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Microsoft should reinvest in MS Paint, and these artists prove it

Ms Paint Art
Ms Paint Art (Image credit: @Gazedsoul on Twitter)

Microsoft Paint is a classic tool bundled with Windows and has been since 1985. It has had a lengthy history. While it's typically used to make quick tweaks to images these days, those with the skills and capability can produce truly impressive works of art with it. Some of the internet's most notorious memes, such as the trollface and those old-school ragecomics were spawned out of MS Paint. Many kids who would eventually go on to work with more powerful tools more than likely started out with MS Paint, too. You can use it to quite reliably make tweaks to Minecraft skins, for example.

Recently, Microsoft added MS Paint to a list of "deprecated features" slated for removal, but a community outburst saved the app, which will see it remain part of the tools offered through the Microsoft Store.

Microsoft is working on a bit of a renaissance for Windows from a design perspective, dubbed Sun Valley internally. It's with that in mind that I often think about other apps and services I'd like to see get a bit more love from Redmond, and MS Paint is one that almost always comes to the fore.

The power of bundled apps

Source: Tim Searle (ty Tim) (Image credit: Source: Tim Searle (ty Tim))

Given that I work for Windows Central, people often come to me for advice about PCs, what laptops to buy, and so on. I also frequently get into discussions with people who use competing products like Chromebooks or Macbooks. When it comes to Mac users, one thing that is often cited to me as a purchase argument is Final Cut Pro, which is an Apple-exclusive video editing tool that joins a suite of other Apple-exclusive programs that often hook people into Apple's ecosystem. My partner, for example, has to work on Apple products at university and finds Final Cut to be preferable to Adobe Premier for ease of use and superior stability. There's also tools like Logic for creating music, and iMovie if you don't need a program as powerful as Final Cut.

Conversely, I'm not sure Windows has any first-party made Windows-only apps that I'd consider to be essential. Microsoft lets third parties do the heavy lifting in this area, which has served it well. However, it results in a bit of a cluttered experience, which is often cited to me as another reason why people choose Mac in some situations.

Source: Windows CentralSketchable is my go-to drawing app on Windows. (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I wonder if some of the broader creative audience often seem to prefer the Mac workflow not just for its stability and quality, but also for the visual consistency of the Mac OS. The brutalist function-over-form design of Windows 10 isn't exactly stimulating. Microsoft often said that it feels like software should fade into the background, which is fine, but it shouldn't excuse shoddy quality or, well, abandonment of those apps.

The provision of MS Paint and Paint 3D is only one example among many, many others, including the Photos app, the Microsoft Store itself, the Movies & TV app, Mail & Calendar, and others. Microsoft is working on replacements and improvements for some of these tools. Indeed, the Microsoft Store is getting a Sun Valley makeover, and the Mail and Calendar app will be replaced with the Outlook PWA at some point. If Microsoft wants to lure creative types, though, it quite honestly needs to do more. What the heck happened to the Groove Music Maker app anyway?

Artists are showcasing the potential of MS Paint

Microsoft Paint itself has some surprisingly great tools for making higher-quality artwork. Twitter users from across the internet have recently been sharing artwork built using MS Paint's brushes, with stunning results. All of this comes in spite of the lack of basic tools like layering or grids, which in some ways adds to the challenge and charm of the toolset. That said, imagine the creativity that could be unlocked if Microsoft gave their bundled apps a bit of love and attention.

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Why not merge MS Paint, Fresh Paint, and Paint 3D?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Microsoft has worked hard on a range of creative tools over the years, including Paint 3D and Fresh Paint, both of which are no longer in active development... but why not?

Paint 3D is a totally underrated program, which to be fair, already incorporates much of what MS Paint is. Although quite obviously mismarketed, Paint 3D does far more than just 3D. It can serve as a gateway tool to teach z-axis visual design, necessary for learning how to make 3D models for games, as an example. Paint 3D also has an incredibly powerful background removal tool for making transparent images. This is something I would adore to get in regular MS Paint, especially for making sprites for simple 2D game development.

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Fresh Paint was a Windows 8 app with a very comprehensive and realistic painting algorithm that, much like Paint 3D, was undermarketed and underappreciated by Microsoft internally. I'm not sure why Microsoft cuts and runs at the first sign of an app or service not blowing up instantaneously overnight, but the recent spate of artists sharing MS Paint-made art shows that the potential is there.

A revived MS Paint could be a good way to start to repair Microsoft's clunky relationship with creative consumers.

If Microsoft cared just a little, it's not hard to envisage a scenario where Surface could co-market alongside a revitalized MS Paint app, which featured some of the tools from Fresh Paint, Paint 3D, and included basic stuff like layering and Photo app integration.

Today's Surface ads seem to hinge desperately on negativity, and what it does better than the competition. I feel like this is a cowardly way to market, and comes from a position of weakness. Instead of expecting users to care that your new devices do the same thing over and over, why not reinvest in new tools and features that add value to the proposition? Earlier Surface marketing seemed to lean towards creative tools, but that has waned in recent years.

Paint 3D doesn't have the nostalgia factor of MS Paint, and has a bit of a confused brand behind it. With improved tools, more focused design, and adding value and features that people actually want in a simpler, free-creative app, a revived MS Paint could be a good way to start to repair Microsoft's clunky relationship with creative consumers.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

29 Comments
  • Give Paint the UI from Paint 3D, and make Paint 3D specialize in basic 3D modelling like Sketchup.
  • I use Paint 3D over MS Paint for super quick mark-ups of screen shots. I confess I've never used any of its 3D capabilities. Even for 2D though, it is much faster and easier to do nice-looking callouts in Paint 3D than in Paint. There's no real load time for either (as opposed to the big Adobe and Corel programs that are a whole chore to open), which makes them great for those quick mark-ups to just send a picture in email or drop into a PowerPoint deck. but Paint 3D does much more (even in 2D), so I don't see any reason to use MS Paint any more. If Paint 3D is going away, I hope MS adds at least folds its 2D features into Paint.
  • I agree with this, Paint 3D is very underrated and a significant upgrade over Paint, even without the 3D features (that I've also never used). They should definitely bring over all its 2D improvements to old Paint as it doesn't seem like Paint 3D will see any care or attention anymore, unfortunately.
  • Where I strongly agree with Jez here -- why does MS bother to start over from scratch with a new app, instead of showing love to the existing closely related app, and adding the features to it instead? They should instead iterate, improve, refine, ad infinitum. When they acquire or develop a new app that's similar, they should ALWAYS merge and eliminate the duplicate program, providing a clear path from its users into the merged version (like they did with Wunderlist into ToDo). When each new generation starts over, MS often fails to get it to the point of polish. This creates confusion, incompatibilities, camps with competing interests, and so on. There is an answer as to why MS keeps doing this: different unrelated dev teams who come up with the new program on their own. It's good that MS encourages creative new development like that, but it's a management failure that they then fail to integrate it into the existing delivery mechanisms or meld similar products into a single product. The fact that MS has Mail and Outlook as two completely separate incompatible apps, Skype and Teams, Planner and Project, or had Word and Excel in Office and Works as a lower-priced office package, demonstrates this long-standing philosophy. They did it right with Wunderlist. They should follow that example with everything.
  • I appreciate that MS may want to offer free, low price, and high-end programs. But it would be in everyone's interest to make these tiers in a single product family, at least sharing common file types. This makes it easy for users to upgrade when needed (which helps MS with sales) and avoids the problem of incompatibility or those odd cases where the cheaper version does a few things better than the more expensive program. To this day, Teams for example does most things Skype does, plus a LOT more, but Skype has animated emoji support, which are missing from Teams. The paid Outlook program is MS' flagship mail app and does many things that can't be done any other way (Rules, diverse signatures,...), but the free web version includes response gestures, which are completely missing from Outlook. To a user, this just feels like a complete lack of product leadership and a cohesive vision. I would say the problem where MS doesn't even put all of its own applications in the MS Store is an offshoot of this same problem. There is a massive lack of leadership focused on User Experience. Every team does its own thing, creating a frustrating user experience. To be fair, I think most other companies are even worse than Microsoft, but in their own different ways. At least MS generally gets the core experience right for each application it releases. Apple's stuff looks good and generally works reliably, but lacks so many basic usability features that are standard in Windows applications. I'm always impressed with the UI on a Mac or iOS device, then quickly become frustrated at all the things I can't do quickly compared with Windows or Android. Google doesn't seem to believe that there is any such thing as a power user and so its applications all feel like gimped, toy-versions of MS applications. Other companies go in the other direction with niche apps on PC's that require specialized expertise to perform even the most basic functions (on the other hand, they generally do a decent job with their mobile apps, which is probably why so many people are moving toward mobile devices).
  • It's not just that. They often start on new, incompatible paths for tech to solve unforeseen challenges without breaking existing software. So, the approach is to leave what works there and create a new product for the new stuff. The classic paint could not be iteratively turned into a UWP app or the UI modernized until recently. Now with Project Reunion, Microsoft seems to finally trying to truly bridge the gap. I expect and hope to see modern UI show up in desktop apps like Paint within the next couple years.
  • They should take over the Paint.NET open-source project. They have done a great job with Visual Studio Code and other open-source projects. They could then even offer it on phones with a stylus -- since they are already close to Samsung and the Surface Pro needs a good affordable paint program it would be a win at many levels.
  • Dont let Microsoft ruin Paint.NET, this is my favorite paint app!!
  • Using MS Paint for digital art is like creating flip book. IMO, both things are time wasting. That's my thinking, no offense. I appreciate their time and effort too.
  • Nope. ONE CONSISTANT LOOKING/BEHAVING OPERATING SYSTEM NOW. (Or I'm going back to Mac. This five year experiment has been fun but M1 vs. Microsoft taking how many years to deliver an OS Apple would have one day one of Win10?)
  • Apple and Microsoft are very different customers. People may like Mac OS but the hard reality is it's not to the job for millions of enterprise users. There's a reason why creatives uses Mac OS and everyone else uses Windows. Right tool for the job.
  • On my MS Surface Book 3 (connected with a Dell Canvas) and on my MS Surface Studio2 I do have Adobe CC suite, Affinity (Designer, Publisher and Photo), Bryce, Cyberlink Media Suite, Corel Painter 2021, Cubase pro, MS Office, MS Paint (3d), Autodesk Autocad, Draftsight, Home Designer pro, Mixcraft and Reason 10. So tell me what indispensable Mac tools am I missing to do my creative work?
  • Final Cut Pro.
  • XD Tell us another joke
  • No Thanks. Adobe Premiere Pro combined with After Effects suffice.
  • Artist here using Surface, with Windows and all the Microsoft apps and ecosystem. Most of creative users use Mac because of their image towards the world. Windows Machines before Surface era looked unprofesional, unpolished and cheap. Surface solved that. Windows is the ultimate working platform.
  • Yeah, its nice to reminisce and remember all the old things but come on, the other does everything the old one does and more. Its the same thing, but I suppose we all just want to live in the same decade and never move forward, IF I HAVE TO LIVE WITHOUT WINDOWS PHONE, YOU CANT HAVE 3.1 W32 APPS... U_U
  • The problem of Paint 3D is even the app does not know what it is.
  • "Conversely, I'm not sure Windows has any first-party made apps that I'd consider to be essential." How did you manage to miss Microsoft Office and now Microsoft 365 (inc. Teams)? Used by millions more than anything Apple create. Otherwise your point is fair.
  • I meant first-party as in "exclusive," lol, this is the problem when I write too much video game stuff. I'll clarify.
  • It's Surface Pro that keeps me with Windows and you don't need to be spending a grand to get a decent computer these days. Not anywhere near.
  • They should've just not named that new Paint 3D with 3D on it. I get it since there was a 3D push especially with WMR at that time with the Creators Update. But well it was too drastic, the app was actually slow to use and older hardware which many people use isn't great when using Paint 3D, and it was defaulted to 3D mode which confuses users trying it. The damage has been done sadly. I think they have 2 options. Ditch Paint 3D and focus back on old Paint but update its UI, even rewriting it under UWP again but keep the same feel with some new functionality. Or go back with Paint 3D, remote the 3D name on it and update the UI to be bit closer to old paint and de-emphasize its 3D feature but don't kill it. For me, since the Paint 3D UWP works anyways and actually gone through polish, performance improvements and already defocus on its 3D features. They should just rename it as Paint, just update the UI and keep it as part of the inbox apps. Make Classic Paint downloadable on Microsoft Store. The key here is to make the UI looks like the Classic Paint but updated to new Fluent Design and with new features. The current Paint 3D UI is actually fine, just needs to be more compact since its currently too big even for touch, which reduces the overall workspace area on tablets that have smaller screen. But it was sadly now stigmatize due to its relationship with failed push of Paint 3D. Microsoft could go back to that UI again with more compact design, but only in the future when people are used to new UWP version of Paint. For me, classic Paint can remain but not part of inbox apps. Keep it for existing installs. But redesign Paint 3D and call it Paint.
  • Looking at some of the works.... I don't think they need to bother...
    Talent always finds a way.
  • I like the idea of Paint3D but I think the ui could have been more consistent W10, UWP or Paint. And some 3D features are pretty cool (like being able to place a sticker texture on a 3d model) but they are still to limited to be useful for 3d creators/hobbyists. With a bit of extra work the app could be much better.
    To me the W10 Screen Snip is a good example of how to do it right. Ui wise it feels consistent with W10 and its intuitive to use.
  • They need to get it together on every creative front. They need a GarageBand equivalent as well. I think many more people would consider the switch of they could cover these bases, do it well, and let people know about it.
  • Notepad is the only Windows app that I would consider essential outside of the system tools.
  • Try Notepad++ if you haven't yet.
  • Two words: Fresh Paint
  • I will stick to Corel Painter 2021, it's worth the investment.