While Adobe Photoshop continues to be the gold standard for image creation and editing, it has two barriers to entry that make it unattractive to many users – cost and complexity. Photoshop is a hard-to-learn monster, with tons of features and options that most users might never need.
If Photoshop isn’t for you, you need to look for alternatives. You can try GIMP if you want professional-grade features at no additional cost, but it is still a difficult-to-learn option for users. This is where Paint.NET comes in, offering a free, powerful and easy-to-use Photoshop alternative for Windows users.
If you’re itching to scratch your design itch, this beginner’s guide to Paint.NET should get you started.
What is Paint.NET?
As the name suggests, Paint.NET was created as a replacement for Microsoft Paint. Paint is a simple tool for simple tasks, but most users won’t want to use it beyond simple drawing.
This is where Paint.NET comes in. Originally created with support from Microsoft as a potential replacement, Paint.NET is now a standalone project supported by a single developer, with tools and features that make it closer to GIMP and Photoshop than its namesake.
Paint.NET shines with its simplicity. Rather than focusing on an endless number of advanced features, Paint.NET has a simple and straightforward user interface that allows users to easily select, create, and edit digital images.
However, if you really want to create complex images, Paint.NET can do what you need – if you tweak it a bit. With a strong community supporting the project with third-party plugins, you can use Paint.NET for just about anything professional tools like Photoshop can do.
Paint.NET is completely free and available for download for Windows users. For macOS and Linux users, you need an alternative like GIMP
Comparison of Paint.NET and Photoshop
Paint.NET and Adobe Photoshop exist for the same purpose, but comparing them is like comparing apples and pears. Sure, they are both image editors, but serve different markets.
Photoshop is a professional-grade image editing tool. If there is a tool or function for editing images, it probably exists in Photoshop as a primary function or add-on. This is evident in the price, where an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription is required to use this premium software.
Paint.NET, by contrast, is a completely free alternative. It’s easy to use, but includes the features and tools you’d expect from a premium editing tool like canvas layers, image effects, and other customizations.
If you want a basic tool that’s easy to understand, but with various add-ons to extend its functionality, Paint.NET is a great option. However, for professional users, Photoshop will still be the tool you need to get started.
Create basic images in Paint.NET
Paint.NET is available as a free download, although you can support the project by purchasing the Microsoft Store version for a few dollars. After installing Paint.NET, you can start using it to create basic images.
- A new canvas is created the first time you open Paint.NET, but you can click File> New to create a new drawing if needed. Here you can draw, edit and manipulate your image.
- A list of various painting tools is available in the left menu of the Paint.NET interface. This mirrors Photoshop and other editing tools, where tools are available for painting, selecting, painting, filling, and more. To start using any of these tools, click on them. The cursor must change to match the tool.
- In the lower left corner is the color wheel. This allows you to change the color of any object or tool that you currently select. For example, if you selected the Type tool, you can change the color of the inserted text by choosing a color here.
- If you need to resize the canvas for painting, click Image> Resize, which allows you to resize the canvas without affecting its content.
- If you want to resize an existing image, click Image> Canvas Size. This will zoom in or out of the entire image, with the option to prioritize quality over image size.
- Like Photoshop, you can create complex images using layers. To insert a new layer, click Layers> Add New Layer. You can change the selected layer in the Layers window in the lower right corner of the Paint.NET interface. Additional options, including for copying or moving a layer, are available from the Layers menu.
- Paint.NET lets you quickly change color and brightness levels, and add effects such as sepia or color inversion to an image. You can access them from the settings menu at the top of the Paints.NET interface.
- For more complex special effects, open the Effects menu. From here, you can control your image with Photoshop-style effects like blur and distortion, as well as photo retouching filters that remove red-eye or sharpen images.
- If you want to interact directly with the camera or scanner, you can. Make sure your scanner or camera is connected to your computer, then click File> Acquire to grab the image and import it into Paint.NET directly for editing.
- If you run into problems, you can quickly undo any number of recent actions performed using the History panel in the upper right corner. Either click the Undo or Redo buttons, or select one of the past actions from the list to return to this step.
Design images on Windows and other platforms
In the middle between Photoshop and Microsoft Paint is Paint.NET, the only image editing tool many users will need to create and edit their images. With its easy-to-use interface and Photoshop-style features like layers, it offers users a low entry threshold for creating and editing images on Windows.
Paint.NET is for Windows only, so you need to look for alternatives for other platforms. Basic image editing apps exist for Android and iOS if you have a mobile device at your fingertips. Mac users can be helped by free basic photo editors like Photoscape X. Or you can try Google Draw for free cross-platform drawing.
Also be sure to watch our YouTube video where we cover several different photo editing tools for Mac: