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Learn to use the tools and make pictures with MS Paint

These instructions are for MSPaint in Windows XP.

As some tools behave differently, you may prefer to read the instructions for MSPaint in Windows 98 or MSPaint in Windows Vista or MS Paint for Windows7.

There are better programs than MS Paint, but it’s the only one that comes with your operating system—it’s free and you don’t have to locate and download it. Having such a small number of tools and capabilities, it’s easy to learn and a little perseverance will quickly make you an expert in its use.

Skip the contents table and go straight to work.  

If you would like to work in Paint while you follow these instructions, do remember that you can resize your browserA Browser is the program you use to visit sites on the Internet. Internet Explorer (IE) may be the browser that you use, but there are many others, such as Firefox, Opera, Google Chrome, K-Meleon and Blackbird.
You can have as many browsers as you like, and run more than one at the same time.
window. Just hover your cursor over a side edge of the browser window until a double-headed arrow appears, press your left mouse button and drag left or right until the window is a suitable size.

You can then grab the browser window by the title bar and drag it to the position that you want it in. You can do this with almost any window on your computer.

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attributes menu
bigger or closer view
border thickness of shapes
color eraser tool
color eraser won't work
change size of flower
color palette
color picker
color the flower
copy picture from web page
copying parts of a drawing
cursor position
curve tool
delete with a selection tool
delete working files
drawing flowers
drawing stars and other shapes
drawing with a cutout
eraser tool
erasing color with flood tool 
fill bucket
filled circles and squares
filled shape with a border
flip or rotate
flood tool won't work
flower picture
flower template
formats for saving graphics
freehand selection
gif not on dropdown
help menu (F1)
hollow shapes
image menu
invert colors
line tool
make centre for flower
make copies of flower
paint only saves bmp
pencil tool
pictures in emails
polygon drawing
rectangular selection tool
removing a template
repeated copy/pasting
saving your work
selection tools
shapes tool
spray tool
status bar
stretch and skew
swapping colors
text toolbar
thumbnail view
when flood tool won't work
white flowers
Why use just 256 Colors?
working over a template
zoom tool  

The Paint Window

This is the window that you see when you open Paint.

Paint Window showing status bar and palettePaint Window showing status bar and palette I like to use a big drawing area, probably because I’m a messy worker! Yours may be just a small square, although you'll probably find it more convenient if you allow yourself some extra space on the side. It makes no difference to the operation of the program.

The dashed rectangle in this picture shows that a selection has been made. When you first open the window it is quite blank.

If, however, your Paint window doesn’t have colors along the bottom and a double line of grey squares (with various small symbols on them) down the left side as this one does, click View on the menu bar at the top of the window and tick the items shown here.

menu bar with view menu open showing which items should be ticked Text Toolbar, which is dimmed in this picture, only becomes available when you’re working with text.

The items Zoom and View Bitmap offer different views of your work. The Zoom tool is dealt with under its own heading. View Bitmap gives you a full-screen view of your entire painting. One left click while in View Bitmap will bring you back to the normal Paint window. 

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Four of the Paint menus—File, Edit, View and Help—are common to almost all Windows programs. Some of the items available, though, are specific to this program.

Menus that are special to Windows Paint include Image and Colors.

The menu of greatest interest is the Image Menu, which I'll discuss as soon as we've looked at the different areas of the Paint window.

The Toolbox

the paint toolbox, with mode selection area at bottomAll the little symbols down the left are called the tools and together they make the toolbox.

The individual tools will each be explained separately further down.

Under the toolbox is a small area where you see different options according to which tool you're using.

It may show line thickness, spray can density, size and shape of the paintbrush or whether a shape is to be filled or hollow. Some tools have no options, and when any of these tools is active—selected or in use—the area below the toolbox remains blank.  

Paste Options

the paste icon with transparent option selectedIn this picture, with the selection tool active, you have a choice between paste opaque and paste transparent (selected, as you can tell by the dark background).

When you have white as your background color—the color selected by the right mouse button—and have chosen paste transparent, anything you select from a picture with a white background can be pasted without a rectangle of white surrounding it.

If the item you want to select is sitting on a background of a color other than white, clicking your right button on that color will make it possible for you to select the item without its background. 

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The Color Palette

the paint palette with default colorsUnder the main window is the color palette. The two squares set apart from the rest at the left end of the palette show the active colors; the colors presently in use.

When you click on a color in the palette with the left mouse button, that color will be the primary or foreground color, here shown as pink.

The color you click on with the right mouse button will be the secondary or background color, here shown as white.

These terms are the same in all the graphics programs I've used—programs including painting and drawing programs as well as small programs with a single function, such as recoloring.

edit colors edit colorsIf a color that you'd like to use is not available on the palette, double click on one of the color blocks.

If you double click any color patch on the palette, a window similar to the left side of this picture will open and you can choose a different color to occupy that place in the palette.

Your choice will remain in that place while you're working on your current piece. Once you close Paint, or open a different picture, the original colors will be restored.

I've found no way of saving special colors in the palette. If you make a small picture with your special colors and paste that into a new picture where you want to use them, you can choose them with the color picker.

When you click "Define Custom colors", you're presented with this larger window that allows you to select colors very finely. By raising or lowering the little black arrow on the right, you can make a basic color softer or stronger.

You may then, if you wish, click an empty white space and then click "Add to Custom colors". There's not a great deal of point in doing that, however, because every time I tried to save custom colors they disappeared when I closed Paint.

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The Status Bar

Right at the bottom of the Paint window is the Status Bar. It gives information according to what you're doing.
the status bar in Paint

If it can't think of anything pertinent to say, it has the "For Help" message, its variation on "Yes, Dear".

Help can also be invoked by pressing the F1 key at any time. This is true of most Windows programs.

Cursor Position

To the right of the help message is the cursor position (here shown as 131,95). The 131 refers to the distance in pixels away from the left margin and the 95 the distance in pixels down from the top margin. This pair of numbers changes as you move the mouse around the window with no buttons pressed. As soon as you press either button the number "sticks" and remains the same until you release the button.

The last part of the status bar tells you the size in pixels of the thing you're drawing or the selection you've made (here shown as 121x94). The 121 refers to the width of the shape or selection and the 94 to its height. 

N.B. There's an odd thing about this pair of numbers—when you're drawing a shape, they're one off. Say you draw a rectangle and the status bar says it's 118x166. If you then use the rectangular selection tool to exactly trace that rectangle, you'll find it's 117x165. I've tried this on four different computers and it was the same in each case.

OK. Here's the image menu.

the image menu Flip/Rotate lets you turn things upside down or sideways. You can only turn through 90 degrees, 180 and 270. Fancier programs let you rotate more finely.  

Stretch/Skew lets you make things bigger, smaller or pushed sideways. Bitmaps greatly enlarged look pretty rough, so step carefully.

It's worth drawing a shape, selecting it and then investigating the effects of stretching and skewing.

colors of the picture on the left have been inverted to make the picture on the right
Invert colors attempts to change the colors of a selection to their opposites. Just how accurately it does this depends on the colors available, as can be seen here, where the right half of the picture is a copy of the left but has had its colors inverted.


The letters beside the different items are keys you can press instead of going through the menu. Unless you're going to use this program every day, I wouldn't bother learning them because they clash with Word keys that you'd use more often, like (in Word) Ctrl + e means "Centre" and Ctrl + r means "Right".
Furthermore, if a menu is open you'll get no response to these keys beyond a warning "ding".

The usual Windows keys: Ctrl+s to save, Ctrl+z to undo, Ctrl+c to copy, Ctrl+x to cut and Ctrl+v to paste also work in Paint.

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An important item on the image menu is Attributes.

the attributes dialogue the attributes dialogue I find it most convenient to have a large area in which to work, then later select the part I want to keep and save it separately, using the Copy To procedure.

If you click on Attributes you can change the size of the drawing area.

You can also click either inches or centimetres as your preferred measurement. This, however, will only tell you the size of your drawing area. Cursor position and the dimensions of drawn objects will still be shown on the status bar in pixels.

There is also an option to work in black and white.
Working in black and white is a thankless task. Many of the tools become meaningless. Leave black and white for experts or masochists.

Now for the different tools.

The button representing a selected tool will appear to be depressed.

The Zoom Tool

Get a bigger, closer view.

magnifying glass or zoom toolThe little magnifying glass changes your view of a drawing. If you want to change some tiny thing that's really hard to see, click on the magnifying glass. It can be called the zoom tool or the view tool.

As soon as you click on it, numbers appear under the toolbox. They are 1x, 2x, 6x and 8x.  

If you click on one of the magnifications, you'll get a bigger view, but you can't be sure which part of the picture you'll zoom in on. Therefore it's better to click the magnifying glass directly on the picture.

However, when you are zoomed in, clicking a greater number will increase the magnification of the part at which you're looking.

Two further options become available on the View Menu when you're zoomed in. These are Show Grid and Thumbnail.

thumbnail windowWhile you are working in a zoomed view, Thumbnail will give you a small window in which you can observe the results of changes as you make them. The Thumbnail window can be placed wherever you find it convenient, and it can be resized by dragging the sides or the corners.

Once you have it sized and positioned to your liking, it will follow as you move tools around the zoomed window.

Unfortunately, once you return to normal view the Thumbnail window is often lost and will have to be invoked again when next you zoom in.

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zoomed in window with grid turned onzoomed in window with grid turned onShow Grid becomes available on the View menu only when you are working in a window zoomed in to 6x or 8x. Each pixel (short for "picture cell") of color can be seen individually. This is useful if you are trying to make a very precise selection or place one or two pixels of color in a specific location.

Here a selection is being made, and you can see that both its starting location (107 pixels from the left and 195 pixels from the top) and size (30 pixels wide and 15 pixels high) are reflected in the numbers in the status bar.


Changing the Zoom
If, while you are zoomed in, you click the magnifying glass again and click on the picture you can choose a view of 2x, 6x or 8x from the area below the toolbox. Clicking on the picture with the right mouse button will make the view zoom out.

custom zoom dialogue You can also go into the View menu and choose Zoom and then Custom.

The Custom menu includes 400%, which is not available from the options below the toolbox.

The choice you make here will affect the working of the zoom tool until you visit this option box again. That is, if you choose 800%, the next time you click the zoom tool on part of your picture(while in normal view) the view will change to 8x.  

The Paintbrush

toolbox with paintbrush selectedThis picture shows that I've chosen the paintbrush.

The palette says I'll be painting with black, unless I use the right button for drawing, in which case I'll paint with white, which won't really do me a lot of good.

I can change either color by clicking the appropriate button on the color I want it to use.

Under the tools and above the palette are a lot of different shapes with which I can choose to paint.

The one I've chosen (it shows as an oblique white line on a blue oblong) will give a thick line when I drag in one direction and a skinny one in the other direction, so you get a sort of calligraphy pen effect.

It's also useful for painting right up close to something.  

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The Eraser Tool

the toolbox with the eraser selectedHere we have the eraser, a clever little gadget.
When you press the left button, it rubs out everything you drag over.

Swapping Colors

When you press the right button it changes anything the color of the left button to the color of the right button.

Say you have a blue line and you change your mind and wish it were green. blue foreground, green background selected

This is very handy if you need to draw guidelines to help get a picture the way you want it. You draw the guidelines in a color you don't like much and won't use in the drawing.

When you've done your drawing, you put the nasty guideline color onto your left button and white (presuming that white is the color of your background) onto your right button and drag, holding the right button, over the guidelines.

Your picture remains, but the guidelines disappear.

The squares under the toolbox show you the sizes of eraser from which you can choose.

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The Color Picker

color pickerThis is the color picker. If you're working on a drawing, particularly if you're zoomed in, and you want to use one of the colors that's nearby in the part you're working on, instead of going down to choose the color from the palette you click on the color picker and then on the color in the drawing.

Also, it may be that there are colors in your picture that are not on the palette at all. You may have customised a color when you began the picture, but after you closed Paint and reopened it the palette had gone back to showing the default colors.

If there are colors that you want to use often, and which are not on the palette, you may choose to save them as a tiny cutout picture. When you need those colors, paste the cutout into your current picture and use the color picker.

The Fill Bucket

fill or flood bucket toolThis is the fill color bucket tool. It's also called the flood tool. You use it to fill a shape with a color of your choice.

The shape must have absolutely no holes in it, or the color will leak out and go into places where you don't want it. If that were to happen, you'd hold down Control and press z.

Then zoom in and find the place where color leaks through. It can be just one pixel. It's most likely to happen if you've pasted a piece of clip art and are coloring it in.

an accident with the flood tool

Make an abstract mosaic

random pattern with flood toolrandom pattern with flood toolIf you're new to the program, being faced with a blank white screen can be pretty daunting. "What'll I draw?" Try making a big hollow square, criss-crossing it with lines at random angles, then use the fill bucket to color each little section. Alternatively, make a scribble pattern with the pencil tool and fill areas in the same way. You'll have something bright in no time! Thanks to Ms Clyde Dawson for this idea.

Erasing a Color with the Flood Tool

Apart from filling shapes, this can be used as a sort of eraser. Say you've been scribbling away and you've left bits of blue all over the place. Flood the drawing area with blue, then with white, and all the bits and scraps of blue should vanish.
If you had some blue things that you wanted, though, they'd vanish too. Another job for good old Ctrl+z.

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When the Flood Tool Won't Work

dithering and smoothing Sometimes you try to use this tool to change a color in an existing picture and nothing happens.

After you've done the virus check, rung the repair man, worried about your brain function, etc, etc, you should zoom in and have a close look at the area you're trying to color. What you'll see is not one color, but two, several or many colors mixed together. This applies particularly to photographs, but also happens with some clip art. Colors are "smoothed" to make them look more natural; skin tones, for instance. 


There's also a process called dithering. This happens when a picture needs more colors than are available to it. For instance, the 16 Windows colors include no soft pink. If you change 256 colors to 16, some programs will try to match pink by mixing red and white pixels. It works well, but it makes the fill bucket impossible to use.

Some ways to deal with this situation are to use the color picker to select one color at a time and use the color eraser on each in turn, or simply paint over the troublesome area.

A close view of actual dithering

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The Line Tool

the tool for making straight lines This tool makes straight lines. You can drag freehand to make a line in any direction, or you can hold down the shift key and the line will be constrained to exactly vertical, exactly horizontal, or exactly 45 degrees.

The line thickness is chosen from the options under the toolbox.  

Line thickness selected here affects the outline of ellipses, polygons and rectangles.


The Curve Tool

toolbox with curve tool selectedThis is the curve tool. You can have a lot of fun with it.

You choose a line thickness from under the toolbox, and you choose a color to draw with. I've used different thicknesses and different colors.

Drag a straight line, then click somewhere near it. Move your cursor and click again, or drag and click.

You only get two clicks per curve. If you don't like what happens you hold Ctrl and tap z and it'll go away.

If you want to make a more complex curve—say a spiral—do it bit by bit: make several curves and join them end-to-end.

The flower petal shapes are made differently. Imagine a triangle and click each of its points. You don't drag a line first. You have to practice for about a hundred years before you have the faintest idea which way up or how big the shape will be. You might find it easier to get all organised and draw a grid to guide you and then rub it out later. 


The Pencil Tool

the pencil toolThe pencil is very hard to use for writing or freehand drawing. When you can write your name with the pencil you should rush out and buy a lot of balloons and otherwise congratulate yourself.

Where the pencil shows its value is if you need to change tiny details. In a zoomed in view, you can change the color of one pixel at a time.

The Shapes Tool

the tools for drawing various standard shapes This group of tools is used for drawing shapes. Three of them, the rectangle, ellipse and rounded rectangle, respond similarly to your holding the shift key. This constrains them to drawing either a circle or a square—with or without rounded corners. The polygon tool responds somewhat differently, in that it attempts to keep its lines exactly vertical, exactly horizontal, or exactly at 45 degrees. 


filled polygonsTo draw a polygon, such as a star, a triangle or an odd-shaped quadrilateral, drag to make the first line, then click where you want subsequent lines to end. When you double click, a line will be drawn from the end of the last existing line to the beginning of the line that you dragged to begin.

Below the toolbox there are three representations of how you might like your polygon drawn. The top one is hollow; just an outline. The middle one is filled and has a border. The bottom one is a solid block of color without any border.

These polygons were drawn with the middle choice, which means "filled shape with a border".

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Border Thickness of Shapes

These polygons were drawn using the first choice; outline only. The thickness of the outline of rectangles, ellipses and polygons is governed by the last choice you made for line thickness. If your border is too thick or too thin, click the line tool, choose the line thickness that you want, then click your shape tool again.

Remember, if the one you started was wrong, Ctrl+z will undo it. 


Hollow Shapes

hollow shapes; circles and squaresThese shapes have been drawn as hollow; they're just an outline. The background color is used if you drag with the right button. The foreground color is used if you drag with the left.  


Filled Circles and Squares

filled shapes; circles and squaresThese are filled shapes. Which color is used as the fill and which as the border depends on the button you're holding as you drag. With the left button the background color is used as the fill. 

If you are using the third choice—a filled shape without a border—the color used will be that on the mouse button that you press while you draw the shape.

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The Spray Paint Tool

the spray can or airbrush toolThe spray can delivers individual pixels of color in a spray pattern.

Below the toolbox are three choices for width and density.

The dots are much closer together if you choose the small option.

This tool is one of the easiest to use and a good one to start with. Choose the wide spray, as shown selected here, and just drag all over the drawing area.

Change colors often. You'll find that it's much easier to draw some sort of recognisable shape—or even write your name—with this tool than with the pencil or brush. Spray one color over another, or try building up more color in one area than in another. 

The Selection Tools

selection toolsNow we have the selection tools. The one on the right is the one you'll almost always use. It selects a rectangular area. The star shaped one is more tricky.  

The Rectangular Selection Tool

the rectangular selection toolYou use this tool when you want to move something to a different part of the drawing.

You also use it if you want two or more copies of the same thing.

A third thing you can use it for is to draw or write with a small part of your painting.

Last, you can use it to delete an area. The selection tools in this program work particularly well and without fuss. Don't tell the program writers, or they'll think of a way to make them less handy!

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Here's How It Works.

selecting with the rectangle tool You drag across the thing or area you want to copy. The usual way is to start at the top left and drag to bottom right. This makes a dashed rectangle around the area. Now you can let go and put your cursor anywhere inside the selected area. If you click anywhere else, the selection will be cancelled.

Press with your left button and drag the selection to where you want it. If you press with your right button you'll get a menu instead. You may prefer to choose something from that menu or just use the left button.

There are two things to think about when you're moving a selection. The first is your background color. This doesn't mean the color that's the background of your picture.
It means the color that's on your right mouse button.

If it's say, a horrible dirty green, the place from which you moved the selection will assume that color, which is not likely to be what you want. Therefore, make sure that your right button color is the same color as the background of your picture.


The other consideration is transparency. You may want to move the selection just as it is; a rectangular shape with a fair bit of white in it. On the other hand, you may want only what you've drawn, in which case you'll want the white to be transparent.transparency optionsThis little pair of icons, which appear conveniently when you click on the selection tool, control transparency. With the bottom icon highlighted, as shown here, your selection will be transparent. With the top icon highlighted, the whole rectangular area will come along, no matter what colors are in it—unless you have a color other than white on your right button, in which case that color will be absent from the moved selection.

N.B. "Transparency" here refers only to what happens while you're working in Paint. As far as I know, Paint will not save with a transparent color. If you need to make a gif where the background shows through, you need to open your finished work in another program, such as IrfanView.

OK. That was about moving your selection. Now we'll use the same tool to make a copy.

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Copying Parts of Your Drawing

Select the area as before, by dragging from top left to bottom right. Let go and place your cursor inside the dashed rectangle. Check that transparency is set the way you want it. Hold down the control key. Drag the selection to the place where you want the copy. Click. You can move it to lots of different places. Each time you click you'll leave a copy. 

Drawing with a Cutout

painting by dragging
Accidental splodging.

Drawing with a part of your picture takes some practice. Select an area, move or copy it to where you want to begin, hold down the shift key and start dragging. How it works out depends on speed and direction. If you drag quickly, you get the image repeated randomly but recognisably. If you drag more slowly you get a splodgy result. This may or may not be what you want.

Deliberate splodging.

writing and drawing with a cutout writing and drawing with a cutout Select a tiny area from a picture. Hold the shift key while you drag it as though it were a paintbrush or crayon. Write a word or two.
The word "splodging" has now been added to the dictionary!


Repeated Copy/Pasting

pieces to be copiedpieces copied repeatedlyNow, say you want to do something rather more controlled. OK. That's what the Ctrl key is for (in this case).

Let's say you've drawn a little flower.

And a leaf.

And a vine that you'd like them to grow from.

OK. First off, select the leaf. Don't make the selection tight and neat. Have a bit of space around the leaf. Open the Image menu. Click Flip/Rotate. Click Flip horizontal. Voila! Now you have two leaves, but one is facing the other way.

OK. Now it's simple. Select the flower. Hold the Ctrl key as you drag a copy to a new position. Click. Keep holding the control key and drag to another position. Click.

When you have enough flowers along the vine, go back and select one of the leaves. Hold down the Ctrl key and drag, position, click, drag, position, click. Did that go well?

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The Freehand Selection Tool

freehand selection toolYou'll only need to use this tool if you want to copy something that's in an awkward position. If two things are close together, so that you can't draw a straight line between them, you use this tool. You use it to make a freehand selection around the thing you're selecting. Drag as though you were drawing around the shape with a pencil, until you have the whole thing outlined. As soon as you release the mouse button the selection will have been made, so if you let go too soon you'll need to start again.

freehand selection moving freehand selection

When the selection appears, it looks as though a rectangular area has been selected.  When you move or copy the selection, though, you'll find that only the part you outlined has been selected.

Move it into a more open area so that it'll be easier to select next time.

If you hold the Ctrl key while you drag the selection, you'll drag a copy and the original will be left where it was.

To delete something with a selection tool, select it and press the delete key.

You can also delete things by drawing white squares or circles over them, or, if they're in solid blocks of color, by clicking the fill tool on them when it's loaded with white.  

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Now text. Text is tricky. Always save before you start adding text, so that if you run out of undo levels you can exit without saving and have your picture as it was before you started the text.

text toolbar on view menu When you click the large A that represents the text tool and click on your page, a little font bar should pop up. If it doesn't, click the View menu and click Text Toolbar.

text toolbar

If you have a lot of other windows open, the Text Toolbar can be hidden. Minimise each of the other windows until you see it, then drag it onto your Paint page before restoring the other windows.

You use this toolbar just as you would in a word processor, choosing font, size, and special things like Bold or Italic. There's an icon at the right hand end that I don't understand. It doesn't have a tool tip and it isn't mentioned in help. Perhaps it's an emergency exit; a "break glass in case of fire" sort of thing.

It isn't wise to make text on top of a good painting. Find some spare space over to the side somewhere, make your text there and paste it into its final position only when it's exactly as you want it.

To make your initial text box, you can click or drag; it doesn't matter. If, while you're typing text, you realise that the box is too small, you can put your cursor over one of the "handles" (blue blocks) and drag it wider or taller or both. It seems you cannot adjust it to make it smaller.

If you move your cursor and click anywhere outside of the text box, the text will be pasted.

move a textbox

It is possible to move a text box before pasting. Hover your cursor exactly over the dashed line until a normal-looking arrow appears. Press the left mouse button and drag the text box to a new position.

paste icons, transparency chosen Before you click outside the text box—thus pasting the text into the picture—check your transparency icons. You may want the text pasted on a rectangular background so that it stands out from the rest of the picture. If so, have the top icon highlighted. If you want the text without a background, choose the lower icon.

If I were adding text to a picture in Paint, I'd have spare space on my drawing area, and I'd type my text there, make a block of color to fit it nicely if I wanted a colored background, paste the text onto the background and then paste the whole thing where I wanted it in the picture. It's too awkward doing it straight into position; too many things can go wrong.

By the way, if I wanted it on a white background, I'd make the background some other color until I had the box in position, and then I'd use the fill tool and/or the color eraser to make it white.

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Well, that's it, as far as I can think. Just for fun, here's a template and directions for drawing a flower. Copy the picture, paste it into Paint, and see how you go. (If it appeals to you.)

Drawing a Collection of Flowers

a finished bunch of flowers These directions will put you on the road to making something like this—or, probably, something much more interesting and creative. The results may not have the smooth finish you'd achieve in a top flight graphics program, but hey! Paint is free, you can produce something of your own in jig time, and you'll become familiar with many of the tools along the way.

return to the curve tool

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To do this exercise without hassles, you'll need a really big drawing window.

You'll also be wise to save often. Once you've saved your workspace you only need to hold down the Ctrl key and tap "s" to save as you work.  

Ctrl+s will save in just about any Windows program. Using it often is a good habit to get into. 

Getting Started

Save the Empty Paint Page

As soon as you open Paint, before you do anything else—except perhaps changing the size of your work area—go to the File menu and choose Save As.

Choose 256 Color BitmapIn the dialogue box that appears, click the drop-down arrow at the end of the Save as type place.

Click the item "256 Color Bitmap".


Type a name for the fileType a name for the file. Click Save.


warning about loss of color informationAs you are being returned to the Paint window, you'll get this warning: "Saving into this format may cause some loss of color information.
Do you want to continue?"


dithered colors in excessI prefer to work in 16 colors wherever possible, because the file size of a 16 color bmp is smaller than that of a 256 color bmp, and because 16 and 256 color cutouts paste successfully into files of different formats.

If disk space is not an issue with you, then you'll prefer the wider color choice of 256.

If they're finally to be saved as gifs, size doesn't matter, since the gifs of this sort of work are tiny in byte size. What does matter is to be sure to save the workspace as a 256 (or 16) color bitmap before you begin drawing.

On the left is an 8x view of a corner of something I started before I thought to save as 256 colors. When I saved it as a gif after I'd made blocks of color, Paint dithered most of the colors. The dithering isn't obvious in normal view, but if I'd tried to do any sort of color changing I'd've been just a little frustrated. rolleyes

explanation of dithering

Template for drawing a flower in MS Paint. A circle within a square, with diagonals, vertical and horizontal diameters drawn in.

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Copy the Template from Here

There are other ways to save pictures from the web—but not if Paint is your only graphics program. Other programs will save the picture at its true size; if Paint happens to have a large drawing area set, it will save all of the unused area as part of the picture. This is not an economical way to save pictures.

You can use this method to copy any picture from any web page. However, some pictures are protected and can't be copied. That's because the artist doesn't want their work freely distributed. Such pictures may have taken great skill and hours of work to produce.

If a web site has a notice requesting that you don't copy images, always heed it.

  1. Right click on the picture.

  2. Choose Save Picture As.

  3. Make sure that the picture is being saved in a place of your choice,
    then either accept the offered name or type in a new one.
    The offered name is sometimes meaningless. Use a name that makes sense.

    In the case of this template, please accept the offered name, which should be flower_template.gif.

Bring a Copy of the Template into Paint

  1. Later, when you're ready, open Paint and make or open your 16 color file workspace.bmp.

  2. Check that you have white as your background (right button) color.

  3. Click Edit on the menu bar, choose Paste From and navigate to the place where you've saved flower_template.gif.

    If necessary, drop down the Files of Type list and choose either All Picture Files or Graphics Interchange Format, otherwise the saved gif may not be shown.

  4. Click flower_template.gif and click Open.

  5. When you're returned to the Paint window, there will be a dashed selection rectangle around flower_template.gif. If you'd like to move it to a different position, position your cursor anywhere inside the dashed rectangle and drag the picture.

  6. Click anywhere outside the picture to paste it.

  7. Save your work.

N.B. It's important that you work on a copy of the template, pasted in this way.

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First Steps

Working over the Template

  1. use the numbers as a guide.Choose a strong color—but not red or black.

  2. Click the curved line tool.

  3. Set line width to the second thickness.

  4. Click the centre of the circle.

  5. Click where line 1 crosses the circle.

  6. Click where line 2 crosses the circle. The first petal should appear.

  7. Click the curved line tool to paste the petal.

  8. Click the centre of the circle.

  9. Click where line 2 crosses the circle.

  10. Click where line 3 crosses the circle. The second petal should appear.

  11. Click the curved line tool to paste the second petal.

  12. Continue around the circle, following the pattern of centre, 1,2, paste, centre, 2, 3, paste, centre, 3, 4, paste, until you are back to line 1 and have an eight petalled flower.

the outline of an eight petalled flower drawn over the template

(This would work without the repeated clicking on the curve tool. However, I've found that if I leave this out and undo a mistake, Paint undoes all the curved lines I made since last clicking the tool.)

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Now Remove the Template

  1. Make sure that you have white as your background color.
    That is, click your right mouse button on white in the color palette.

  2. Click your left mouse button on black.

  3. Click on the eraser tool.

  4. Pressing your right mouse button, drag over every black line or curve.

  5. Now click your left button on red in the color palette.

  6. Pressing your right mouse button, drag over every red number.

If the color eraser won't work

(If you have clicked on red in the palette and find that the color eraser doesn't work, it means that the red is not exactly the same as the red in your palette. If this happens, click on the Color Picker tool color pickerand click with it on the red of one of the numbers. Now the color eraser should work for you.)

Color the Flower

  1. Click your left mouse button on the color you'd like your flower to be.
    For the first one, make this a different color from the one that you used to make the outline. After you've made some copies, you might like to fill some of those with the outline color.

  2. Click on the fill bucket tool.

  3. Click inside one of the petals.

  4. Click inside each petal until all are filled. 

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Make a Centre for the Flower

  1. Click on the line tool and then on the third thickness in the box below the tools.

  2. Choose foreground and background colors that are different from the colors already in the picture.

  3. Click on the circle/ellipse tool.

  4. Click on the filled shape below the tools.

  5. In an empty part of your drawing window, hold the shift key while you draw a filled circle.
    Make several of these circles until you're happy with the size.

  6. With your right mouse button, click on white in the color palette.

  7. Click on the rectangular selection tool.

  8. Click on the transparent selection icon.

  9. Draw a selection rectangle around the circle you want to use as the centre of your flower.

  10. Drag the circle onto the centre of your flower.
    When you're satisfied with the position, click an empty part of your drawing window. 

Make Copies of the Flower

  1. With white as your background color, and with the transparency icon selected,
    draw a selection rectangle around your flower.

  2. Press and hold the Ctrl key.

  3. Drag a copy of you flower to an empty part of the drawing window.

  4. Click to paste, then continue dragging until you have another copy.

  5. Click each time you want to paste a copy.  

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Change the Size of the Flower

  1. Stretch and Skew chosen on View menuDraw a selection rectangle around one copy of the flower.

  2. On the View menu, choose Stretch and Skew.

  3. In the dialogue box that appears, change 100 to 50 in both the horizontal and vertical slots.

  4. Click OK.


stretch and skew dialogue stretch and skew dialogue The resultant size change here is rather dramatic. Select another copy of your flower, go through the same procedure, using different numbers. Try the effects of the Skew dialogue as well.

You can, of course, change the Stretch numbers to something greater than 100, although the resulting picture may look rather rough. It's always a good idea to experiment so that you know what can and can't be done.

After you shrink a flower, zoom in and check for gaps in the outline. Use the pencil tool to fill any such gaps.

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Change the Colors of the Flower

When you have several copies in different sizes, click on the fill bucket tool, choose a color and click on parts of one of your flowers. 

white before assembling made white after assemblingIf you're planning to have white flowers in an arrangement, fill them with color first, then flood out or erase the color with white after the arrangment is made.

The flowers in the collection on the left were already white when arranged. Those on the right were given a temporary color fill and were made white only after the arrangement had been put together.

Saving Your Work

You'll eventually want to save some of the finished flowers without the huge work area you've been using.

If you want this to be a gif—so that you can use it directly in email—you'll need to do this in two stages, using the Copy To procedure and then resaving the cut-out.

  1. Draw a selection rectangle around a part that you want to save. It may be one flower or a group.

  2. Click on the Edit menu.

  3. Click on Copy To

  4. In the dialogue box, type a name and if necessary use the drop-down to choose 16 color bmp.

    drop-down format list in Paint Copy to dialogue

    Usually, no formats other than bmp are offered for cutouts. Click OK.

  5. Select further parts of your picture and save them in the same way, varying the names.
    It's quite useful to save a set of pictures as flower01, flower02 and so on.

  6. When you've finished cutting and saving, go to the file menu and choose Open.
    Find the first of your cutouts and double click its name.
    Windows will now ask whether you want to save changes to workspace.bmp.
    It doesn't matter whether you do or not.
    Next time you use the workspace you'll need to start by clearing away previous drawing anyway.

  7. With the cutout open, again click the File menu and choose Save As.

  8. The dialogue box that comes up this time offers more formats than the previous one.
    Click the drop down and choose the gif format.
    This format saves quite accurately any colors you've used, and the colors won't bleed,
    as they do in the jpg format.

    If GIF doesn't appear on your list, it's OK to keep the cutouts as bmp. However, possible remedies are given here.

    Save as dialogue

Using Your Flowers

You now have a collection from which you can assemble a picture at any time.

To preserve the flowers for repeated uses, you don't use File > Open.

You open a workspace and then retrieve the picture or pictures that you want to use by clicking the Edit menu and choosing Paste From.

Make an arrangement that pleases you, then use the Copy To procedure to save it.

Remember that if you've put a picture at the back and suddenly wish it were at the front, you have only to use Paste From to get a fresh copy to paste on top.
Be certain that you have white on your right button and the paste transparent icon chosen before you do this, of course.
With further experimentation you'll make various kinds and colors of leaves, berries, twigs and vines. Always cut out and save things that particularly please you. Soon you'll be making bright corners for emails or printed letters—and they'll be your own unique work, rather than "Everybody's seen it " clip art.

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Delete Working Files Only If You Wish

Once you've saved all of your pictures in the gif format, go to the folder in which they and the original cutouts have been saved. Go up to the View menu and click on Details.

Now look down the Size column and compare the file size of the gifs with those of the original bmp files. Because these pictures are rather small, the difference may not be enough to bother you. It depends just how pushed you are for disc space.

If you do wish to throw away the originals, having looked at the file sizes, hold the Ctrl key while you click on each of the bmp files except for workspace.bmp. Let go of Ctrl and hit Delete. Then click yes in the confirmation box.

Go back to the View menu and turn off Details by clicking on the display of your choice—Large Icons, Small Icons or List.

If Paint Offers Only BMP Format

If you find that you have no option to save a file as gif, here's a suggestion. As I haven't had this problem, I'm just passing on what others have told me.

First, open Paint, click File > Open, browse to a gif file and open it.

Here are the steps you'll need to take for this to work for you.

In order to have Paint see a gif file, you'll need to change the settings in the bottom slot of the Open dialogue. The default is Bitmap Files, so (although gifs and jpgs are in fact bitmap files) Paint may only search for those with the suffix bmp.


File open dialogue in Paint
Click the drop-down arrow beside Bitmap Files and choose All Picture Files or just All Files.


the Look in dialogue
You will also notice, at the top of the Open dialogue, the label "Look in" and that the folder about to be searched is "My Pictures". If that is not where the file you intend to open is stored, you can navigate to the correct folder.

If you click the little green upward pointing arrow, you will go to the next folder up—in this case "My Documents".

possible locations of your files If you choose to click the downward pointing arrow at the right end of the Look in place, you'll be offered a list of possible locations. You can open any one of these and navigate to the folder containg your gif file.

Your chosen folder may show files in alphabetic order of format, so if it contains a mixture of images in different formats, you'll have to scroll past bmp files. Now you should be able to see some existing gif files and choose one to open.

Either double click the file, or click once to select it and then click Open.

When the gif image is open in the Paint window, click File > Save As and the gif format may appear in the drop-down list. If it does, make up a new name and save the picture.

After that you should be able to save in gif format at any time. If that succeeds, use the same procedure to "introduce" Paint to the jpg format.

Or use Irfanview

Irfanview can view and save more formats than you or I have ever heard of. Download the program, run the setup, then use Irfanview to open any picture file. Go File > Save As, type a name and choose gif from the drop-down list beside Save as type, then click the Save button.

return to Using your flowers   return to Drawing a Collection of Flowers

Pictures in Emails—Best Formats

If you ever include pictures in emails, make sure that they are in either gif or jpg format. Obliging a friend to download huge bmp files isn't a good idea; it will cost them time and probably money.

If the picture has hard, clean lines the jpg format will spoil it. Text in a jpg tends to "bleed" so that the text looks fuzzy. A labelled diagram, or a simple cartoon with speech balloons, needs to be saved as a gif.

On the other hand, a photo saved in the gif format is all wrong; the picture can be spoiled, and the file size may be huge. Photographs—with a few special exceptions—should always be saved as jpg. An exception might be a photo of a traffic sign, with white text on a plain red or green background.

This topic is discussed at some length in the articles Sometimes JPG is the Wrong Choice and Screenshots. For tips about preparing a picture to send by email, see Sending Photos in Email

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green line

Once you've mastered some of these techniques, you'll probably want to try a better program—one that offers more choices. Links to some free stuff are listed on my Free Graphics Programs page.

For other graphics helps and tutorials on this site, a guide can be found here.

Questions or comments? I'd love to hear from you. My email address is here.

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