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Below are links to sites where you can download free graphics programs or light versions of graphics programs.
AMP Tile Viewer Artweaver Color Cop Drawing for Children Gimp Google SketchUp GraphicsGale Harm's sTile Inkscape Irfan View mtPaint Paint.NET Photofiltre PhotoMosaique PhotoRazor PixelToolbox Pixia PSP4 RealWorld Paint Reflet Scrutico Tuxpaint Ultimate Paint UnFreez Animator UnShake VallenJPegger VicMan's Photo Editor XnView
And a word or two in praise of Windows Paint.
As far as I know, none of these programs is accompanied by hidden nasties such as spyware. Nevertheless, it is always good practice to run both your virus checker and an antispyware program over anything you download. Usually it's just a matter of right clicking on the file and choosing each of the checking programs from the menu.
The programs are arranged alphabetically; not in order of easiness or usefulness. The notes should suggest which ones would be best for your needs, although my exploration of them hasn't been at all thorough. Red stars merely indicate my personal favourites—those that I use often and like very much. Therefore some excellent programs have no star, especially the "big" ones—like Pixia, The Gimp and Inkscape.
The size on disk is only an indication, because you may have a different version.
Green headings on the articles below link to download sites.
Size on disk: 756KB
I was so happy to find this program, which will be wonderful for anyone who makes background tiles. Click through a directory and each tile in turn will be displayed as a background. Further, and this is great, it will save the full page view as a jpg file or a Windows bitmap.
Size on disk: 27.7MB
Don't expect to be an instant expert with Artweaver. It uses layers, which may be off-putting until you're used to the idea. The program could be worth learning. Most topics are covered in the Help file, while there are on-line forums and FAQ pages.
At a glance the tools seem rather similar to those in Paint, but there are many variations. The paintbrush, for instance, can be made to simulate chalk, charcoal, pencils, paint and so on—although I wasn't always able to see much difference between some of the settings. The spraycan also appears as an option on the paintbrush menu. I couldn't find a curved line. Tools include a gradient fill.
Some options for various tools are on the top toolbar, but more are on a floating palette.
Artweaver includes some standard filters. Many more can be downloaded. Likewise "nozzles", a tool similar to PSP's "tubes", allowing you to paint with small images. top
Size on disk: 184KB
Helps you to precisely match a colour from anywhere on your computer. A little magnifier can be placed over the area you're interested in, after which you drag an eyedropper onto the exact pixel and click. The colour is then recorded by Color Cop. The colour is given both in hex and rgb, so you can copy it into whatever program you are using.
The program is tiny in window size—as well as on your disk—so there's no problem in leaving it "Always on top" while you sort through other open windows. top
Size on disk: 24MB
An outstanding free program intended for small children, this has as many or more features than most children's painting programs you can buy, and little people find it heaps of fun.
Tools are grouped under lines, shapes, text, stamps, backgrounds, special things and special effects. The Lines tool includes pencils, spray can, paintbrush, fill, eraser, copy and paste, plus many "picture lines"—stars, hearts, grass, bubbles, balloons, roads and railway tracks among them.
The Quick Help suggests that children try holding down Shift or Ctrl—or both together—while using various tools. Nice surprises ensue. Full instructions may be found in Drawing.doc, which you'll find in the program's folder.This includes instructions for adding extra pictures to both Clip Art and Stamps.
A full range of fonts and sizes is offered, with text effects including rotation! There's a copy to clipboard facility as well as in-program printing.
When tinies are to use this program, you may wish to open Help, click on Settings and simplify the available choices, or to have it run in "child-proof" mode—that is, full screen with no exit or print buttons available. The picture will be automatically saved on exit. top
Size on disk:146MB including 84MB of help
Gimp is for people who're very serious about graphics. It's not for the fainthearted or those without some time to spend in learning.
It has heaps of tools and heaps of options for each of them. You can make your own "brushes", either as single images or with multiple images like PSP's "tubes".
You can either download the help manual or use the on-line tutorials.but I find Grokking the Gimp easier to navigate and easier to understand. Browse through the topics and choose some to read, perhaps starting with Gimp Basics. top
SketchUp helps you to draw three dimensional geometric shapes, like houses and other buildings. It's jam packed with tutorials so that you can either do your own thing or follow a step-by-step set of instructions.
If you're being serious, you can draw to a scale—that is, type in how high and wide a shape is and the shape will adjust automatically. There are colours and textures so that you can indicate building materials—bricks, concrete and so on.
It didn't hold my interest for very long.
SketchUp only works with XP or 2000—or 10.3.9 if you're a Mac user. Also, at 80MB, the download isn't practicable for dial-up users. top
Size on disk: 4.15MB
This splendid little program is intended particularly for the creation of animations and cursors but is fine for ordinary painting as well. Zoom goes to 4000%, so working close is easy, and the real-size preview window is always active, as is a "loupe"—as in jeweller's eye-pice—window, which gives you a 2,000% view no matter at what zoom level you're working. Each of these two windows can be resized by dragging.
Tools are cleverly put together; brush shapes and sizes can be chosen right in the colour palette. Line, brush and fill colours can be solid or have crosshatching or dithering.
Selection by colour and colour exchange can be set to any tolerance—you can select all the pinks or just a particular pink, for instance.
I found copying and moving parts of my picture particularly simple and easy.
When working in full colours, if you go to the Image menu and click Add Alpha Channel, you can make colours transparent so that shapes shine through those above them. A transparency slider is right in the colour palette, so you can quickly set or change transparency for any colour as you go.
Text—and everything else—can be rotated at any angle, even if you are working in 16 colors.
The free version of GraphicsGale does not save or open GIFs. To save the finished work as a GIF, I took a screenshot (Alt+PrtScn) of my work at normal view, pasted the screenshot into Irfanview, cropped it to show just the picture I'd made, and saved the result as a GIF.
GraphicsGale supports layers, but it doesn't push them at you. top
Size on disk: 3.98MB
sTile is meant for creating, enhancing and testing seamless tile backgrounds, although, as the help points out, it's much better to begin with a tile that is already seamless—the program can't perform miracles. One thing for which it's particularly useful is testing backgrounds. If you paste in a tile that you've already made, the program will show you how it looks as a full page background, and will display text of different colours against it, so that you can look for a good contrast.
While your tile is in sTile, you can recolour, resize, replace one colour with another, change brightness and contrast, apply filters and effects. You can thus save a whole collection of variations of one tile—and the number of undo levels seems to be unlimited!
When you set about making seamless tiles yourself, this is definitely one of the best and easiest programs for you to use.
Included in the Stile help are some lessons in making striking looking text. The instructions are easy to follow.
Some people have had trouble with the msi installation file. The author does explain how to deal with this, but you may find it better to download the zip file, which is the second one shown beside the Download heading. top
Size on disk: 160MB
This is beaut if you'd love to try Illustrator but can't justify the expense. It really is very similar to Illustrator, although it may have a few less features. I copied the following passage from the website:
An Open Source vector graphics editor, with capabilities similar to Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Xara X, using the W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format.
Inkscape supports many advanced SVG features (markers, clones, alpha blending, etc.) and great care is taken in designing a streamlined interface. It is very easy to edit nodes, perform complex path operations, trace bitmaps and much more. We also aim to maintain a thriving user and developer community by using open, community-oriented development.
The Help menu is packed with on-line tutorials. You can either go straight to, say, Basics, or you can go to the manual and follow fully detailed learning projects.
When I'd been experimenting and wanted to save my work as a Gif I wasn't successful with Export, so I took a screenshot (Alt+PrtScn) of my work at normal view, pasted the screenshot into Irfanview, cropped it to show just the part of the picture I wanted, and saved the result as a GIF.
If you want a free DeskTop Publishing program, a good companion to Inkscape is Scribus.
Size on disk: with plugins, 23.1MB
Even if you never download anything else, you really need Irfanview. It's very well known and much applauded and I find it indispensable. It isn't a program where you make a picture from scratch, but is used to view and adjust pictures. It reads about 100 graphics formats, as well as sounds and video. It will even show you what's written in a plain text file!
It's a polite program in that it doesn't grab associations when installed, but offers a list of extensions from which you may choose any or all. Changing your mind about having Irfan open particular files simply requires removal of a tick from the appropriate box.
I choose to associate Irfanview with all movies and sound files and most image types. That way, I can click through a folder of files in jig time. If I see one that I want to work on, I can click File > Open with external editor and choose one from a list of three programs that I earlier put onto that menu.
Irfan will work with your scanner, either to save images or copy them directly. It will let you select and save separately a small part of a graphic, change colours, add effects like those found in expensive photo editing programs, flip, rotate finely, add text, adjust brightness contrast and saturation, sharpen or blur, extract frames from animations and make thumbnails. It will even, given a list of pictures, generate a basic html file with thumbnails!
The latest version includes a simple paint module. This includes paintbrush, eraser, clone tool, colour exchanger with tolerance settings, text, lines, arrows, rectangles and ellipses both outlined and filled, a fill tool with tolerance, colour picker, picture straightener, and a tool for measuring lengths and angles.
When you download Irfanview, be sure to download the plugins as well, so that you can exploit this great program's full potential. top
Size on disk: 9.98MB
This paint program, intended for Linux users but also able to run on Windows, is fairly sophisticated, using layers, channels and, optionally, indexed colour.
The interface and operation of mtPaint won't be at all familiar to someone used to Paint and I found it very difficult. However, it may be well worth your while to learn, particularly if you need some of its unique capabilities.
The range and adjustability of tools is wide. Patterns are available for painting and filling, and there's a wide range of filters. In the time I spent, I couldn't find out how to apply a filter to a selection; only to the whole page.
An annoyance is that mtPaint doesn't interact with the Windows clipboard. That is, if you make a selection, click Edit > Copy, and then open another graphics program hoping to paste that selection, you'll find nothing to paste.
When you first open the program, click Help on the far right of the menu bar and choose Documentation. Click Contents and then Pixel Art. This will take you to a page where the most basic tools are explained. Further help, tutorials and plugins can be found at an on-line forum. top
Size on disk: 18.5MB
An excellent replacement for Paint, with a familiar and easy to understand interface. Tools that you won't find in Paint include a Clone Stamp, Magic Wand (make selection by colour), a line whose curves can be adjusted as many times as you wish before pasting, dashed lines, arrowheads,optional rulers and a good selection of filters.
Options appropriate to the selected tool appear as needed. Line widths are very easily changed. Antialiasing (smoothing of edges) can be toggled on or off immediately.
I had some difficulty in making a precise cutout while zoomed in. I found that this was much easier with the grid turned off. Nevertheless, although the cutout was accurate—it was a background tile and I checked it in sTile—when I pasted it as a new image in Paint.NET it gained one pixel on each side. Maybe I did something wrong. Whatever, if you are making a tile, do check it before you go to lots of trouble applying special effects.
Images or selections can be pasted to and from other programs.
Flipping, mirroring, resizing and rotation are done easily with the mouse. In order to make a flipped image the same size as the original, watch the "Bounding Box Size" shown on the status bar.
Layers can be used if you wish.
Size on disk: 27.2MB
Photofiltre would be great for people just graduating from Paint. It's such a cool little program! It's truly easy to understand but has all sorts of interesting tools and effects that you'd expect in something you have to buy.
However, some things that are easy to do in Paint proved difficult in Photofiltre. I could not flip a selection from the Transform > Flip item on the Selection menu, yet I was able to do this by clicking the toolbar Flip Horizontal icon. Why? I had to remember that moving a selection involved visiting the edit menu and choosing copy, then again, choosing paste. Otherwise only the marquee would be moved--not its contents.
Primarily it's a photo-editing program, and it has everything you need for that, including clear instructions for red-eye reduction. Things like saturation and contrast are right on the toolbar, along with dust reduction, gamma correction, old photography—lots of things. A wide variety of frames can be applied, and text can be added.
Apart from photo editing, though, you could use PhotoFiltre to make a picture from scratch. It has all the basic painting tools, plus textured backgrounds, special brushes, a clone tool, smoothing and sharpening, heaps of special effects filters—and there are additional plugins to download if you wish. top
Size on disk: 2.14MB
PhotoMosaique has just one purpose. It makes a picture composed of many tiny images. The program comes with 83 small images, although you can replace these with your own if you prefer. Whichever way you go about it, the finished mosaic picture is very pleasing.
The author stresses that the resultant mosaic image is very large on disc and suitable for printing, not for web display. top
Size on disk: 3.48MB
PhotoRazor is just what you need if your friends complain that photos you email are too big.
You browse to a folder of pictures of which you'd like to have emailable copies. You select the pictures—all or just some. If any picture is sideways or upside-down, you can click a rotation button at the bottom right of the screen to fix that.
You then choose size and quality for the copies. Usually, pictures with lots of detail, like a vine covered with tiny flowers, need a higher quality than those with big areas of fairly plain colour.
When you click the button labelled "Resize Photos Now", PhotoRazor makes a new folder called "small photos" into which it puts the copies it creates. Your original pictures are completely untouched, but those in the "small pictures" folder fit nicely into an email, have had all exif data removed, and are between a twentieth and a fortieth of the disc size of the originals!
Exif data is information about the taking of a photo—make and model of camera, date, all the settings used, etc. etc. This information may be very useful to the photographer, but adds a couple of kilobytes to the size of a file being sent. top
Size on disk: 7.79MB
PixelToolbox is just for creating icons and cursors. The interface is neat, attractive and easy to understand.
On opening the program, you tell it whether you want to make an icon or a cursor, you choose the size and the number of colours and click Start.
Your workspace is a zoomed in grid. A small window on the left shows your work at its actual size. This window offers common paint tools: paintbrush, pencil, eraser, clone stamp, various hollow or filled shapes and a text tool. Parts of the picture can be selected and moved or copied. Colours are shown in hex and rgb and a transparent colour is given. Pictures may be pasted into the drawing area from the clipboard, using Ctrl+v.
Unless you choose "Windows Icon" on the first page of the program, the only save option will be bmp. Not to worry. Even if you have chosen Windows Icon and saved as ico, you'll need to have Irfanview save it again in true ico format. When I opened a PixelToolbox icon in Irfanview, Irfan said, "This is really a bmp. Rename?" I agreed, then saved it in ico format in Irfanview.
Size on disk: 127MB
Pixia is a full-featured graphics program, especially intended for creating Manga, ("It's awesome", I'm told by my granddaughter) but good for many other graphics tasks.
As well as the usual help file—which is itself very clear and precise—it has understandable and easy to follow tutorials on all aspects of its use. After Pixia has been installed, you should find the tutorials at C:\Program Files\Seagrand\Pixia\E-Pack\index.html.I was particularly pleased to learn how to scan a newspaper cartoon and get a clean image, easily removing the off-white areas.
Layers are explained carefully, with plenty of illustrations. Colour is handled extremely well, in that different brightnesses of the same colour can be selected. This is great if you're trying to clean the background from an image.
Pixia has a native format, pxa, in which unfinished work should be saved to preserve layers, but it also saves bmp, ico, jpg, png and tif as well as Fujifilm's native format.
Size on disk: 10.2MB
PSP4 is a program in which you can make and edit your own pictures or touch up photographs. It's little brother to the much loved Paint Shop Pro, but all the tools, and options are in one place and fixed—no confusing clutter. The person offering this non-expiring shareware version suggests that you use this as a "try before you buy". While this doesn't have the bells and whistles of PSP7, it makes and saves jpgs, transparent gifs, and several other useful formats, uses masks and selections, browses a whole directory very quickly, and has an excellent screen capture module.
It's the only program that allowed me to easily rotate text and to paste something transparently and repeatedly.
If you can understand and use Windows Paint, you won't have too much trouble graduating to this early version of PSP. Many of the tools are similar, although more sophisticated. Line widths, for instance, can be anything from 1 to 100 pixels. Flood fills and colour exchange can be given a "tolerance"—that is, the effect can be made to work where colour is similar, but not exactly the same.
You can choose a "surface" on which to paint, so that your work has a textured effect.
Particularly useful when editing photos is the "clone" tool, with which you can copy one part of a picture—some shrubbery, perhaps—onto and over an unwanted or ugly item in a different part of the picture.
This is a really good program for beginners. The help file won't work on Vista, although the program itself does work. top
Size on disk: 17.7MB
I didn't much like this for painting on a blank canvas.
When you open the program, you'll see links to a few online tutorials. Watching one or more of these will give you ideas of changes that can be made to photographs.
You'll find most of the expected painting tools: selection by shape, freehand or colour; pencil; brushes; text and regular shapes. The polygon tool allows you to drag edges and reshape until you click away. Both straight and curved lines can be similarly edited; you can draw a straight line and reshape it to make a zigzag, for instance.
Fills can be plain, patterned or gradient. Smoothing can be turned on or off by clicking an icon.
Change zoom by clicking the zoom percentage on the upper toolbar and choosing anything between 6.25% and 3200%. The same toolbar gives you instant access to turning a grid on or off, to applying a drop shadow, or inverting a selection, as well as the usual open, save, cut, copy and paste
RealWorldPaint would not allow me to use a nonalphabet font. That is, if I chose Botanical or Wingdings, RWP substituted actual letters for the glyphs in the font.
Choosing Index from the Help menu takes you to a webpage from which you can click and read various topics, but for me the explanations weren't full enough. When I clicked Search in the same menu, I got Page Not Found. top
Size on disk: 1.28MB
This little program makes animated reflections, similar in appearance to the Java "lake" effect, but no Java applet is needed. Simple and very easy.
Size on disk: 1.04MB
Scrutico lets you scan a folder to see all the icons. The interface is labelled in French, but it's pretty easy to see what to do. top
Size on disk: 89.7MB
This is a children's Paint program designed for Linux, but it runs on Windows and Mac as well.
A very slick interface with lots of interesting tools, rather different from those in Drawing for Children, and without the "surprises". A new picture can be made on a blank background, coloured background, or over a ready-made "colouring-in" page.
Lots of shapes to paint with—arrows, a star, flowers, cats, spirals and hearts—and more interesting things are available after pressing the button labelled "Magic". You can then paint with foam, bricks, grass or flowers, turn on "Mosaic" and have your lines mirrored, use a calligraphy pen, or apply effects such as lighten, darken, chalk, glass tiles or emboss.
Stamps: The standard download contains very few stamps. Look on this page to download a 38MB package of stamps. During installation, you'll have the opportunity to deselect any categories. If you choose to install the lot, that'll be 50MB of disc space.
Using Stamps: To navigate from category to category, click left or right arrow. To see all the stamps in the present category, click up or down arrow. To control the size of a stamp, before pasting: below the left and right arrows you'll see a graduated diagram. Click somewhere along this to change the size of the silhouette. Just above the sizer there's a mirror icon and a flip icon.
Tuxpaint has sound effects! If you hold the Alt key and tap s, they'll stop. top
Size on disk: 10.4MB
Ultimate Paint has some nice features. The free version includes all the expected tools, including Clone, lines and arrows, curved lines, a variety of filled and unfilled shapes, selection tools that include add and subtract
Fun to use is the Symmetry tool; with this you can make a kaleidoscope-like image or a "tiled" backgound.
This program has heaps of potential, but falls down a bit on presentation. For me, the menu and toolbars are too small to be read comfortably. Choosing Options > Preferences, clicking the Skins tab and choosing Classic improved this somewhat.
I was not able to rotate text.
Some tools—Selection and Cut, for instance—are meant to stay active while others are chosen and used. Beginning an operation is explained well in the help, but leaving some operations is not always intuitive. Be prepared to spend some time finding out how to cancel things.
Size on disk: 28KB
It takes only a minute to download the 20kb zip file for the UnFreez animation builder. There's just one file, but all the directions are right there when you open it. Just make two or three small gifs, drop them into the UnFreez window, say how long you want each displayed and save the finished animation. top
Size on disk: 1.69MB
The author says:
For the majority who do not know: Unshake is a free java (and Linux C) program, which analyses blurred photographs and tries to work out how they were blurred. It then returns its best guess as to what the original scene would have looked like. In short, it is designed to remove blur from photos.
On the small photo that I tried, it made a definite improvement. top
Size on disk: 2.2MB
VallenJPegger is particularly useful if you want to print small copies of many photos. With most programs there's a lot of wasted paper, but JPegger lets you fill each page with anything from one to a hundred and forty-four separate images, provided that they're together in one directory or folder.
One of the most interesting and unusual aspects of this free program is that it will assist you in filling a CD with images, with autoplay and, if you wish, your own spoken commentary. top
Size on disk: 8.53MB
VicMan's Photo Editor (8.1) has a heap of interesting filters and effects, but for serious photo editing—or for painting from scratch—it's seriously lacking. Quite basic expected tools and functions are either missing or cunningly concealed. Commands don't seem to be arranged in a logical way; I could not find "Resize" on any menu, but eventually tried "Zoom" off from Transformations on the Effects menu and was able to make my photo smaller—but in two steps. Earlier editions were better. top
Windows Paint—MSPaint—lacks many of the features you find in other programs, but for making a quick, simple picture, for beginning a seamless tile, for repeatedly pasting a cutout, there seems to be nothing that's as quick and easy.
Probably the nearest is Paint.NET.
Many tasks can be mostly done in Paint. When you need a function that's only available in some other program, copy your picture—or the part that needs the more sophisticated tools—you might want to smooth an edge, rotate something 15°, select and change an area filled with slightly different colours, apply a filter, or any of a dozen other things that are beyond Paint's capabilities.
Paste your picture into the program that you know will do what you want, then copy and paste it back into Paint. There's no reason why you shouldn't have several programs open at the same time; you just pick up the one you want to use from the task bar. I use Paint a lot, but rarely do I save from it. top
Size on disk: 9.54MB
This great viewer and converter—which in many ways could be seen as a file manager—has at least one outstanding and needed feature. On the Create menu you'll find an item "File Listing". I quote:
This wonderful feature should be included with the operating system, but sadly is not. Use the navigation pane to select the folder/directory you wish to view, select the files you wish to list, and then use File Listing to generate a text file.
The listing isn't restricted to graphics. Any and all file types can be listed and recorded, with or without details and optionally including the contents of subfolders. Furthermore, when viewing files with XnView's browser, one can click up a file and have it open in the appropriate program. Executables can also be clicked up. Fantastic!
To return to graphics: XnView reads as many as 500 formats! Saves in over thirty, including gif and jpg. Has slide show, browser, acquire image, useful filters and a properly relevant help file.
Many programs offer to make thumbnails and generate a set of web pages in slide show fashion. XnView does this better than most. The only "extra" file generated was a tidy, easy to edit css, and all pages were valid html4 strict.
Questions or comments? I'd love to hear from you. My email address is here.
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