The days of having to spend big to edit photos on your PC have long gone. Now you'll find all the functionality you need exists in free software, and one of the pioneers of this growing market was Paint.NET. It's been years since it received a major update, but now version 4.0 is here at long last.

The program has a beautifully clean and uncluttered interface, with tabbed files access making it easy to work with multiple images at the same time. One immediate advantage over commercial rivals such as Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop Elements is that it's also lightning fast, although from version 4.0 you'll need a dual-core processor to go with Windows 7 or later to run it.

With support for layers, a wide range of image formats and image editing plugins, everything you need to get started with image editing can be found here. A selection of filters and special effects are built into Paint.NET, and these can be used to enhance image or to get creative with your artwork. The program includes everything you would expect to find in an image editing package, but there are plenty of surprises when you consider that this is free software. The gradient tool is powerful and easy to use, and unlimited levels of undo make it possible to try out several ideas without worrying about losing the original image.

Paint.NET is the personification of what free software should be. The program is of a very high standard and features and automatic update facility so you can always be sure you are working with the latest version - and with a dedicated team of developers, updates are fairly frequent. The program has a large and active following, and there are a range of helpful hints, tips and tutorials to be found in the Paint.NET forums. This may well be the only image editor you ever need.

What's new in Paint.NET 4.0.17 (see the changelog for more info)?

- Added: "Fluid mouse input" option in Settings -> UI -> Troubleshooting. If you see major glitches while drawing, try disabling this.
- Improved: Default brush size, font size, and corner radius size now scales with major DPI scaling levels 
- Improved performance and drawing latency by removing explicit calls to System.GC.Collect() except when low memory conditions are encountered
- Improved performance by greatly reducing object allocation amplification by reducing the concurrency level when using ConcurrentDictionary, and by removing WeakReference allocations in favor of direct GCHandle usage
- Improved: Performance and battery usage by ensuring animations always run at the monitor's actual refresh rate
- Improved (reduced) CPU usage when moving the mouse around the canvas
- Removed: "Hold Ctrl to hide handle" from the Text tool because it was not useful and caused lots of confusion
- Fixed: Various high-DPI fixes, including horrible looking mouse cursors caused by a bug in the latest .NET WinForms update
- Fixed: Gradient tool no longer applies dithering "outside" of the gradient (in areas that should have a solid color)
- Fixed: Very slow performance opening the Effects menu when lots of plugins are installed after installing the Windows 10 Creators Update
- Fixed: When cropping and then performing an undo, the scroll position was totally wrong
- Fixed a rendering glitch in the Save Configuration dialog (it would "wiggle")
- Fixed: At certain brush sizes, the brush indicator on the canvas had a visual glitch in it due to a bug in Direct2D
- Fixed: Text tool buttons for Bold, Italics, Underline were not localized for a few languages
- Fixed a rare crash in the taskbar thumbnails
- Fixed: Drawing with an aliased brush and opaque color (alpha=255) sometimes resulted in non-opaque pixels due to a bug in Direct2D's ID2D1RenderTarget::FillOpacityMask
- Fixed: "Olden" effect should no longer cause crashes (it still has some rendering artifacts due to its multithreading problems, however)

Verdict

Few programs are as pleasing to use as Paint.NET - the updates are all welcome, and the long wait has been well worth it. Install today.