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Adobe turns pixels into paint with real-feel art app Fresco

Digital paint programs are coming of age — on Tuesday, September 24, Adobe launched Fresco, a painting app that mimics real art techniques rather than the mouse-to-screen drawings that usually end up looking like they belong on a refrigerator rather than an art gallery. Initially previewed as Project Gemini during Adobe Max 2018, Adobe Fresco is designed for the iPad and the pressure-sensitive Apple Pencil.

Adobe Fresco mixes the tools and familiar interfaces of apps like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator with brushes and tools that behave like the real thing. From mixing colors together with the brush to integrating texture, Fresco uses dynamic brushes crafted to look like traditional tools, assisted by compatibility with Photoshop brushes.

“It’s powerful enough for professional illustration, but we also want it to be approachable enough for anyone,” said Brooke Hopper, lead designer for drawing & painting at Adobe, during an appearance Tuesday on Digital Trends Live.

“It’s been really neat,” she said. “We’ve given Fresco to people who have been drawing and painting forever in Photoshop and they open it up and can create some really amazing things within a matter of 10 minutes. And then you give it to a kid and they’re doing the same thing.”


Because the brushes are designed to behave like the real thing, the app allows artists to use traditional techniques in a digital space, says illustrator, digital brush designer and Adobe senior design evangelist Kyle Webster. Techniques for working with wet oil paint and dry oil paint, like alla prima and glazing, and working with watercolor, like variegated wash, are possible because the brushes were designed by studying the way the real mediums work. Digital artists can also put a little bit of paint on the brush or a lot — the latter of which will help create more texture when working with oil paint in the app.

Digital Watercolors with Yellena James and Adobe Fresco | Adobe Creative Cloud

While designed to work like the real thing, Fresco doesn’t negate the perks of using a digital interface. Brush strokes can be erased, and there’s no waiting for paint to dry before adding another layer. The app also doesn’t mind mixing mediums in the same document, Webster says. 

The app also builds in tools that are more familiar to graphic artists than to traditional artists, including vector illustration tools. Hand-drawn lines can be smoothed with the app’s tools, Photoshop’s pixel brushes can be used with the options inspired by physical paint brushes, and Photoshop’s layer-blending modes open even more possibilities.

“I know that professional artists will find a lot to love in Fresco,” Webster wrote in a blog post. “But I’m just as eager to have kids and people who have never thought of themselves as artists try it. Fresco on iPad lets you experiment with materials that most novices would never have access to. You can try out different kinds of media and different techniques and if things don’t turn out the way you expected, you can just undo and try something else. It’s the kind of flexible and forgiving environment that I hope will lead lots more people to discover the joys of painting and drawing.”

Adobe Fresco is available for iPad beginning today, September 24, for Creative Cloud subscribers. The app will also be available separately, with the first six months free.

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