Inspire v1.0 - User Guide


Welcome to Inspire, a complete system for the creation of computer-assisted art. The software takes a reference image provided by the user and provides the tools to transform the input into a work of art. Although Inspire is able to create impressive results with no user interaction, it's power is only truly revealed when the artist begins interacting with the software. Here are a few highlights:


Let's look in more detail at some of the powerful features that truly make Inspire unique and allow the creation of impressive, digitally-assisted compositions.


Inspire can create incredibility realistic compositions, using scanned oil paint brushstroke images. Furthermore, by studying the way artists create traditional artwork, Inspire gives the digital artist all the tools needed to produce truly inspirational works or art.


Inspire is fast. Very fast. Changes to your composition can be made in a fraction of a second. This is important to ensure that your creativity is not impeded by waiting for changes to be processed.

High Resolution

Inspire contains extremely high resolution brush stroke images each of approximately 8 MPixels. This enables the application to produce extremely high resolution images from relatively low resolution reference images.
As an example, the above pictures demonstrate a close-up of a low-resolution Reference Image (100x100 pixels), and a close-up of a painting created from it.

Layer Based

We have taken inspiration from the way that artists often create their compositions and provided a layering system that gives flexibility and the ability to build up your artistic creation in an intuitive way. Masks are used to select areas of the reference material that are to be used in each layer. In this way different levels of detail can be applied across different areas of the composition as well as different styles, and colour effects.
Reference image
Initial composition
Underpainting Layer
Background Layer
Foreground Layer

Warp Enabled

Tools are provided for geometrically deforming localised regions within your composition allowing parts of your work to be moved, resized and rotated. Unlike other applications, the warping of your image is non-destructive and can be modified or removed at any time.

Getting Started

On starting Inspire you will be presented with a blank canvas and the Quick Menu which contains the most common tools used for creating stunning pieces of art. Here you will also find access to the Main Menu which provides a full set of tools and features.


Interface when Inspire is first started

The image above shows the application interface when you first start Inspire. You will be presented with the Quick Menu and an empty Composition Area. When a project has been loaded, additional GUI components will be available. Below is an example of the interface after loading and editing a project.

Example interface after loading project


Inspire provides two menu systems. The Quick Menu (positioned at the top left of the inferface) gives access the the most common controls. The Main Menu (positioned at the right of the interface) gives a comprehensive set of controls, including the ability to create new layers, change canvas settings and modify global workspace parameters.

Thumbnail Window

The thumbnail window (positioned by default in the bottom left of the interface) displays a scaled down version of the currently loaded reference image. The window can be moved by clicking and dragging with the left mouse button, anywhere within the window. Ctrl+left mouse click cycles the zoom of the current composition around a number of presets.


Many controls within Inspire make use of customised sliders. Values are changed by holding down the left mouse button anywhere within the control and moving left and right. For fine-grained control, click on the control and then while continuing to hold, move the cursor vertically away from the control. Horizontal movement will then modify the slider value in smaller increments. The further the cursor is vertically away from the slider, the smaller will be the modifications to the control's value.

Mouse Control

The mouse is used for many purposes in Inspire. Within this document the left mouse button will be abbreviated to LMB.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Many features of Inspire can be accessed via keyboard shortcuts. A list of these can be displayed by pressing ctrl+k within the application.

Keyboard shortcuts
Shortcut Action
ctrl+(0-9) Display and edit layer (0-9)
spacebar Toggle between display of composition and reference image
ctrl+a Toggle between display of composition and layer mask
ctrl+b Toggle display of Simple Menu
ctrl+e Toggle display of thumbnail image
ctrl+f Toggle fullscreen mode
ctrl+k Display keyboard shortcut table
ctrl+l Toggle composition lighting
ctrl+m Toggle Main Menu
ctrl+n Create new project
ctrl+p Save composition
ctrl+q Quit application
ctrl+r Reset composition pan and zoom
ctrl+s Save project
ctrl+shift+s Save Project As
ctrl+t Toggle Sticky Shift
a/s/d/w Accurately pan around composition
W/S Accurately zoom into/out of composition
+/= Zoom into composition
-/_ Zoom out of composition


Tooltips will be displayed when you hover the mouse cursor over text labels and pull-down boxes within the menus of the application.

Quick Menu Reference

The Quick Menu provides a set of commonly used tools.
On starting the application you will be presented with a minimal set of controls within the Quick Menu. The menu will be expanded once you have created a new project, or opened an existing one.
The following sections describe each of the top level buttons, and each of the associated deep buttons.

Load & Save

This menu provides options for creating, loading and saving projects. It also allows you to save your compositions for printing. An Inspire project consists of two files, a copy of the original reference image and a settings file with a .gra suffix. It is important when moving a project to a different location, that both files are moved.

New Project

Start a new project by loading a reference image. Reference images can be in JPG, PNG, PPM or BMP formats. On loading a reference image, Inspire will immediately produce a composition using three default layers (underpainting, background and foreground). See here for more details regarding the layering system within Inspire.

Open Project

Load a project previously saved to disk. Simplify select the .gra file for the project. The project will be opened and the composition created immediately.

Save project

Save the current project to disk. A project consists of 2 files so saving to a separate folder can be useful.

Save Project As

When you wish to save your project for the first time, or make a copy of your project, choose the Save Project As option. You will be prompted to select a location and name for your project. The suffix .gra will be added to the name you select.

Save Composition

Generate a bitmap version of your composition and save it to disk. You will be asked to select a size and dots per inch (DPI) for the image. Depending on the size and resolution chosen this could take many seconds to complete. Below is a table providing estimated pixel resolutions for a portrait shaped composition for each of the possible sizes at 300 DPI.

Size Resolution MPixels
A5 1740x2460 4.2
A4 2480x3508 8.7
A3 3500x4950 17.3
A2 4950x7000 34.7
A1 7020x9928 69.7
A0 9925x14040 139.3
As you can see, Inspire is capable of producing extremely large images, suitable for large printed results.

Layer Properties

Change settings for currently selected layer. Documentation for all sliders can be found in the Main Menu Reference, starting here.

Colour Properties

Change colour management options. For full details of these controls please see the Main Menu Reference here.

Input Properties

Select how to interact with your art. There are 3 modes available: Mask, Warp, Lighting. Full details of these modes can be found in the Main Menu Reference here.

Zoom Composition

Toggle through preset zoom settings. The smallest preset ensures that the composition fits completely within the composition area. Three more presets move into your work at increasing levels of zoom.

Toggle Lighting

Inspire comes with a sophisticated system for lighting your composition. For many styles, having lighting enabled can dramatically add to the realism of the piece. However, not all styles benefit from lighting and so it can be toggled on and off with this button.

Toggle Full Screen

Toggle between full screen and windowed modes.


Show this user guide in the default browser. Tooltips are also available within the application. Place the mouse over any text label or pull-down box for a description of the associated control.

Toggle Main Menu

Display or hide the Main Menu controls. The Main Menu provides a comprehensive interface to all of the features available within Inspire. See here for a full description of all of the Main Menu controls.


Exit application. If you have modified any settings then you will be asked if you want to save your project

Main Menu Reference

This is a comprehensive menu of all the features provided by Inspire. Features are collected in a number of sub-menus. Before a project is created or opened, the Main Menu contains just a Global Parameters sub-menu. Once a composition is loaded, the full menu is displayed, providing complete artistic control over your work.

Complete Main Menu

Global Parameters

The Global Parameters menu provide render settings that affect application level performance as well as global project settings.

The Global Parameters Menu

Render Settings

Inspire has been designed to work on a wide range of computers, with different performance characteristics. Render Settings controls allow you to tune the application for best performance on your machine. When panning and zooming your composition (Interactive mode) the Bilinear and Render Quality determine the overall quality of the displayed composition. When not panning and zooming (Full mode), you can select settings that produce a higher quality renders.

Individual strokes within Inspire are created using a set of control points to achieve a smooth effect. By increasing the Stroke Approximation value fewer control points are used, resulting in less accurate strokes that are faster to render. The following images provide an example of strokes rendered with different Stroke Approximation settings.
When saving your composition for printing, Inspire automatically uses the highest quality values for all Render Settings.


For convenience the application comes with a few presets suitable for machines of different performance characteristics. For low-end machines, select the Low preset. Experiment with Render Settings to find the best balance for your system.

Menu Settings

Auto-Close Main Menu

When this control is checked, selecting a menu from within the Main Menu closely any previously opened menus. Leaving the control unchecked allows multiple menus to be opened simultaneously. An except to this is the Layer Management menu that always closes any previously opened menus.

Auto-Close Quick Menu

By default Quick Menu sub-menus remain open while you work within the composition area. By checking this control, sub-menus are automatically closed when you click in the composition area.

Global Project Settings


By default the edges of a composition are left with natural stroke variation. Sometimes it is useful to crop the edges to the boundary of the reference image.Note that if edges have been cropped, this will be reflected send saving your final composition.

Layer Manager

The Layer Manager menu provides tools for the creation, deletion, movement and ordering of layers within your composition. By using multiple layers you can provide different styles and levels of detail to different parts of your work.

Ther Layer Manager Menu
When you enter the Layer Manager menu, any other opened menus will be closed and the composition area will be used solely for layer management.

Selecting and Ordering Layers

The Layer Management menu contains a list of currently available layers. Clicking the LMB on a layer selects it as the current layer. You can change the order in which layers are rendered by dragging and dropping the layers in the layer list. The first layer in the list is rendered to the canvas first.

Add a Layer

To add a new layer, enter a unique layer name and select a layer type. There are three different layer types to choose from: flow, underpaint, outline. To highlight the current boundary of the layer, use shift+LMB in the composition are. When the layer is created, its boundary coincides with the boundary of the underlying reference image. However, it is scaled by default to contain 700 pixels along its largest dimension. After creation, the scaling can be changed using the Scale slider.

Move a Layer

In order to modify the new layer to only exist within a sub-region of the reference image, drag the corners of the layer to the required location using shift+LMB. Clicking near a corner of the layer highlights the layer and a small red dot confirms which corner is to be moved. The corner can then be dragged to a new location. Using shift+LMB in the centre of the layer allows you to move the layer without resizing it. Remember that regardless of the size and shape of the moved layer, the largest dimension of that layer contains the number of pixels indicated by the Scale slider.

Delete a Layer

Select a layer you wish to delete, then click on the delete button.

Layer Editor

The Layer Editor allows you to comprehensively change the properties of the currently selected layer.

The Layer Editor Menu

Layer Selector

This pull-down box allows you to change the currently selected layer. All controls within this sub-menu will allow to this layer.


The brushstrokes for the current layer are generated using the selected algorithm.

Note that when selecting the underpaint algorithm, some controls within this sub-menu will be hidden as they are not applicable.


When this box is checked, the current layer is enabled and made visible. When unchecked the current layer is disabled.

All (Check Box)

When this box is checked, all layers that have not been disabled are displayed. When unchecked only the current layer is displayed if enabled.


When checked all strokes in the current layer will have a square format. The Max Len control will have no effect. This is useful for stippling and other effects.

Set Name

Each layer is created using a set of one or more brushstroke textures. Textures are chosen at random from the set for each brushstroke created. The pull-down box contains the available brush sets.

All (Button)

Set all layers to use the current brush set.


The Density control adjusts the density of the brushstrokes in the layer. Higher values create more brushstrokes distributed according to a range of other settings for the layer.

Max Len

Maximum length of brushstrokes in the current layer.


Transparency of all strokes within the current layer. This control can be used to produce blending of brushstrokes.


Base width of all strokes in layer.

Paint application

The next four controls determine the thickness of paint to be applied in the current layer. When painting with natural media the mount of paint loaded onto the brush and the pressure with which the paint is applied to the surface can dramatically affect the resulting brushstroke. For example, if only a small amount of paint and minimal pressure is used then the painted stroke is likely to "scuff" over the canvas surface leaving gaps in the stroke where the canvas shows through. If however, lots of paint is used then the canvas will be completely covered and a thick brushstroke will result.

Dry Range

The Dry Range control determines how often strokes are produced with a minimal amount of paint.

Dry Height

For all strokes that are rendered as dry, this control specifies how much of the canvas should show through, i.e. HOW little paint to load onto the brush.

Thick Range

The Thick Range control specifies how often strokes are produced with a maximum amount of paint.

Thick Height

Selecting large values for this control results in large amounts of paint being applied for thick brushstrokes.

Brushstroke Width Balance

Within a layer the width of individual strokes is determined based upon their closeness to areas of detail in the underlying reference image. Strokes that are in more detailed areas, or near to strong edges, are given a smaller width, while strokes in flat areas are given a larger width. This emulates the way that compositions are often created by artists. The next two sliders give you control over this aspect of your composition.

Width Mult

With larger values of this slider, strokes in flatter areas will have their relative width increased.

Width Knee

The Width Knee slider controls when Inspire decides a brushstroke is in an area of high detail. Setting this slider to 100 results in no areas being seen as detailed and so no thin brushstrokes will be produced.


When creating brushstrokes, Inspire ensures that each stroke only covers areas within the Reference image that are of similar colours. The Tolerance slider specifies how similar colours have to be to be part of a brushstroke. Larger values for this slider makes Inspire more tolerant to variations in colour.

Point Distro

Larger values of this slider ensure more brushstrokes are placed near edges and areas of high detail within the composition. Brushstrokes will still be placed in flatter areas of the image, but at a lower frequency.


Increasing the Threshold slider ensures that only brushstrokes near to edges and areas of high detail within the reference image are created. Using this tool you will be able to ignore flatter areas within the layer. This can be useful when you wish to add detail to only high-detail parts of your composition.


By default, brushstrokes are created that follow the colour contours of the Layer image. You may not wish for this to be the case but would rather create a layer of straight brushstrokes. Furthermore, the colour contours may change direction very rapidly in certain parts of the Layer image, and this can occasionally cause artefacts. The Curvature control provides three different settings for modifying the allowed curvature of strokes.


Before brushstrokes for a layer are computed, the Layer image can be simplified. Often an artist would like to ignore some detail when creating a composition in order to focus the attention of the viewer on specific areas. Inspire provides three different algorithms for simplifying the Layer image.


Brushstrokes are optionally applied on top of a canvas surface. A number of brushstroke styles are able to interact with the canvas, emulating the different ways that paint interacts with a real canvas. For example, brushstrokes that do not contain a lot of paint may well "scuff" across the canvas, not depositing paint across the full width and length of the stroke. Inspire emulates this effect to provide high levels of realism.
Inspire also provides a Finishing Layer that lies above all other layers. Its aim is to add an additional texturing to the image, emulating the textural complexities of real paintings.

The Surface Menu
Both Canvas and Finishing layers have the following controls in common:


Inspire comes with a number of Canvas and Finishing textures. Select the one you want from the pull-down box.


The Scale slider allows you to change the size of the selected texture relative to your composition. Care should be taken when choosing a scale to consider the intended print resolution.


If you only wish to have a subtle effect, then choose a low strength value. These sliders change the height of the associated surface.

Unlike the Finishing surface, the Canvas surface is opaque and so Inspire allows you to change its colour using the red, green and blue hue controls.


The Lighting tools emulate the lighting of your composition by a directional light as well as allowing you to modify the material properties of the media used to create your artwork.

The Lighting Menu


You can use this slider to decide the direction of the virtual light source hitting your composition.


The Height slider determines the angular direction of light away from your composition. A value of 90 indicates that the light source is perpendicular to the composition.


You can make reduce or increase the brightness of the light source with this slider.

Material Properties

The following two controls modify the way the light source interacts with the brushstrokes in you composition.


Strength of specular light.


The shininess of the material


This sub-menu allows you to interactively colour your composition. Because your final artwork may contain many layers, controls are provided to make global and layer based modifications. Furthermore, the Oils brushset contains strokes that can contain multiple colours, and so it is possible to modify the primary and secondary colours of these strokes.

The Colour Menu

Global or Local Colour

When Global is selected, the colour tools modify all layers. When Layer is selected, the controls apply to the currently selected layer only.


Modify the overall brightness either globally or for the current layer. This control should be used in conjunction with the Lighting sub-menu to achieve the results you want.




The Stretch slider provides the ability to brighten dark areas and reduce bright areas. Due to the nature of the human visual system, often the dynamic range of a composition can be quite different from that captured in a photograph of the same scene. This control can help to emulate this effect.


Add or reduce the colour intensity of your composition.

Red, Green, Blue

Modify the colour balance of your work. For example, in combination with the Saturation slider, you can add a sepia effect to your work.

Colour Jit

Add a random colour variation to brushstrokes. With this and the Value Jit control, you can add a natural level of variation to the overall colour and brightness of your work.

Value Jit

Add a random brightness variation to brushstrokes.


When checked, the primary colour of multicolour strokes is selected for modification, otherwise the secondary colour is selected. Note that only the Oils brushset has a secondary colour and so attempting to modify the secondary colour on other brushsets will have no effect.

Input Type

You may select from a variety of different tools to interactively modify your composition. All tools make use of the shift+LMB combination.

Sticky Shift

Since each of the tools within this menu make use of shift+LMB the Sticky Shift box when checked, emulates holding down the shift key allowing for more convenient editing of the composition with just the LMB.


Masking is a fundamental method for modifying the contents of a layer. By default every layer has an empty mask, meaning that no areas are masked out. By using shift+LMB over the current layer, you can remove or add parts of the mask. Only brushstrokes that have their origin outside the mask are then created. To understand more fully what happens when you modify the layer mask, the next section discusses segmentation.
Masking Controls in the Main Menu


Behind the scenes, each layer has been segmented into many small regions. Each region contains pixels with similar colours. The size of the regions is determined by the Segmentation Level control. Larger values result in the layer being segmented into larger regions. The value of this control can be changed at any time to allow for coarse and more fine-grained results. When you add or remove parts of a mask using shift+LMB, the changes are applied to all of the pixels in the mask that correspond to the region you are currently within.


You can choose whether to add to the mask (meaning more brushstrokes will be hidden) or remove from the mask.

Set and Clear

Pressing the Set button ensures that all brushstrokes are masked out, while the Clear button masks out no brushstrokes.


Often it is useful to modify the size, rotation or position of parts of your art work. The warping tools allow you to geometrically distort localised parts of your composition. You can non-destructively apply a number of warps, of different types. Use the shift+LMB combination

Warping Controls in the Main Menu

Warp type

There are 3 different warp types available: Translate, Rotate and Scale. All three use the same interface. Note that the boundary circle remains unchanged as you move the cursor within it. Also note that the effect of the warp is limited to be within the boundary circle.


Undo the last warp.


The effect of the current collection of warps can be enabled and disabled with this check box. Please note that masking operations should be carried out with warping disabled.


The Lighting input method is a convenience tool for helping you to quickly light your composition. It enables you determine the light strength and the light direction. When this input type has been selected, clicking with shift+LMB in the composition area determines an angle and a distance to the middle of the area. The angle corresponds to the light direction, while the distance is proportional to the light strength. In this way it is possible to accurately specify the light direction and strength by moving the cursor around the screen.
Lighting Controls in the Main Menu

Contact Details

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