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 4.1.5 (see the changelog for more info)?

- Improved: Image -> Rotate should now complete almost instantly (thanks @Bruce Bowyer-Smyth!)
- Improved: Optimized a portion of the rendering engine for newer CPU instruction sets (SSE2, SSSE3, AVX2). Depending on zoom level, CPU type, and other factors, rendering throughput has been improved by 10-50%.
- Improved: Some performance optimizations for code that uses the indexers on the Surface class, which should improve effect plugin performance (thanks @Bruce Bowyer-Smyth!)
- Fixed: Shortcut keys for the Adjustments menu weren't working until after you opened the menu for the first time
- Fixed: Canvas checkerboard, used to indicate transparent regions of the image, now scales with DPI
- Fixed some of the more rare cases of the SEHException/AccessViolationException crash caused by Direct2D
- Fixed: A bug in IndirectUI was resulting in a crash when using @BoltBait's Level Horizon plugin
- Fixed: Per-user fonts no longer cause a crash for the Store version
- New: The paintdotnet: protocol now works for the Classic version
- Fixed: The p?aintdotnet: ?protocol should now work properly with paths that have spaces in them
- Fixed: Hardened security for loading Custom Shape plugins via XAML (thanks @Bruce Bowyer-Smyth!)

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.