Paint.NET Review

Review of Free Image Editor Paint.NET

Paint.NET screen shot
Paint.NET offers users a coherent interface. Ian Pullen

Publisher's Site

Paint.NET started life as a college project aimed at producing an alternative to Microsoft Paint but has developed into an accomplished and feature-packed pixel-based image editor suitable for use as a day-to-day image enhancement application or to produce more creative results.

It is well worth a look for anyone seeking a free image editor. It's more coherent interface may be particularly attractive to users put off by GIMP's system of floating palettes, but who want an application that can be extended through plug-ins.

It puts forward a convincing case, and I found lots to like about it.

The User Interface

Pros

  • Logical and straightforward interface
  • Keyboard shortcuts for tools and many menu items

Cons

  • Arguably gimmicky default translucent palettes
  • No plug-ins management tool within the interface

The user interface of Paint.NET is really rather good. I have to admit, there is little to pick fault with here. It is the lack of significant faults with the interface design that make it score so well, rather than it having any outstanding features that set it apart from the competition.

Everything is presented in a logical manner and anyone coming to this application for the first time will have little difficulty finding their way around the tools and features. With the field of pixel-based image editors so dominated by Adobe Photoshop, it is easy for other editors to be heavily inspired by that application's interface, but Paint.NET isn't distracted by this option and does its own thing.



It is a testament to how effective this approach is that one of the negative points I picked up on is really one of personal preference – I don't like the translucent palettes that allow the image being worked on to show through any palettes that are overlaying it. The palettes become fully opaque when moused over, though anyone who shares my dislike can easily turn off the translucent feature in the Window menu.



I'd also like to see a tool within the user interface to allow the easy management of plug-ins from within the application, rather than this being managed through Windows Explorer.

Enhancing Images

Pros

  • Red eye reduction tool and one click Sepia conversion tool
  • Comprehensive range of image adjustment tools

Cons

  • No Dodge and Burn tools
  • No adjustment layers for non-destructive editing

Considering Paint.NET was originally conceived as a simple onscreen drawing application, it has developed into a reasonably accomplished image editor suitable for photographers to enhance and improve their images.

Most of the features for image enhancement are all available in the Adjustments menu and they include Curves, Levels, and Hue/Saturation tools which are some of the more commonly used tools when enhancing images. The Layers palette also offers a range of blending modes that can also be useful tools in this process.

Users looking for a basic quick and easy tool for getting more from their photos will surely appreciate the one-click option in the Adjustments menu for converting images to a sepia effect. The Red Eye Removal tool found in the Effects menu will likely also be popular with these users.

Any photographers who regularly use Dodge and Burn tools will be disappointed by their absence from Paint.NET, but the inclusion of a Clone Stamp tool can be a powerful option for more experienced users.

At first glance it may seem that the tool is seriously compromised without the ability to adjust the opacity of the brush in use, however, opacity can be adjusted by changing the Alpha Transparency of the foreground color in the Colors palette.

The biggest failing for Paint.NET as an image enhancing tool is the lack of non-destructive editing options. There are no adjustment layers, as found in Adobe Photoshop. This feature is planned for inclusion in V4 of Paint.NET, though this isn't expected to be available until sometime in 2011.

Creating Artistic Images

Pros

  • Reasonable range of effects
  • Wide selection of plug-ins

Cons

  • Limited brush options
  • No native layer masks for non-destructive editing

One of the fun things about pixel-based image editors is their abilities to make creative and artistic changes to our photos, and Paint.NET is reasonably well-equipped for this purpose.



A quick glance at the Tools palette shows that the more common painting tools are available to allow users to get creative. The Gradient tool has a nice touch in use which allows the gradient to be easily edited by dragging and dropping one or both of two grab handles, called nubs. This makes it quite easy to make small changes, particularly to the direction of the applied gradient, and also to swap the colors.

A disappointment with the Paintbrush tool is the lack of brushes available. The size is selectable, but I found no obvious control over the hardness or softness of the brush or the brush shape. Users can change the fill style of the brush strokes, but I found this to have limited use compared to other pixel-based image editors that offer a much wider range of brush types.

By default, Paint.NET comes with a reasonable selection of features under the Effects menu to allow a range of creative changes--from subtle tweaks to more dramatic amendments--to be applied to photos and other images. If you want more options, this is where the plug-ins system comes into its own, allowing you to pick and choose from a wide range of free plug-ins that allow you to add more effects and tools to your version of Paint.NET.

Publisher's Site

Publisher's Site

Graphic Design with Paint.NET

 

Pros

  • Font previews in font selection drop down
  • Suitable for producing a complete design if limited text

Cons

  • Limited control over text
  • Lacks layer effects

I wouldn't recommend using any pixel-based image editor for producing complete designs; their purpose is really to produce elements that can be incorporated into layouts in desktop publishing applications.

However, it is possible to use applications like Paint.NET in that way, as long as there isn't too much text content; some users prefer to work like this.

Text is edited directly on the image, unlike in GIMP, though there are limited options for controlling the text. It should be noted that once text is deselected it is no longer editable. Users would also be advised to add a new layer before adding text to an image as otherwise text is applied directly to the currently selected layer and cannot be deleted separately. There is not an option to insert text into a text box so line breaks need to be inserted manually.

While Paint.NET supports layers, it doesn't include layer effects, though some familiar effects, such as Bevel and Emboss are options within the Effects menu. The application doesn't support the CMYK color space, offering RGB and HSV options.

 

Sharing Your Files

 

Paint.NET uses its own .pdn file format, but files can also be saved in other more common formats for sharing, including JPEG, GIF and TIFF.

There isn't an option to save TIFF files with layers as seen in Adobe Photoshop.

 

Conclusion

 

Overall, Paint.NET is an accomplished free pixel-based image editor with plenty to recommend it. It may not be the most feature-rich application in its basic state, but the plug-ins system means that you can customize the software to your specification and add features that are more important to you.

Some of my favorite things about Paint.NET are:

  • Plug-ins system with wide selection of free plug-ins
  • Clear and well ordered user interface
  • Comprehensive range of image adjustment features
  • Active community for support, advice and tutorials

There are however some aspects that do undermine the application a little

  • Absence of Dodge and Burn tools
  • Layer masks are not part of default install
  • Limited brush options
  • Text no longer editable when deselected

I find it hard not to like Paint.NET due to its lack of pretense and effective interface. It isn't the most powerful free pixel-based image editor available, but first-time users will likely find it a more coherent experience than using GIMP. That said though, GIMP is perhaps a more rounded application, though Paint.NET's wide variety of free plug-ins arguably go some way to closing that gap.

 

The weakness in text editing can be largely overlooked as that shouldn't be an important feature in a free pixel-based image editor like Paint.NET, but the lack of layer masks, layer effects and the limited brush options do impact upon the overall ability of the application, particularly for creative purposes. It is in image enhancing where Paint.NET shines most.

For less experienced photographers looking for an effective free tool for improving images straight from their camera, this is worth a look.

This review was based on Paint.NET 3.5.4. The latest version of the software can be downloaded from the official Paint.NET website.

 

Publisher's Site