For experienced Adobe Photoshop users it is hard finding free solid alternatives. GIMP has often been named as an alternative but have an aggravating learning curve if you come from Photoshop. Paint.net is another free alternative out there; we decided to see if it can compete with Adobe’s photo-editing suite.
Paint.net recently went through a serious face-lift and update with new and improved features. First of all Paint.net is surprisingly light-weight compared to Photoshop and even GIMP. The download file is only about 4 MB, the installation process is fast and Paint.net only takes about 9 MB on your hard-drive. Loading Paint.net is also extremely fast compared to both Photoshop and GIMP, if you are just making some small adjustments to a photo it is often done before Photoshop or GIMP even finished loading. Because of that it is a match made in heaven for netbooks with small drive capacity and low amounts of RAM.
The interface in Paint.net is unbloated, yet by default very familiar for a Photoshop user. In the lower right corner is the layers panel, and on the right is the history window, the history is unlimited. A nice interface feature is the thumbnails in the upper right corner, displaying all open image files. It is easy to switch between open image files and quickly get an overview of what they contain.
Paint.net supports common image formats out there, but much fever than Photoshop or GIMP. For example it does not support .PSD or Paint Shop Pro -files so you are out of luck if you have a lot of files that you want to use originating from those programs.
While to boot process for Paint.net is fast it does not handle very large picture files fast. Loading a 1.5 megabyte image file takes a little longer than Photoshop, and applying different tools to the image also takes longer. Especially using the magic-wand and similar tools. Paint.net also isn’t that good on handling print, for example it doesn’t have a CMYK mode and the preview features for printing works good for family photos but not when doing professional prints. In that sense Paint.net is more useable for web-designers and web content creators. For example Paint.net has filters for red-eye removal and the basics such as blurring, sharpening, levels, hue and saturation. It does lack the more advanced filters found in other photo-editors.
Working with text in Paint.net is very easy but very limited. Of course it is possible to choose between different fonts and sizes, but that’s about it. There is no features for adding extra effects, or aligning the text to paths.
Of course Paint.net as most other photo-editing tools worth the name uses layers, the best part is that they behave and work the same way as in Photoshop (which in my opinion has the best layers interface on the market). Other must-have tools included is the clone-stamp and the color picker.
Since the features in Paint.net is a bit limited at times there is a good amount of plug-ins available, for a novice user installing them is not that easy. Download a compressed file from the Paint.net forum, extract it to the right folder in Paint.net and the plug-in should be installed. The plug-in features should have been integrated with the software and could have been evolved much more.
Overall Paint.net is a great light-weight photo-editing application, it is easy and fast to use. Sure it is limited but as you add features software often become bloated, slow and difficult to use. The developers of Paint.net managed to keep it balanced. However the program might not fit everyone’s needs, it doesn’t support that many image-formats and its print capabilities are non-existent. Another downside of Paint.net is that there is no Linux or MAC version.