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Tutorial: Introduction to Paint.NET

Tags: #Tutorial  #soly  #soly pdn 
  • Member
    July 11, 2017

    Introduction to Paint.NET

    This guide is an introductory one that will explain the vagaries of the tools of Paint.NET. Don't expect to learn how to do anything special - nothing covered in this guide is anything you can't figure out by playing around with the program yourself. Do expect to learn how to use Paint.NET.

    A lot of people seem to see image editing tools in general as some arcane programs with too many options and weird buttons and stuff. I'll grant that it's not too inaccurate a view, but that just means that there's a market niche for tutorials on how to use these things. Since I was asked to do it (or did I offer?) I'm writing this up now. It'll be part of (hopefully) a short series of guides aimed at the TamrielVault audience which means that I'll be focusing on things that one might see on this website. Bear in mind that I'm probably a rank amateur with image editors and even with Paint.NET which I do have some small experience with. Don't expect Mason-level image editing from me.

    So before I get into this guide proper there are a couple of things you need to know about Paint.NET. The first is that it's freeware, unlike Photoshop which is a pretty expensive program. The other major image editor I know of is GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) but I've never liked it for some reason. Paint.NET is available from here while GIMP is available from here and both are freeware. If you want to use Photoshop you can probably find it yourself.

    The other thing is that Paint.NET and GIMP both have plugins. Think of plugins as sort of like mods in that they add features or capabilities to the program. They're not essential but some of them are extremely, extremely useful for us. Links will be provided as necessary. I personally only use plugins from the official Paint.NET forums. I haven't been keeping up to date on my plugin collection so a lot of what I have might be obsoleted by newer releases, but this should not be a major issue. There is a huge number of available plugins – feel free to poke around the forums but the truth is I have no idea what 90% of these do and it's sort of information and options overload. Instead I'll just suggest one or a few plugins that I consider fairly important.

    The first plugins you want are from BoltBait's Plugin Pack. It contains a lot of stuff, a lot of which should be considered essential. I'm using an older version of BoltBait's pack so I don't have about half of the options you'll see there. If you're new to Paint.NET, I recommend installing only what I suggest is essential first (so that you don't have even more options overload). Later on you probably want to go back and install the full pack and just explore the options you get.

    The important ones to have are:
      Colour Balance
      Flip Horizontal
      Flip Vertical
      The entire Effects > Object menu
      The entire Effects > Selection menu

    I would also take Seam Carving and Flames but my version of the plugin pack doesn't have them so I can't make the recommendation officially until I update my pack and see how useful they actually are.

    Aside from that you also want AA's Assistant (I also took Circle Text from this pack, and Metallize looks very cool and useful though I don't have it) and Align Object (does exactly what it says).

    Most of what the plugins do should be relatively self-explanatory, or very obvious on the forum page itself, so I won't go into too much detail unless you ask me to do so. Some of them have pretty strange effects; those I will explain if and when they get used (unless you ask me to write a tutorial on them).

    So when you open up Paint.NET you'll see something like this:

    1. Your toolbox. This is most of what you'll be using. There's an explanation of the tool down in the bottom left (I put this in the red box). Look at this if you're confused.

    2. Colour Picker. Picks the colours of your brushes, fills, gradients and certain effects. Be aware that you have Primary and Secondary colours.

    3. History. What you've done since opening the image. Self-explanatory. If you want to roll back your changes, use this window. May have some slight lag associated with rollback if you go too far back.

    4. Layers. Think of your picture as multiple images stacked one on top of the other. Each image is one layer, and what you do on that one layer affects only that layer. If something is covered up by a layer above, you won't be able to see it in the final image. Transparent backgrounds in Paint.NET, and every other image manipulator, is denoted by the grey-and-white checkerboard.

    5. Not sure what this area is called, but it's important. You should see the File/Edit/View toolbar, a list of open images (like tabs in browsers), the new/open/save shortcut set (notably including the Crop to Selection command up here), and, importantly, a list of Tool Options for your current selected tool. For example, since we have the Brush tool selected, we can adjust brush width here as well as other stuff. I'll go over these if they're important but won't waste text talking about stuff I don't use.

    If you accidentally close one of these four important windows you can retrieve it with a button in the top right (marked with the red arrow).

    We're going to take a closer look at the tools in the toolbox. In general, look at the bottom left of the screen for tool explanations. Take note also of the tool keyboard shortcuts (hover to see them).

    1, 2, 3, 4L are selection tools - you use them to select an area of your picture. 1L is the rectangle select. 2L is the Lasso - a freeform select. 3L is elliptical, and 4L, the Magic Wand, selects all regions of a similar or identical colour. If you hold shift with 1L and 3L you'll draw a perfect square/circle respectively.

    Once you have an active selection, you can only affect the selected area – so if you take the brush and try to brush outside the selection, it won't work. Shortcut is S – so if you press S you'll get the Rectangle Select tool. Press S four times to toggle down to the Magic Wand. These two are important. Lasso and Circle, not so much.

    A single click with 1L offers Deselect, alternatively press Ctrl+D or use the Deselect button at the top of the window.

    Take note of these Tool Options the top of the screen for the Selection commands. For most of them you'll only see the first few boxes, which affect how your selection tool affects the currently selected area. These should be self-explanatory; play around with them so that you know roughly what they do. Be aware that the single click to Deselect will not work if one of these “special” selection commands is in use!

    For Magic Wand in particular you also have:
      Flood Mode (does it select all regions of selected colour adjacent to the pixel you click on, or all regions of selected colour on the entire layer?)
      Tolerance (how tolerant is the tool of slight/major colour changes?)

    A lot of other tools also use Flood Mode and Tolerance. If you see it in other tools, it works the same way.

    5L is the Paint Bucket – it fills regions of similar colours with your selected colour. Flood Mode and Tolerance are the same as in the Magic Wand.

    6L is the Paintbrush. Again, self-explanatory. Major tool options are Brush Size and Brush Hardness. This is brush hardness:

    7L is the Pencil. It's a 1px, 100 hardness paintbrush.

    8L is the Clone Stamp. Refer to bottom left of screen for controls. Basically, Ctrl+Click to set the anchor point, and when you regular click somewhere else on the image, it copies stuff from the anchor point and pastes it into where you clicked. Once you know to Ctrl+Click it should be completely obvious what it does. This is primarily used to get rid of clutter in a big background.

    9L is Text. Does exactly what you think it does. Pay attention to Align Left, Middle, Right (same as in Microsoft Word). Be aware that the Text tool in Paint.NET renders an image, i.e. once you've finished entering the text and exit the text editor, it is converted to a picture of the entered text - you will not be able to edit the text again without deleting the text and re-entering it. For this reason I strongly recommend all text input to be done on a new layer.

    1R and 2R are Move commands, shortcut M. 1R moves the selected area, 2R moves the selection itself. Notably, Rotate and Scale functions are keyed to the Move command. Rotate is accessed just outside the selection's corner while Scale is at the selection corner or side. Hold Shift while rotating to constrain angles, or while scaling to keep aspect ratio.

    3R is Zoom and 4R is Pan. They do exactly what you think they do. Note that you also have a zoom slider in the bottom right of the window. If you're using a mouse, you can access Pan at any time by clicking the mouse wheel.

    5R, the Gradient Tool, draws a gradient from Primary to Secondary colours. By default it covers the entire layer, but you can use Selection to draw a gradient within the selection, and colour opacity (bottom right of expanded colour picker) to control the transparency of gradient colours.

    Tool Options for the Gradient tool offer a bunch of different gradient types for you to play with. Crucially, it also offers a transparency gradient - look for the little colour wheel under Tool Options, and switch it to the transparency thing that you see in the bottom right of the image below. Using a transparency gradient, well, see for yourself:

    As you can see it also works with other gradient types.

    You can control the transparency via colour opacity. Transparency Gradients are always Primary Opacity to reversed Secondary Opacity. So if you lower the Primary Opacity, the “solid” part of the transparency gradient will become less solid and more transparent. If you lower the Secondary Opacity, the “transparent” part of the gradient will become less transparent. In practice you won't use this often but it's good to know.

    6R is the eraser.

    7R is the colour picker. It does exactly what it sounds like it does – sets your primary and secondary colours to whatever colour you pick from the image. Very handy. Be aware that by default the colour picker selects from Layers; you can change it to select from Image in the Tool Options.

    8R is the recolour tool. It does pretty much as you'd expect it to do, but I honestly cannot say for sure exactly what it does because I've never used it. You probably won't need it either. Here is the official guide.

    9R draws lines. In Tool Options you can set it to draw arrows. If you're using it as an alignment guide you want to turn off antialiasing. If you're just drawing arrows or lines you can leave it on.

    Right at the bottom of your toolbox you have the Shape drawing tool. I never use this, but pay attention to the Toolbox: you can change both shape and shape properties:

    At the top of your screen you'll also see the File/Edit/View toolbar or whatever it's called, comprising in its entirety of File; Edit; View; Image; Layers; Adjustments; Effects. I don't really have space or time to go through the entire list of everything in here in detail, especially in the Adjustments and Effects options, so I'll try to hit the highlights.

    File is self-explanatory.

    Everything in Edit can be accessed through keyboard shortcuts so I never actually open it. The ones you want to remember are mostly standard ones – Cut, Copy, Paste, Undo, Redo. Here you also have Select All (Ctrl+A), Invert Selection (Ctrl+I) and Deselect (Ctrl+D or single click with the Rectangle Select tool). In particular I use Select All and Invert Selection fairly often, so at least know that they're in here or learn the shortcuts.

    View is mostly superseded by the Zoom tool.

    Most of what's in Image is self-explanatory, but it's all fairly important so make sure you know what options you have in here. Be aware that this is where you find Resize (scales the image to specified size), Canvas Size (changes the image size without scaling the image, i.e. adds blank space or removes space from the sides of the image), Flip/Rotate Image, and Flatten (converts image into one layer).

    Layers is mostly superseded by the Layers window. You can flip entire layers here but it's not used that often. Rotate/Zoom is an interesting tool. Be aware that it's found in here.

    Adjustments and Effects have a lot of options that I can't really go through here, so I recommend you play around. A lot of them will have very arcane effects that you won't need often or ever, but at least poke around with them so you know roughly what options you have. Usually you'll stick to the simpler commands.

    In Adjustments, look for Auto-Level, Brightness and Contrast, Hue/Saturation, and, if you have it from the plugins, Colour Balance. These just give you some simplistic bar inputs that you can play around with. Auto-Level in particular is surprisingly useful for something with "Auto" in its name.

    The Effects menu has honestly too much for me to talk about so just play around with the effects. Gaussian Blur is one of the more important ones which is good because it's really simple to use.

    Lastly we need to talk about the Layers window. Firstly, your image layers can and will explode with tons and tons of layers. It's normal for me to end my amateur work with upwards of 15 layers. Experienced image manipulators probably have more. Make sure you keep your layers well-organised - name them properly.

    The checkboxes that you see on the right are Layer Visibility. Unchecked means the layer is invisible. Numbered 1-7 are your Layer Tools. In order, New Layer; Delete Layer; Duplicate Layer; Merge Layer Down; Move Layer Up; Move Layer Down; Layer Properties. For the most part these are self-explanatory. Merge Layer Down merges the layer with the layer below it.

    It's worth taking a closer look at Layer Properties on the far right (you can also access Layer Properties by double-clicking on the layer you want to edit). This allows you to rename the layer (essential), as well as select Layer Blending Mode and Layer Opacity. The former of these can be used for all sorts of neat tricks. It's worth experimenting to see what your Layer Properties can do - Colour Burn and Colour Dodge can be used to add shading to a layer, while Overlay makes pictures pop. Play around with these.

    You know, it feels wrong to read all the way to here and not learn anything other than program functions, so let's make a simple header, shall we? We'll start by opening a new image; set it to 800x300 canvas size. We don't really want the white background here, so you have two options – Ctrl+A to select all, or use the Magic Wand tool which will also select the monochrome white background, and hit delete to get rid of the white, leaving us with a transparent background.

    Not very impressive, is it?

    Select the Text tool (recall: shortcut is keyboard input T. Shortcuts make your life easier) and type in what you want for your header. Dial up the font size with the Tool Options at the top of your screen, and pick a nice font. Let's also change the font colour (select the colour you want with your colour palette). In practice you will usually want to pick a font that's easily readable. This one isn't the worst offender ever but it's not really amazingly readable either.

    At this point you have two ways of applying an outline to the header. If you've downloaded BoltBait's Plugin Pack as I recommended, then you'll want to go to Effects > Object > Outline Object. In practice you don't want to use a blue outline on red text – silver or gray, here, might be better – but I want the outline to be visible. Play with Radius (how thick the outline is) and Strength (how strong it is; lower strength sets further radius pixels as more transparent) until you find something you like.

    If you don't have BoltBait's Outline Object, then applying an outline is a little harder, but still easy. Start by duplicating your text layer...

    Disable visibility for the top layer, then select the bottom layer.


    Adjustments > Hue/Saturation until you find a colour that you like...

    You can now re-enable visibility on the upper layer. Make sure your bottom layer is selected, and apply a low-radius Gaussian Blur.

    The Gaussian Blur layer is barely visible, so duplicate the layer a few times to add weight to the outline. You can (and should) play around with multiple Gaussian Blurs of varying strength if you wish.

    Now we have to get rid of all the dead space around the header (which I've marked for you in eye-searing red). If you've used the Gaussian Blur method, first flatten your image with Image>Flatten. (A header made with Outline Object will already be flat.) Grab the Magic Wand Tool and click on any transparent place far from the text.

    You might notice that your outline is partially or even fully selected. This is because the semi-transparent outline is similar enough to the fully transparent selected colour that the Magic Wand tool selects it, too. That's bad. So tune down the tolerance to 0%, and the Magic Wand will select only pixels that are completely transparent.

    It doesn't strictly matter in this case, but I've also turned the flood mode to Global to illustrate the difference between Contiguous and Global. Under a Contiguous setting, you only select pixels adjacent to the selected pixels. Under Global, you select all similarly coloured pixels. So observe how the Global Magic Wand can select transparent pixels inside holes in letters like the capital “V” and the “a”.

    Hit Ctrl+I to invert the selection. That means, where before it was all the transparent pixels that were selected, we are now selecting all non-transparent pixels.

    As we are selecting all non-transparent pixels... hit Crop to Selection to remove them, pruning the header to a more reasonable size.

    And done!

    The main problem that will jump out at you when you look at this banner is that the blue fading outline gradient seems to cut off abruptly. That's because, when we applied the Gaussian Blur, we then duplicated the Gaussian Blur layer multiple times. In effect, what happened there was that the edge of the blur became stronger and more pronounced. If you want to avoid this, you can experiment with multiple layers that are Gaussian Blurred at different radii. That should neatly solve both the "blur is very small and hard to see" problem and the "obvious edge" problem.

    The #soly pdn tag contains all my Paint.NET tutorials, including the next one (screenshot post-processing). Check it out.

    I hope you've learned something that you can use!

  • Member
    July 11, 2017

    This is an incredibly informative and well put together tutorial, Soly. Thank you for taking the time to do it, I am certain to refer back to this in the future.

  • Member
    July 11, 2017

    Thank you! If there's any part that anyone finds unclear or unhelpful, let me know here in the comments so I can clarify.

  • Member
    July 11, 2017

    Oh Hricine and the Bloodmoon... Soly this is one terrific piece of work. The wolves on the plains will be howling in your honor tonight.

  • Member
    July 16, 2017

    Well, I've got the hang of chapter titles......

    I've also had a play with my ToC bar and the Hircine image...


    All I need to do now is make 200 chapter headings, change 230 Hircine symbols and replace 220 ToC bars.......

    Anyone else created anything?  

  • Member
    July 16, 2017

    You misspelled "Beginning" there. Double "n".

    There's a lot of other stuff I need to cover, but I haven't started writing yet and I'm rather busy in summer. Eventually I hope to be able to poke through a photomanip tutorial and recreate it, but I can't manip yet, so that's on the backburner.

  • Member
    July 16, 2017

    Aww rats............... 

    *snarls to himself.......... Fixed...

    You'll get there Soly... You've done a great job of it so far.

  • Member
    July 29, 2017

    I'm not sure why I never did end up commenting on this... maybe it was because the first time I attempted it something happened and I lost the comment and then I was just being lazy... Well anyway I think I'll finally get around to that :P

    This is a pretty impressive tutorial and it looks even better with the images included. It's nice to see that it has already proved useful to at least one person which just proves that you had nothing to worry about to begin with. 

  • August 31, 2017

    Thank you for writing this because I have recently begun to use for my Sigils I have been making and I have to say this has helped me a lot on shortcuts and basically telling me how to use this program properly.