The days of having to spend big to edit photos on your PC have long gone. Now you'll find all the functionality you need exists in free software, and one of the pioneers of this growing market was Paint.NET. It's been years since it received a major update, but now version 4.0 is here at long last.

The program has a beautifully clean and uncluttered interface, with tabbed files access making it easy to work with multiple images at the same time. One immediate advantage over commercial rivals such as Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop Elements is that it's also lightning fast, although from version 4.0 you'll need a dual-core processor to go with Windows 7 or later to run it.

With support for layers, a wide range of image formats and image editing plugins, everything you need to get started with image editing can be found here. A selection of filters and special effects are built into Paint.NET, and these can be used to enhance image or to get creative with your artwork. The program includes everything you would expect to find in an image editing package, but there are plenty of surprises when you consider that this is free software. The gradient tool is powerful and easy to use, and unlimited levels of undo make it possible to try out several ideas without worrying about losing the original image.

Paint.NET is the personification of what free software should be. The program is of a very high standard and features and automatic update facility so you can always be sure you are working with the latest version - and with a dedicated team of developers, updates are fairly frequent. The program has a large and active following, and there are a range of helpful hints, tips and tutorials to be found in the Paint.NET forums. This may well be the only image editor you ever need.

What's new in Paint.NET 4.0.1 (see the changelog for more info)?

- New: The canvas may now be scrolled past the edge of the image
- New: When holding the spacebar, you may scroll using the keyboard arrow keys (in addition to click-and-drag panning). Holding Ctrl will scroll at 10x the rate.
- New: You can now hold Ctrl+Shift while clicking on the floating window icons in order to reset their location and docking. Ctrl+Shift along with the appropriate hotkey (F5, F6, F7, F8) also does the trick.
- Improved: The rate of auto-scrolling, which triggers when the mouse is at the canvas edge and a button is being held down, has been improved and is based on time instead of frames
- Improved: Fixed Size selection drawing now defaults to 400x300 pixels instead of 4x3 inches
- Improved: Tooltips for Custom Shapes now include their file system location
- Improved: Edit->Invert Selection should perform much faster when used with unmodified selections from the Magic Wand tool
- Improved: When running within VMWare, "Hardware accelerated rendering" is disabled by default (Microsoft's WARP is faster than VMWare's D3D emulation)

Verdict

Few programs are as pleasing to use as Paint.NET - the updates are all welcome, and the long wait has been well worth it. Install today.