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. Its 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
- Logical and straightforward interface
- Keyboard shortcuts for tools and many menu items
- 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 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.
- Red eye reduction tool and one click Sepia conversion tool
- Comprehensive range of image adjustment tools
- 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
- Reasonable range of effects
- Wide selection of plug-ins
- 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.