Microsoft Paint is set to be retired, 32 years after it was first bundled with Windows 1.0 in 1985. (Update: It seems Microsoft has relented and given Paint a stay of execution in the Windows Store. It matters not – you can still do better. Carry on reading.)
Paint has always been regarded as a poor man’s art package, more Neil Buchanan than Pablo Picasso, but there’s a phrase about a bad workman that springs to mind. The brilliant Jim’ll Paint It invites people to send him ideas for paintings and then knocks up his amazing artwork in Microsoft Paint – the one pictured above is called Satanists accidentally summon some Desmonds.
If, like Jim, you’re mourning the imminent demise of Microsoft Paint, what are the best free alternatives to Windows’ free art package?
Microsoft Paint is being shuffled off into software cemetery because Microsoft has already released a replacement. Paint 3D has pretty much all of the 2D drawing and editing features of its predecessor, but as the name betrays, it literally brings another dimension to the software.
Paint 3D lets you draw, import and manipulate 3D models and it’s gobsmackingly simple to do. Even an absolute klutz like me, who couldn’t draw curtains, can manage to create convincing 3D artwork like the piece you can see in our screenshot.
To be clear, I didn’t draw those zombies and monsters: they were imported from Remix 3D, an online library built into Paint 3D that lets you download models created by the community and import them into your own creations. Once imported, you can easily resize and rotate the objects and place them on a bespoke background. It’s staggeringly powerful stuff.
Paint 3D was built into Windows 10 earlier this year as part of the Creators Update, so if you’re running an up-to-date version of Windows you should be able to find it by typing ‘Paint’ into the Start menu.
I pay a stupid amount of money per month to have Adobe Photoshop installed on my PC, but my go-to piece of software for quick photo-editing jobs remains Paint.NET.
Paint.NET has many of the same tools you’ll find in Adobe’s pro software, but it arrives in a free package that’s a tiny fraction of the size. The download is a mere 6.9MB, which is smaller than the vast majority of photos I edit in Paint.NET! That wonderfully lightweight coding means Paint.NET opens in the bat of an eyelid. I can literally finish a quick edit in Paint.Net in the time it takes Photoshop to open.
The Tools panel has all the basic editing tools you need: crops (which can be set to certain aspect ratios or sizes), lasso selections for cut-outs, and the magic wand if you’re too lazy to manually select the objects. There’s a host of adjustments for controlling curves, hue/saturation and brightness, as well as a decent library of effects for creating blurs, vignettes and other distortions.
The software is constantly updated and the developers don’t get drawn into the dirty tactics of other free software packages, by charging to unlock features or making you wade through ad-laden download sites. They politely request donations and leave you alone.
If you actually used Paint for digital painting, then you might want to dab a brush in the direction of ArtWeaver. The chief selling point of this package is its huge selection of realistic brushes. You can dab on the page using a blunt felt-tip pen, a waxy crayon, tapered artist chalk or dozens of other presets. Each of the brushes can be fine-tuned further until you get the effect just right.
The software works perfectly with touchscreen devices or graphics tablets. I’m not going to embarrass myself by showing off my daubings, but the digital paint flowed beautifully under the stylus on my ThinkPad, without any lag or stuttering.
In terms of appearance, ArtWeaver looks very similar to Paint.NET, and it’s similarly lightweight. The Artweaver download page includes both the free version of the software or the paid-for Plus version, which you can trial for free for 30 days.
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