Paint.net v3.5.8: Desktop Design for the non-artist (FREE)
Aspiring artists can practice their computer craftiness with the recently updated Paint.net v5 software. Cnet’s download.com lists 1,854 options of image editing software, 527 of which are free. While I can’t say with certainty that the recently updated Paint.net v.5 is the best one out there having not tried them all, I can tell you why I like it and would recommend it to others.
Paint.net has been around since 2004, when a student group mentored by Microsoft developed it as an open-source project to replace Microsoft Paint. Far from amateur, Paint.net arguably has everything an aspiring designer could want aside from the Adobe autograph.
I have used the Adobe Creative Suite – namely Illustrator and InDesign, and as a non-professional designer think in some ways, this free alternative is just as good if not better. The user interface is simple and easy to navigate, and has enough extraneous features to keep you entertained for hours. And if the primary pool doesn’t suffice, there are up to a thousand plugins available for download from the getpaint website. The software remains a Windows-only platform, so Mac users needn’t continue to read this review. You may, however, wish to view the pictures I created for the purpose of this review on Flickr if you have a moment to spare.
In some ways, it’s like a freeware fairy-tale. Young students team up with a Microsoft mentor as a student project, and five years later they remain major players in the software sport. A group of the original founders remain dedicated to the project, maintaining and updating bugs frequently as an open-source project in the spirit of sharing online. Though initially intended as a free replacement for Microsoft Paint, it has emerged as a viable (and free) competitor to the likes of Adobe, Corel and The GIMP.
The Paint.net team also maintains a lively forum filled with active users, offering friendly help and tutorials, in addition to hosting a range of competitions that use the software. When visiting the forum, I get the sense that there is somewhat of a cult-following that is welcoming to newcomers. Members of the community seem to frequent the forum, showcasing designs created using the software as well as entering competitions with themes from outer space to vintage cars.
I used Paint.net to re-visit some old pictures, playing around with all of the different effects. In addition to the many artistic alterations, blurs and distortions offered by Paint.net, users of the software may also easily remove red-eyes from photos, sharpen/adjust colours or change to black and white. Some of the more advanced effects were a little slow, taking up to 17 minutes to achieve the different “blur” effects. Others take as little as one minute. I tried to upload some photos I played around with here into this article, but WordPress was giving me some trouble so I used Flickr instead. Some are better than others, but I think this has to do with the amateur status of the photo-editor (me) more than the software.
I often use Adobe Indesign or Illustrator to create a nicely laid out document – particularly if I want it to have multiple columns. While I find many of the features more intuitive on Paint.net as it is more similar to Microsoft Word, you can’t create a text box, you can only place the cursor which makes it difficult to go back and change what you have written. However I like that the software automatically has a wide range of fonts, and I find it easier to select colours as they are all presented on a wheel on the initial screen (which you can close and easily find on the top navigational menu under “window”.) I probably wouldn’t recommend this software for a text-only document, but would be fine to add some text to a photo or create a card.
To alter or create your own designs, the left-hand toolbar mimics Adobe on a basic level, including a pointer, zoom tool, colour palette and text. The software also has many of the features generally only available in the more expensive versions, such as layers and unlimited undo.
On the Getpaint forum, I estimated around 1,000 plugins that may be downloaded, including a range of features from the addition of noise, barcode generator to a chessboard creator.
I doubt a professional designer would want to exclusively use this software, but it would certainly be a good one to practice on before taking the plunge and buying any of the Adobe platform (retailing from $599-$2599 USD depending on the package). The fact that this is only supported on Windows would likely raise compatibility issues particularly if someone wanted to work collaboratively, but for an at-home project of photo editing or basic design, this software is quite possibly all you will need.