Paintbrush (Microsoft)

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Viewing an image in Paintbrush.

Paintbrush is a rudimentary graphics program published by Microsoft and first released with Windows 3 on 1990-05-22.

Paintbrush has the following features:

  • Basic brush shapes like square, circle, line, and airbrush.
  • 2D primitives like lines, curves, circles, boxes, each at different line widths.
  • Flood fill.
  • Support for True Type Fonts and Microsoft Fonts.
  • Can open, edit, and save BMP, DIB, PCX, and MSP.
  • 1-bit or 4-bit color depth with a fixed palette.
  • Eraser and color-specific eraser.
  • Cut and paste for rectangles or multi-point vectors.
  • Exporting and importing palettes.

Paintbrush is based on Paint, a monochrome graphics program released with Windows 1, which itself was an early version of the program PC Paintbrush developed by ZSoft and OEMed to Microsoft. While Windows 3 was in development, Microsoft overhauled Paint by adding support for 4-bit color, made BMP the primary format, and changed the UI to make it look nearly identical to MacPaint. Paintbrush saw only minor updates with each upgrade of Windows 3, like combining the font menus into a single dialog, and updating the icon. When Windows 95 was released, Paintbrush was again overhauled making it into the superior, but still not very impressive, Microsoft Paint.


My family's first computer came with Windows 3.0, and I remember playing with Paintbrush for many hours drawing (mostly awful) graphics. Using the program, I enjoyed making art for video games I always intended to program, but I had no idea how to load the graphics in QuickBASIC, so I never did. I also liked making wallpapers for Windows and even made a gag background suggesting the computer had encountered a serious error upon booting (though nobody ever fell for it). My brother and I intended to make a full screen maze using the zoom feature, but we probably only ever completed around a tenth of the image before getting bored. I also liked playing with the color editor and marveled at the algorithm which generated regularly-spaced color patterns to try and blend the colors.

However, in the end, I was always so frustrated with the program's limitations. Having seen plenty of beautiful computer art in games and applications, I knew there were better programs out there, but I never had access to them, so I had to wrestle with the poor UI and struggle with the ugly fixed 16-color palette. At the time, I would have killed for a copy of PC Paintbrush, but I didn't even know it existed. In middle school, I saw a drawing program on a Macintosh and became embarrassed at how inferior Paintbrush was.


I believe I still have some Windows 3.11 disks, so I think I still own a legal copy of this program.



  • The program has a wide variety of basic features.
  • If all you need to do is make a very quick and simple graphic, Paintbrush can do it.
  • Supporting all Windows font formats at the time was a beneficial nice feature.
  • It's nice that it supports PCX and the legacy MSP format.
  • If you had the memory, the program could support huge bitmaps, up to 32,767x32,767 pixels.


  • The painting tools don't interpolate movement, so, if you draw with a fast mouse movement, the result is either a jagged or broken line rather than a smooth curve. You produce curves with the painting tools, you had to make slow accurate mouse movements which were difficult to do on primitive mice.
  • It's very difficult to predict how the curved line tool will react making it very difficult to use.
  • Dithered colors prevent the flood fill tool from working, so, if you use them, you had better make sure you get it right the first time.
  • The undo feature only works on the last tool used, and then, it undoes everything done by that tool.
  • While it's nice that the UI can conform to any shape, the fact that the tool icons also distort often makes them look terrible.
  • Most of the tools do not work while zoomed in, even though there doesn't seem to be an obvious reason why they can't.
  • Zoom is fixed to 8x magnification and not customizable.
  • The program doesn't support RLE bitmaps, even though the RLE code had to have been written to support the PCX format.


  • Even if Windows 3 is setup to handle 256 colors or more, Paintbrush's interface doesn't support more than the fixed 16, and enforces the default Windows palette. You can still open and view images with a higher color depth it your Windows settings allow it, but you can only edit those images with the default 16-color palette.
  • No attempt was made to support anti-aliasing. Of course, with only 16 highly contrasting colors to work with, it wouldn't be much help anyway.
  • The user interface is a shameless ripoff of MacPaint.