All entries for Saturday 09 May 2009
May 09, 2009
As Vincent and other loyal readers may have noticed, I sometimes accompany my posts with a picture I've made. I've drawn these using Microsoft Paint, the free software that comes with every Windows OS. It's very old, and has remained virtually untouched since Windows 95, so in some senses the editing is quite primitive; for example, once a line has been drawn, it is impossible to edit it in any way, like you can in Photoshop. Then again, Photoshop is not free.
Now, yesterday, I decided to download Paint.NET, an "updated", version of Paint, developed in 2004, and available for free on the Internet. I then spent several hours today playing around with it, and I now feel confident enough to compare the two in a reasonably objective manner. (Ahem)
Initially, I wasn't pleased with Paint.NET. Some controls were different from the original version, and there suddenly was a lot more to take into account before you could start drawing. But before soon, I realised how many nice features had been added to this newer version, and I started enjoying myself. To give you an idea, I shall go through the different things that make Paint.NET so much better than its ancestor.
- Anti-aliasing. As you can see in the above image, the lines on the left-hand side look "softer" than those on the right. More precisely, the lines no longer go directly from black to white, but pass through intermediate stages of grey. I didn't immediately notice, and when I did I wasn't expecting it to change much, but the final picture is a lot more pleasing to the eye. Anti-aliasing can be enabled and disabled at will.
- Layers. In Microsoft Paint, it was possible to use the Selection tools to place on object on top of another, but once that had been done, it was next to impossible to seperate the two objects again, unless you were prepared to clean up the operation afterwards with a careful and tirsome application of the Paintbrush. With the addition of layers, moving things on top of each other has become a trivial task. The layers are independent and do not interact with each other, so removing, say, the helmet in the above picture, can be done without damaging the head. More generally, clothing stickmen has become delightfully easy with Paint.NET. Also, layers can be used to "photoshop" (for lack of a better word) pictures and have two Alexanders in the same picture, for example.
- Curves. The Straight Line Tool and the Curvy Line Tool has merged into one. And from being a moody and unpredictable object that never quite looked the way you wanted it to look, the Curvy Line has now become simple and intuitive to draw. Also, a subtle but nevertheless important improvement is that the endpoints can now be moved, meaning that if the line isn't exactly on the right spot, you don't have to start all over again. Drawing curvy lines is no longer something you need to dread.
- Colouring. First, there are the fancy Gradient backgrounds as you can see on the left side of the first picture, but to me, that is more like a little extra feature that has been placed there to be used and abused by people who like pretty colours and shiny objects. The real improvement is the new colour palette: in addition to the pre-defined colours, there is a coloured disc from where it is possible to quickly colour combination, and then manually lighten/darken it, or even add transparency. Like most features mentioned here, this isn't anything unique to Paint.NET, a lot of other modern programs have this kind of tool, but it is such a refreshing alternative to the original Paint's way of choosing colours.
- Ouside-Canvas-Clicking. This is something that has frustrated me more than a few times in MS Paint. If for instance you want to split the canvas in two, you had to start your line very close to one border, or there would be a gap through which colours could 'escape'. Also, if you dragged an object partly out of the canvas, so that only half of it was visible, the non-visible part would cease to exist, and thus be unrecoverable. Paint.NET, however, doesn't mind you clicking and drawing outside the box, and this facilitates drawing enourmously.
- Rotating. Whereas selected objects could previously only be moved around and stretched, they can now be rotated as well (although it took me some time to figure out how). For a mathematician, this is immensely satisfying. I can now finally create ellipses whose axes are not horizontal/vertical. If one is drawing cartoons, being able to copy and then rotate already-drawn objects, is also extremely useful.
And then several other features, not to mention all the extra Plug-Ins. No doubt are they of a vast utility to the professional artist, the fractal-drawing genius or other people who have a very clear idea of what they're doing. I inadvertently downloaded a Mega Plug-In pack or something, and now have a plethora of special effects that I haven't dared to touch out of sheer intimidation.
All that being said, MS Paint still has one advantage: It is quick.
Now, don't get me wrong. Paint.NET is a wonderful editor, and I will probably be using that from now on. But for a quick 2-minute sketch, Microsoft Paint has some neat shortcuts. A right click will cancel a line that is being drawn, something I have frequently used if I was unsure about where to draw a certain line. The Polygon Tool has been replaced by a silly "Freeform Shape" tool in Paint.NET, even though Polygon was one of the most versatile tools in Paint (I used it for drawing the fur clothing in the above picture, for example). The selection tools in Paint.NET also caused me some inconvenience. First, choose the Selection Tool to you select something, then you choose the "Move Selected Pixels" Tool to move it, and before you can do anything to any other object, you have to 'De-Select' your current selection. On top of that, Paint.NET is (for obvious reasons) also slower at starting up and saving pictures. Overall, these small things make Paint.NET slower at doing what it does.
The speed of Microsoft Paint is maybe due to its simplicity. Which is another point I'd like to make. I remember being a six year old kid, having fun drawing colourful pictures on Paint. No-one had to explain to me how to use it, everything was simple and obvious. Had I been given Paint.NET, I would have given up quickly, and gone to find a real (one-layered) piece of paper to draw on. Obviously, anyone able to download Paint.NET by themselves can surely also figure out how to operate it, but my point is that MS Paint isn't entirely obsolete.
Finally, there is a more philosophical reason I still respect MS Paint. When you haven't got many tools to deal with, your creations are certainly limited, but you are also forced to be more creative in the way you use these tools. I've found numerous uses for the Spray Can Tool, that I once found totally useless; I've mastered the Curvy Line Tool; I've pushed the limit of what you can do with Copy & Paste; I've inverted the colours to produce unexpected results. And now I discover that Paint.NET literally has hundreds of tools. A beginner might be tempted to try out all the tools without stopping to think about original ways in which to use these tools. So in my opinion, trying out MS Paint before switching to Paint.NET is a good idea, in the same way that learning one should learn C or Assembly before using Python.
All in all, I have decided to use Paint.NET from now on. I still have some MS Paint pictures on my computer, though, which I plan to use in blog posts sooner or later.