This article was first published on 2009-10-15. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.


In the 1980’s and ‘90s, you could find plenty of casual art programs, starting with MacPaint and MacDraw, on the shelves of Mac retailers. My first Mac, the G3 iMac, came with AppleWorks with its Paint and Draw modules. Today, you have to dig it for it on the Net. Let’s take a look at 3 casual art programs that you can start out using for free.

I will cover Tux Paint, Paintbrush and Art Rage Starter Edition. In some instances, you can step up to a paid version with more features, but the cost for each of those is less than $30.

Tux Paint 0.9.21

Cost: free!

If you want a simple painting tool for you or a youngster, then Tux Paint fits the bill. Originally a Linux program, the program now comes in Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X versions.  The latest version, 0.9.21, works with 10.4 on up. If you still run 10.3.9 or even 10.2.8, you can download an earlier version of Tux Paint from their FTP site.

If you start up Tux Paint with the default settings, you will get a window (see below) with the painting area in the middle. You see the main menu at the left, the 16 colors on the bottom, and a submenu on the right for the main selections.  For example, you start with the Paint button on the left main menu and a selection of brushes on the right-hand side.  The program’s mascot Tux the penguin appears at the bottom offering suggestions.

You should check out these menu selections in particular: New, Shapes, and Magic.

New lets you set up the virtual canvas for a new painting. You can set the background color or a background picture to alter.

Shapes lets you choose various shapes, either hollow or filled with the selected color.

If you looked for tools such as Fill or Flip that you used in other paint programs, you want the Magic menu. This menu contains a scrollable list of effects that should hold your attention.

You made a mistake? Click on the Undo button on the left-hand main menu, which offers multiple levels of undo.

Questions and Caveats

Tux Paint uses a separate configuration program to keep small users from messing up the settings of the main program. The developers of Tux Paint envisioned the program for use in a multi-user elementary school computer lab with a networked printer.

So where does Tux Paint store the paintings and how does it name them? As a default, it stores the paintings in standard PNG format in the folder User>Library>Application Support>TuxPaint>Saved. The year, month, date, and time serve as the unique name for each painting.  

If you want to open them in another program, just close Tux Paint and open the painting in that other program. If you want to edit a painting in PNG format not created in Tux Paint (such as a screenshot), you’ll need to copy it to the Saved folder. Tux Paint doesn’t use the standard OS X File Selector and can’t use other folders outside of the Saved folder.

You can’t open multiple paintings and cut and paste between them.

Tux Paint comes with documentation for the paint program and configuration program in HTML format which opens up in your Web browser.

Final conclusion:

The program’s developers designed the program for young children, so bear that in mind. I found it quite entertaining for my own limited painting ability. The cost is right. The program runs on both my Intel MacBook and my G3 iMac, which makes it useful for people wanting to give their older Mac to a new user.

Two paint-stained thumbs up!

Paintbrush  2.01

Cost: free, but donations requested.

The developer of Paintbrush took the simple Paint program that comes with Windows as an accessory as his model.  He wrote it as a fully Cocoa program, able to take advantage of OS X. It requires at least 10.5 to run version 2.01, but you can also download version 1.2 for 10.4.  It is a work in progress, adding the functions of the MS Paint program with each edition.

When you start a new painting, Paintbrush brings up a dialog box asking for the dimensions of the canvas (see below). The program offers several selections for canvases, but you can set a custom canvas larger than your physical screen. I set up a canvas for 2560 x 1600 that would require a 30“ screen to display in full. 

Paintbrush doesn’t offer the creative options of Tux Paint in its minimal Tool Box (see below).  It opens and saves paintings in these formats: PNG, GIF, TIFF, JPEG, and Windows BMP and uses the standard OS X File Selector box.

The program doesn’t include help or documentation. I could pick up how to use it quickly, but I would advise you to click on the menus to learn more of the options. As the developer is a full-time student doing this in his spare time, give him credit for a good piece of work so far. It hasn’t crashed on me.

So how would you use Paintbrush, if not to create original artwork? You would use it to edit pre-existing work. As you can set up a canvas larger than your physical screen, open multiple painting files at once, and copy and paste between them; you could also use it to embellish screenshots or combine paintings from Tux Paint.

Final conclusion:

One and a half paint-stained thumbs up.

ArtRage 2.5 Starter Edition

Cost: free. Full Edition with additional features $25

If you feel limited by Tux Paint and want something more, try Ambient Design’s ArtRage 2.5 Starter Edition. Ambient Design markets it as the teaser edition to the full-fledged ArtDesign program which cost $25.00 for the download. The teaser version, like Tux Paint, is a single layer paint program. The paid edition lets you draw on multiple layers.

ArtRage has its own file format, *.ptg, to save in; but exports and imports the common file formats of  JPEG , PNG, and Windows BMP and Photoshop 5. To import or export an unsupported format, such as GIF, use Preview as an intermediary conversion program.

The program features brushes and paints that mimic the behavior of natural media. The brush strokes look like oil and water paints and pencils and chalk, but without the mess.

Unlike Tux Paint and, Paintbrush, ArtRage in either edition doesn’t include tools for creating shapes such as circles and rectangles. Like the Italian painter Giotto, you have to paint  your own circles.

When you start a new canvas, you can select another painting file to trace over. ”Mona Lisa? Yeah, I drew her from scratch…“

ArtRage comes with full documentation in an 82 page illustrated PDF manual, although Ambient Design wrote the manual for the full edition. If you go to the Ambient Design Web site , you will also find tutorials.

The program requires a minimum of 10.3.9. It works on both my Intel MacBook running 10.6.1 and my G3 iMac running 10.4.11.

Final conclusion:

Two paint-stained thumbs up. I wouldn’t recommend this for the absolute novice; but if the young artist shows potential, try this one.

Summary:

These three programs give the novice graphic artist an excellent start. I would recommend they start with Tux Paint if they have no experience with graphics programs, then move up to ArtRage. Annotate with Paintbrush.

Tom Briant has used Macs since 2001, just when OS X was introduced. He is the editor of the MacValley Voice, newsletter of the MacValley Users Group in Northridge, California.