Once upon a time the notion of having access to a free image-editing tool that rivalled commercial packages was nonsensical. If you wanted to edit your photos, you had to pay for the privilege. The GIMP was one of the first to break this mold, but despite a powerful feature set it can be off-putting to the beginner.
In recent years Paint.NET has made a powerful case of being the best free image-editing tool for Windows, boasting powerful features and a relatively accessible interface. But now there’s a new kid in town, a tool that resembles Paint.NET but adds some clever features of its own. A tool that once cost money, but is now free. That image editor is PixBuilder Studio.
As its name implies, Paint.NET requires the .NET Framework runtime to be installed before you can use it. There’s no such requirement with PixBuilder Studio, which is crammed into a tiny 2.98MB download, and in fact its current build, 2.0.3, introduces an option to install it as a portable application, so you can add it to your USB thumbdrive toolkit.
Once the program fires up for the first time, its interface feels familiar, thanks to the fact it apes other image editors like Paint.NET and earlier versions of Photoshop. The toolset is comparable to Paint.NET, although there are some useful extras, including a healing brush, full-blown text editor and measurement tool, that you won’t find in Paint.NET.
PixBuilder Studio also boasts a collection of handy panels, which are pinned to the right of the program window by default, but which can be detached as floating panes or pinned to another edge. These panels include layers, zoom, channels, tool (which changes according to the currently selected tool) and undo. There’s also a handy browser panel that sits at the bottom of the screen, making it easy to select multiple images from the same folder.
If there’s any criticism of PixBuilder Studio, it’s the disappointing number of built-in effects and filters it possesses. Yes, it supports 8BF filter plug-ins, which are widely supported thanks to the fact they’re almost universal thanks to compatibility with Photoshop, Paint.NET and others, but it still adds unnecessary hassle in having to track down those useful filters in the first place.
Despite this niggle, and especially considering it’s free and can be roadtested as a portable application, we heartily recommend you give PixBuilder Studio 2.0.3 a try. Its tiny 3MB downloadruns on Windows XP, Vista and 7.