Not too small, not too big... just right: PC
by Alan Zisman (c)
1994. First published
in Our Computer Player, December 1994
Okay, ever since the very first 128k Macintosh shipped
with a free copy
of MacPaint, personal computers and graphics have gone together.
And hardly a day had passed from that first demo of
PC users (i.e. IBM and compatible users) wanted theirs too.
And pretty quickly, they got it. PC Paintbrush, from
was an early best seller. As close to a MacPaint look and feel as you
get on a PC. Of course, you had to get a mouse to use it (and many
were sold bundled with early versions of Microsoft mice). It even went
one-up on the early Macs... it supported colour.
Well, computer fashions came and went, and users
demanded more and more.
Pretty soon, we got 256 colours, then 32,000 colours, and now 16.7
colours (24-bit). And more and more tools and icons. Until now, whether
you're using a Mac or a PC, you've got heavy duty photo-editing
such as Adobe PhotoShop, along with natural-media programs like Fractal
Design Painter, letting you imitate charcoal on rice paper,
Stir in some add-in filters such as Kai's Power Tools,
and you've got
the software to produce some pretty impressive output. Of course you'll
want some pretty impressive hardware, and a lot of time to learn to use
your power tools.
While these high-end graphics programs are equally
available now for
both Mac and Windows users, at least on the Windows side, there hasn't
been much for more artist wannabees with more modest ambitions.
Windows itself ships with Windows Paintbrush, but like
the rest of the
free Windows accessories, it's pretty basic. Designed by the original
crew, it lets you work with 16 colours at a time, and with a very
set of tools and effects.
Finally, the graphics programmers at Z-Soft have
returned to their roots.
PC Paintbrush for Windows neatly fills the hole between the too-little
of Windows Paintbrush and the overkill of PhotoShop and Fractal Design
Only two floppies, requiring a mere 3-4 megs of drive
space. But it
lets you work with 256 colour to 24-bit files as well as grey-scale
It sports an easy to use interface, derived from
Z-Soft's earlier PhotoFinish
picture editing program... 27 tool icons, most of which have a number
options for a total of 87 tools, easily accessed from choices that
when you select one of the icons. Don't remember what a tool's icon
for? Just pass your mouse over the tool, and its name appears on the
bat. Right-click a tool's icon, and help for that tool pops up. This
gets a lot of points for ease of use, and good design.
You get a nod towards Fractal Design's natural
media... there are tools
for crayons, chalk, and felts, along with the more standard
pencils, and spray cans. And all have lots of easily-chosen variations.
15 paint brushes, for example, including the now obligatory Van Gogh
Seurat styles, along with Neon, Wet Oils, and Jitter Rainbow brushes.
simulated papers, to give you that textured look and feel. Zoom down to
3% or up to 1600%.
No longer limited to the original PC Paintbrush's PCX
files, or Windows
Paintbrush's BMP pictures, you can also open most standard bitmap
Supported file types include GIF, and TIF, along with PhotoCD (PCD),
highly compressed JPGs. There's even a built-in thumbnail viewer, to
working with groups of images.
While the program doesn't support the now-standard
there are 18 built-in special effects, letting you emboss, blur,
or make mosaics from your pictures. The dialogue box shows you a small
version of your original, with the effect already in action, making it
easy to pick what you want.
Because 24 bit pictures, such as scanned photos can
get huge pretty
quickly, the program allows the user to make use of virtual memory, in
addition to the standard Windows swap file. This is especially useful
anyone using Windows' standard mode, which otherwise doesn't support
Even if you don't need to work with 24-bit photos,
this program is a
must have for the non-professional graphics user... anyone who doesn't
need either the power or the expense of the graphics industry standards
like PhotoShop, but who has become frustrated with the minimal features
of the built-in Windows Paintbrush.
For all those users, this program not only meets your
needs, not only
has a clear and easy to use interface, but it's being sold at a very
price... it lists for $59.95 US.
But there's also some bad news. Z-Soft, which created
this, along with
all the PC Paintbrush series, was sold to software veteran WordStar,
after releasing this program. WordStar then merged with Spinnaker and
This program has seemed to have become lost in the shuffle... it's hard
to find on store shelves; I found a copy bundled with a video card.
This is a nice, affordable program. If you can find a
copy, get it.
Comments (February 2002): since posting this 1994
article on the
Web, it's gotten a surprising number of comments. It appears that there
are PC Paintbrush fans out there, who are unable to get a fix. As far
I can tell, Z-Soft, the company that made PC Paintbrush (and other PC
programs) has vanished... there is an http://z-soft.com,
but if it has any connection to the old Marietta, Georgia-based
it's not apparent (They make an interesting Windows file manager:
If you don't need or want the power and complexity
of, say, Adobe
Photoshop, but want more than what you get with the Windows Paint
you might want to check out ImageForge, available in a free
version, and a US$29 Pro
version. Worth checking out.
(September 2004): Many people have written
wondering if I know how to make PC Paintbrush work under Windows XP.
Sorry, I haven't done that-- but then again, I no longer have a copy of
the program to experiment with. Windows XP has a Program Compability Wizard (look in
the Start Menu's Accessories
group). That may be of use. If someone has success in making PC
Paintbrush work with Windows XP, please let me know!
(February 2007): Ed Hargadine writes:
"I stumbled onto your website, on which it's stated
that you'd like to know
if anyone has any success running PC Paintbrush 1.0 (1993) for Windows
Windows XP. Well, not exactly. I mean, not directly, but I
do have PC
Paintbrush, which I can't live without, running on an XP machine.
The trick is
a free download from Microsoft called Virtual PC. I installed
used it to create a computer model of a Windows 98 computer, installed
copy of Windows 98 into that virtual computer, and then installed PC
on the virtual computer, and it runs nicely under Windows 98.
I love PC Paintbrush and I certainly wish it had been maintained long
enough to be able to deal with long filenames; that's the only
connection with Paintbrush, which I think is arguably the most
interface a real painter could ever hope for in a computer
program. It has a
few tools that no other program has thought of, which is why I say I
without it. I bought it on a single CD at a supermarket in
Portland, Oregon for
$10 in '94, if I remember correctly, and have used it nearly every week
then. I believe that Mattel, Inc. owns it now, and I'm pretty
sure that if they
knew how close they really are to being able to publish a hot seller,
on the stick and fix this proggy up by LEAVING THE PROGRAM ALONE,
except to add long filename capacity and port it to Windows XP.
No filters and flash
necessary; they could still sell a lot of them for $60.
Microsoft says, somewhere in their knowledge base, that PC Paintbrush
run under Windows XP because it wants to access the video directly,
strictly illegal in the Windows XP application programming
interface. They add
that this program just isn't going to run under XP until the developers
something about it."
Virtual PC can be downloaded here.