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The Most Powerful Features in Krita for Digital Painters

potion of flight by david revoy
Update (2016-18-04): This article has been writing at Krita 2.9.2. Krita is now v3.0, and get a lot of extra features that could have been showcased here, like performance optimization for very large brushes and canvas, traditional animation module, animated brushes, new blending mods dedicated to painting… Also, a lot of improvements on stability, performance, hardware compatibility and UI have been made, which is a very good thing!

I was reading an article about Krita, a free software for making digital painting, on my friend Yann Isabel‘s Graphyz’Art website, and I decided to take a closer look to this project. In less than 5 minutes, some things that it has to offer just blew my mind. I have showed what I found to my digital painter friend Victor and he became as excited as me on these tools.

Wanting to know the beast more deeply, I spend days and nights tweaking and testing all the functions of the software, while watching tutorials and reading articles about it.

I have the feeling that Krita could become one of the most respected digital painting software out there. For two main reasons : it’s free, so everyone will be able to test it and see how nice it is, and it is very powerful.

I don’t make a lot of digital painting myself (I made comic-strip colorization but it is not really the same thing as painting), but as a veteran Photoshop user since v5 (actual version is v15), I am pretty impressed by a lot of things in Krita. Sure, it could be considered more than a Corel Painter (which I don’t really know, honestly) alternative than a Photoshop one, which is more dedicated to photos, but these functionalities could be beneficial for any kind of work. That’s why recently Paris 8 Art University decided to decline their Photoshop Licenses and replaced it by Krita. And that’s why I will often talk about Photoshop as a reference in this article.

But what are these famous features ?

Here is a quick review of the best things I found in this software. I used basic shapes in illustrations for clarity, you will have to imagine this in a real detailed project.

I used the last beta (2.9 beta 2) to have a deeper look on what is coming.

Cool list! I’m the Krita maintainer, and blur-on-brush was new even to me 🙂

Boudewijn Rempt, Krita’s project maintainer

Multiple Mask Per Layer

Do you ever feel limited by the one pixel mask solution offered by Photoshop ? And by the way Photoshop let you save selections (with alpha layers, all at the same place) ? Sure you can put your layer into a group and add mask to this group but… not very optimized, is it ?

Krita allows you to have several selection masks and opacity masks per layer. At last !

Multiple Masks
Multiple masks per Layer is very useful if we want to apply filter locally.

Layer Inherit Alpha

Layers are able to be visible only on the sum of all the other layers below them (in the same group). It is just like advanced clipping mask !

inherit alpha
The Inherit Alpha function in action.

Color Wheel Format

It is very nice to have a color wheel in any graphics software, to allow faster color selection. In Photoshop, we had to wait until the last CC 2014 to have it natively.

In Krita, you do have one, and if you don’t like it, you will be able to choose other different color wheel format. Nice !

Color Wheels
Wheel, Square, Luminance based… You have the choice !

Color History

So you paint red, you paint green, then paint yellow, and you want to paint red again, but wait…. What was the red value ? Impossible to use the eyedropper, you used 20% opacity brushes… If only you had a color history…

Wait ! There is one in Krita !

Color History
Color history is a great feature.

Favorite Tools and Color Wheel with Right Click

Don’t waste your time in the menus ! Your favorite tools are accessible via a simple right click on the canvas ! This is a great way to stay focus on the drawing.

Right Click
Very convenient, especially if you are drawing in “canvas only” mode, which hide the toobars, panels and menus.

Transform Mask, Filter Mask

In Krita, transformations and filters are rendered in a non-destructive way. This means that you can add transformations and filters to your layers… and adjust them or delete them at any time, and going back to your source layer (just like smart objects in Photoshop). Perfect with clone layer (demo below).

Clone Layer

This is probably one of my favorite feature. You can create an instance of a layer, that will be updated in real time if the source layer is modified. More, you can add filters, masks and transformations to this copy. This is perfect for integrating objects in perspective, and still keep the possibility to modify it in a flat view !

Here is a nice demo by dimula73 :

Mirror mode and Multibrush Tool

I have spent hours just playing with these two features. Imagine that when you draw somewhere in the screen, your path is reproduced in real time at other places in the picture !

With symmetry activated, anyone is able to draw simple but credible faces, or object.

With the Multibrush tool, it is the power of complex geometrical pattern that become accessible to everyone !

Symetry Multibrush
Drawing faces (front view), object or roses become more easy.

Mouse Movement Smoothing

Drawing with the mouse is shaky. Drawing with a pen tablet could be shaky too,if you are not used to it. And Krita’s developer knows it: it is why you have a way to stabilize your mouse movement while drawing. Fantastic !

mouse smoothing
Very handy if your drawing is a bit shaky.

Drawing Assistants

Drawing in perspective is not easy in real life with rulers, and even more complicated with digital tools.

Until Krita’s drawing assistants came to play.

You will be able to set vanishing point, parallel points and other kind of assistants in order to set the perspective of your picture. More, your brush can be automatically snapped to this guide in order to help you draw your object in perspective. An incredible feature to explore.

Here is an complete video on this by Wolthera van Hövell tot Westerflier :

Brush Filter

All your brushes are loaded at the same time, no need to change brush sets. Fortunately, there is ways to find our brushes more easily.

To allow you to find brushes more quickly in the list, you have a filter just below the brush panel. Just type the first letter of what you are looking for and it will appear !

You can even set tag (labels) to your brush in order to have other way to filter them !

brush FIlter
A very convenient way to find your brushes !

Brush Editor

This is probably what it is the most powerful in Krita, so I will just overlook this feature that could have a whole article on it.

The brush editor is very powerful, you can adjust a lot of settings and have dynamic modifications for every parameters according to a whole set of adjustable variables, such as pressure, time, distance, speed and so on… Without a doubt, it is the most flexible brush editor I am aware of.

Nice thing : every brush can be turn into a burn/dodge brush, or into a transformation tool.

Brush Editor
A demo of what you will find in the Brush Editor.

Special Brushes

As you can see, some brushes in Krita have very unique behavior, such as the grid brush, which is based on a grid that will never change, no matter where you click in the canvas, if you keep the same brush size. It can be perfect for pixel artists !

Particle brushes and Sketch brushes are especially powerful too !

All the other brushes have some nice features too, but it would be a bit too long to list theme here.

You can see some of these on the demo above.

Lock Parameters

You can lock parameters that will not change from a brush to one another. Perfect with size and opacity, it will allow you to change brushes shape without changing their global properties !

You can lock parameters from brush to brush in the brush editor.
You can lock parameters from brush to brush in the brush editor.

Blur on Brush

The diffusion property of a brush is set via a blur on the original brush shape. This means that you can blur any brushes that you have. No more brushes stuck at 0% of diffusion !

Brush blur
It is nice to be able to manage the blur of any kind of pixel brushes.

Auto-Brush Orientation from Movement?

You can set you brush so that will be able to be auto-oriented with your mouse movement. A really nice thing for textured brushes !

Auto oriented brush
The auto oriented brushes are very nice with textures.

Mirror View and Wrap

You can preview your document in different ways. The mirror view would be nice for drawer, and the wrap (tile) view will be perfect for people who are making textures which need to be repeatable.

Real-Time Multiple View per Document

You can preview your document in multiple instance of Krita. For example, one close up on your screen 1, and the whole document and the screen 2, to keep an overall view on it. But what is even more cool with that is that this duplicated view is very well optimized. There is no “refresh time”, it is totally instant !

Multiple Views
Multiple views will allow you to see your picture at various zoom level at the same time.

Cage Tool (EDIT: 05/02/2015)

A really impressive warp tool, that preserves quality of your original picture.

Here a impressive demo on the Krita’s youtube channel.

Blending Modes (EDIT: 05/02/2012)

Blending modes are important: they define how the color are mixed together.

There is so much blending modes in Krita that I can’t take a screenshot of the list: it doesn’t fit my screen. You can imagine all the possibilities!

In practice, we just use few of them, that’s why you can set blending modes you like as favorite, to have a quicker access to these. Handy !

Color Smudge Brushes (EDIT: 05/02/2015)

There is other behaviors to mix colors together when using brush than just applying blending modes, in order to have more realistic (based on actual painting material) render.

That’s where Color Smudge Brushes, and their Smearing and Dulling capabilities came into play.

You will find great explanation of these brushes on Krita’s wiki documentation : Tutorial: Color Smudge Brushes!

Draw beyond Canvas (EDIT: 05/02/2015)

Imagine you are drawing something near the canvas border and suddenly you want a larger canvas. Usually… that’s too late. You should have think about this earlier, you should have anticipate.

Not with Krita.

Your layer are automatically extended if you draw beyond the canvas. Nothing is lost ! 😀 You can draw beyond the canvas if you want !


As you can see, Krita as a lot of good ideas in it’s core, and some of them have no equivalent on the market.

So yes, perhaps Krita is not as stable, as visually appealing and as optimized (in performance and OS compatibility) than it’s main concurrents. And sure, the leaders of the market have some incredibly powerful features, that Krita cannot reproduce at all (think of Photoshop 3D for example, or mask adjustment tool, and content aware replacement…). And yes, it is hard to switch when we are really used to a particular workflow.

But some of the tools of the future for digital painters are already in it… and free for everyone !

I can’t wait to see what will come in the next releases !

Thanks a lot to the KDE team for its awesome product, and to everyone that will make a donation or talk about it, in order to contribute to its promising development !

Good painting !

Contribute to Krita!
Update (06/05/2015):
Krita has just announced a new Kickstarter campaign: “Krita: free paint app – let’s make it faster than Photoshop!“.
The goal is to provide enough money to allow developpers work at full time new features (such as Animation), and performance optimization.

If you want to contribute to Krita’s developpement, and make it more awesome than it is already, please make donation: you will not regret it !