Understanding Painter's memory settings

A common question we’re asked is to explain how to make the most of your system memory when using Painter. Well, to answer that question properly, you need a little background:

When you create a canvas in Painter, all the information about how you created it has be stored somewhere (ex. the color of each pixel, the layers, the undo operations). There are two choices on where we can store that data: on your hard disk drive (HDD) or in random access memory (RAM). It is many, many times faster to read and write information in to RAM than it is to your HDD. So, we place a priority on using as much RAM as possible in as effective a manner as possible. In order to accomplish this, Painter uses an entity called a “tile”. Each tile holds about 60,000 pixels and you will use many hundreds of tiles for a typical document. As an example, a canvas of 1600x900 requires 1,440,000 pixels, or about 25 tiles... without factoring in any costs associated with storing undo information or layers.

If you’re curious about how Painter is using tiles, you can try this little-known trick: Press SHIFT+i to display the following dialog:

The important numbers to note are the number of tiles allocated (red) and the number of free tiles (yellow).  

Painter allows you to configure how much RAM it uses to store tiles. This is where the Performance Preferences Memory Usage slider comes in to the equation. The value that you set here determines the total amount of memory available to create tiles in RAM before Painter needs to use your HDD. 

By default, Painter is configured to use up to 80% of your total system memory. I’d like to emphasize that point: the memory slider allows Painter to use a percentage of the entire amount of memory installed in your computer. If you have 4 GB of RAM, a setting of 80% allows Painter to use up to 3.2 GB. Allowing Painter to have access to this much memory can offer a great boost in performance but it does come at a cost; using that much memory in Painter means that memory is not available to other applications. So, if you’re a heavy multi-tasker and like using other applications in conjunction with Painter you’ll probably want to dial down your memory slider a little bit. I think it’s usually a good idea to leave at least 1 GB of memory available to your other applications.

There are a couple of other points that I think are worth noting: 

  1. Once Painter has allocated RAM for tiles, it reserves that RAM for future use. Even if you close the document that required those tiles, Painter doesn’t immediately return the memory to the system. This offers significant performance improvements since we don’t have to incur the cost of re-allocating more tiles the next time you modify a document.
  2. In addition to the memory used by tiles, Painter uses a little more memory to load things like the user interface and some of your content (like paper textures, for example). So, sometimes you’ll notice that Painter uses a higher actual percent of your computer’s memory than the value you’ve specified for the slider. 

If you’re curious about how these tile allocations work, try out this example: 

  1. Launch Painter & press SHIFT+i. You should see numbers similar to these: Painter is using 160 MB of RAM; 79 total tiles; 12 free.
  2. Create a 1600x900 document, Edit>Fill...> Fill With: Current Color and press SHIFT+i. You should see numbers similar to these: 188 MB of RAM, 121 total tiles; 0 free. In this case Painter used all of the previously allocated tiles and allocated 30 more.
  3. Close the document and press SHIFT+i. You should see numbers similar to these: 188 MB of RAM, 121 total tiles; 56 free. In this case, Painter has returned 56 tiles to the ‘pool’.
  4. Create a second 1600x900 document and press SHIFT+i. You should see numbers similar to these: 188 MB of RAM, 121 total tiles; 52 free. In this case, Painter has re-used 4 of the tiles and not allocated any additional RAM as it already has enough.  

I think I’ll end this discussion on memory here, but I hope you’ve learned a little about how Painter uses your system memory. I’d be curious to know if you have any questions related to this.








  • Hey Daniel,

    No questions yet, but this post has helped me underestand the memory issues.  Thanks very much for that.  I look forward to your next post.  I going to try the Shift + i right now.

    Thanks again for a very informative post!


  • Thank you for posting this insightful and informative information one of the most discussed topics out there and very helpful.

    Thank you,

    Karen Bonaker

  • Hey Dan...very interesting info. When Painter is closed, does Painter immediately release the system memory that had been in use?



  • Absolutely, Terrie. Painter frees all the resources that it was using as soon as you quit. This reminds me of another tip; if you're concerned about Painter using too much memory, you can restart Painter between projects... This will give you a clean slate to start with.

  • >>Painter frees all the resources that it was using as soon as you quit.

    Excellent! I figured it did but wanted to double check...thanks much!


  • dan, following your article..very interesting..i'm not sure how to get P12 to show RAM used. when i use the shift I i get total sets,locked , free and total heap..is there some conversion process if i use x number of tiles,that equals x number of RAM?..you state that the window says ram used and tiles used.i dont see the ram listed..i have been doing some tests and i can run p12 on a system at home with 512 megs of ram and a 2.8 processor just fine..yep 1/2 gig ..thanks for the info!

  • You're right that Painter doesn't provide the RAM usage information itself.

    There are a couple of ways to check how much RAM Painter is using, but the easiest is to:

    On Windows - press CTRL+SHIFT+ESC to bring up the Windows Task Manager. Look at the "Working Set (Memory)" column to see how much RAM Painter is using.

    On Mac OS - launch Activity Monitor (press CMD+SPACE and type activity monitor in spotlight) and look at the "Real Mem" column

  • Hello Dan,

    I looked into this article hoping to find an answer to my problem related to memory settings. I just noticed, about two weeks ago, that my "scratch drive" box is empty (the one right below the memory slider, but off-course you know that), I remember setting it the first time I installed Painter to drive D. So, I clicked it to roll down the list of drives, and strangely the list is also empty, I can't choose a scratch drive. I cannot  notice the impact to the performance though, except that whenever I try to enlarge a digital airbrush variant to ridiculously big size (above 700!) then an error message is popped out saying i don't have enough RAM. Now i don't know if this is related to the scratch drive issue i'm having, or maybe Painter doesn't allow a brush to be that monstrous in size.

    My question is, off-course, where the list go? Will it impact Painter's performance?

    Thanks in advance.

  • oh and, I'm sorry, not meaning to spam but I forgot about my system details, in case you need them:

    I use an AMD athlon II x4 with 4 Gb of RAM, 3.2 Gb usable, a 128 Mb Video RAM (onboard device), running on Windows 7 (32 bit).

  • I udpdate painter 12 and it has been a nightmare. nothing is working, painter stop a lot and when I save a file the layers and channels show black squeres every where, my saved selections are not what I saved (it shows lines instead of a contour of flowers) also painter 12 not takes 8gi from my memory and it takes for ever for any task.

    The only thing I see different is the scratch memory is not in C:/ but on an external driver. I do not have a c:/ for an option only show my external drivers.

    The first time that I did the update, painter 12 did not work at all, I call painter support and they re-install everything from the begging.

    I have windows7, 64bit, 1tb, 12gi of ram I think it is enough to be able to handle painter, it was working fine not perfect but I did not have any of these issues.

    Also if I need to install everything from the beginning again I want to save all my custom palettes, brushes libraries and setups, I need to know if there is a way to save it, I have spend more than 2 days setting up every thing like I have it before.

    Please help me.