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.

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.

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
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at 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 tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!