working with nine different brush engines. One nice feature that illustrates Krita’s cooperative spirit, is that it offers users the ability to import brushes from other users and share brushes you create with the community.
The software works with the layers system familiar to all Photoshop users, but the latest release of the software improved layer management, making it more flexible and intuitive.
While Krita could rest on simply being a painting tool, the organization’s ethos leads to continual improvements, so with the new release of the software, animation is now supported. Just drop in your illustrations and the software will stitch them together into a smooth flow. And speaking of smooth, Krita also comes with built-in brush stabilizers to smooth out your lines if you have a shaky hand.
The software is also packed with vector tools – including speech bubbles that make it easy to add words to your comics – and a new wrap-around mode lets you create repeat patterns that morph as you alter just one image.
The standout feature of Krita’s new release might well be its improved speed. After all, the rallying cry of the 2015 Kickstarter campaign was “Let’s make it faster than Photoshop!” While it’s hard to say if that goal was achieved, it’s clear that Krita has received a serious speed boost. Previously, when working with very large canvases and large brushstrokes, users would have to put up with lag as the image rendered and re-rendered. Now, a real-time preview feature lets you see what you’re doing as you’re doing it, removing a source of frustration for serious designers.
Krita is available free for Windows, Mac and Linux, or inexpensive paid versions can be bought from the Windows Store ($9.97) or Steam ($9.99). Paying for a version lets you support Krita’s future development and entitles you to automatic updates every time one is released.