Paint.NET 4.0

It's been a long wait – nearly six years in fact – but dotPDN LLC has finally unveiled Paint.NET 4.0 FINAL, the first major update to its popular freeware image-editing tool for Windows since version 3.5 was released in October 2008. Download Paint.NET here.

The new build comes with the promise of major performance improvements, particularly on multi-core processors, anti-aliased selections, a revamped user interface, a number of new features and revised system requirements that lock out Windows XP and Vista users.

The chief highlight is the rendering engine, which has been rebuilt from scratch to be both asynchronous and fully multi-threaded. It means the system requirements are beefed up a little – dual-core processors or better are required – but the new engine comes with the promise of improved scaled performance. (See all photo-editing software reviews and downloads.)

Paint.NET 4.0: better than ever

Not only does Paint.NET 4.0 promise better scaled performance depending on the number of available processor cores, it also claims to handle larger images better, so even as rendering slows down the program's user interface remains responsive.

Other performance improvements include the use of Direct2D hardware acceleration on the program canvas, reduced memory usage, improved battery life for laptops and faster start times on systems with many plugins installed. (See also: Best apps for improving your iPhone photos: plus the free app that's better than iPhoto.)

Paint.NET 4.0 also comes with improved selection tools, with support for antialiased selections (which can be switched on or off via the toolbar), more recognisable selection outlines using the "dancing ants"-style animation and higher performance – particularly on systems with hardware GPU acceleration – when rendering or manipulating selections using the Move Selection tool.

The user interface has been tweaked – the theme is now a white, blue and flat motif, but still familiar. Various tools have been moved around, however. The Utilities, Window and Help menus have been removed, and the various tools within moved into the right-hand top corner of the Paint.NET program window. Similarly, the zoom slider and units selection tool have been moved to the program's status bar.

There's a brand new – and easier to use – Settings dialog box. The image thumbnail tool, which can now be reordered using drag-and-drop, is now left-aligned and won't move when users switch between certain tools.

Images are also now displayed using their own taskbar items, allowing users to switch using Windows' own Aero Peek feature – the feature can be disabled via the Settings > User Interface dialog (untick "Show image previews in the Windows taskbar") if required. (See also: Best free video editing software: make great home videos using free software.)

Paint.NET 4.0: New and improved tools

There are a myriad of improvements to other tools. A new Shapes tool replaces the Rectangle, Rounded Rectangle, Ellipse and Freeform shape tools, offering 29 different shapes, which can be moved, resized, rotated and reconfigured via the toolbar before being committed to a layer.

Speaking of the Layer tool, layers can now be reordered using drag-and-drop, while holding [Ctrl] when clicking Move Layer Up/Down will move the selected layer to the top or bottom respectively.

Users can now use any drawing tool directly with a blending mode (of which all layer blending modes are supported), for example, while Brush tools now support soft brushes via a Hardness setting.

Other improved tools include Move (improved UI for scaling, moving and rotation), Color Picker (can now sample from the current layer), Gradient (new spiral gradient type, plus ability to configure repeat mode), Magic Wand and Paint Bucket.

The update is rounded off with a succession of minor tweaks, such as a new vignette photo effect, more clearly visible plugins (these appear with a jigsaw puzzle icon in their respective menu), improved super-sampling quality when resizing images and a new Copy Merged option under Edit. A complete list of changes can be read at the Paint.NET blog.

Paint.NET 4.0 FINAL is available as a freeware download now for dual-core (or better) PCs running Windows 7 or later. The .NET Framework 4.5 is also required, but will be downloaded automatically if not present. Users of lower powered PCs, or PCs running Vista or XP, can still download Paint.NET 3.5.11. (See also: best photo-editing software.)

Download Paint.NET here.

Paint.NET 4.0