Have you ever needed to do computer artwork that involved more than simple crops and resizes? For a long time, your only real options were Paintshop Pro and Adobe Photoshop, although the rise of GIMP has provided users with a powerful free alternative. But in some cases, those tools are too powerful. What if you want something in the middle?
That’s where Paint.NET comes in. Don’t make the same mistake that I made in thinking that Paint.NET is the new version of Paint that comes with Windows 7. It’s not. Created by a guy named Rick Brewster, Paint.NET has become the best solution on Windows for when Paint is too barebones but Photoshop is too much.
It’s entirely free to use and the best part of Paint.NET is its community of plugin developers. Through the Paint.net plugin interface, you can extend the functionality of Paint.NET to be just as powerful as GIMP or Photoshop without all of the bloat and extra features that you’d never use. If you want a more in-depth overview, check out Aaron’s Paint.NET review.
How To Install Paint.NET Plugins
There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of plugins that you can install for Paint.NET. The process isn’t as simple as the plugin interface on something like Firefox or Chrome (where all you really need to do is click on a link), but it’s still relatively easy.
Paint.NET plugins fit into two general categories: FileTypes and Effects. The installation process is the same for both of them because they all come in the form of DLL downloads. Sometimes after you download a plugin, it’ll be a ZIP or RAR file. Just unpack them and there should be a DLL inside. That’s what you want.
Once you have your plugin DLL, locate your Paint.NET installation directory. For me it was C:\Program Files\Paint.NET\ and yours should be the same if you didn’t set a custom destination when you installed it. Make sure your Paint.NET program is CLOSED before you proceed to the next step.
Inside that directory, you’ll see two subdirectories: Effects and FileTypes. Depending on the type of plugin you downloaded, you’ll want to drag-and-drop the DLL into the appropriate place. Relaunch Paint.NET and it should have the added functionality now. If not, you probably placed it in the wrong directory so move it from the one directory to the other.
Photoshop PSD (FileType)
This plugin allows you to both open PSD files and save your projects in the PSD format. I don’t expect the conversions to work 100% perfectly, but it’s almost there. For most PSD projects, anyway, you’ll be able to open and save them without a hitch, which makes it convenient when you want to fiddle around with it without having to open Photoshop.
Color Balance+ (Effect)
This plugin is similar to Photoshop’s own color balancing effect. There are three types of balancing that you can do – Highlights, Shadows, and Midtones. If you aren’t sure what color balancing is, then you can perform a quick Google search and learn within minutes because it’s a common technique in graphics work.
Color Balance+ comes as part of dpy’s plugin pack.
Though Paint.NET has a default function for placing text in your image, Text+ is a plugin that takes it to the next level. If you need precise levels of line spacing, draw positioning, and font pitch, then Text+ will work wonders for you.
Text+ comes as part of dpy’s plugin pack.
Circle / Rotate / Spiral / Wave Text (Effect)
These four plugins are separate and independent but they all manipulate text, so I’m bunching them together. The Circle plugin lets you write a line of text that gets drawn in a perfect circle. The Rotate plugin lets you skew a block of text so that it becomes angled. The Spiral plugin is like the Circle plugin, except it spirals in towards the center. And the Wave plugin makes the text all wavy.
These text effects are all part of dpy’s plugin pack.
This plugin takes an image and alters it in such a way that it looks like it was taken with a true film camera. It adds a touch of motion blur, some color correction, some balancing, and a few tweaks to hue and saturation, resulting in an image that appears genuine.
Film comes as part of pyrochild’s plugin pack.
Smudge Tool (Effect)
If you need to smudge your illustrations a bit, this smudging plugin will do that for you. It may not look like anything special in the image above, but it’s really useful for softening edges in illustrations or blurring out parts of pictures that you don’t want discernible.
Smudge Tool comes as part of pyrochild’s plugin pack.
There are so many other plugins that deserve a mention but I can’t possibly list all of them here. Moral of the story? Paint.NET is extremely powerful thanks to the massive library of plugins that you can install and use. Combine that with the large, active community surrounding this great program and you’ll see why Paint.NET is so great.
Check out the Paint.NET plugin database if you want to browse through some more.
So what do you think? Do you use Paint.NET? After learning about all of these plugins, I think Paint.NET is going to become my main image editor from here on out. Share your thoughts with us in the comments!