How to retouch portrait photos with Paint.NET

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Retouch photos with Paint.NET

Retouching portrait photos is often referred to as 'Photoshopping', but you don't need to splash out on Adobe's premium software to make your selfies look stunning.

Paint.NET is a completely free photo editor that's just as capable as many full-price programs. It was originally created as an upgrade/replacement for Microsoft Paint, but has evolved from those humble beginnings into a powerful tool for editing images and creating your own artwork from scratch.

Paint NET clone stamp

Paint.NET's clone stamp tool is a simple way to disguise blemishes in portrait photos

Editing out blemishes is easy with the stamp tool - hold Ctrl and click a nearby area to take a sample, then click and drag to 'paint' over the flaw. Like all the tools in Paint.NET, the stamp is fully configurable and can be adjusted using the options at the top of the main window. For a natural look, enable antialiasing and reduce the hardness of the brush. When retouching portrait photos you might need to take several samples and to make sure the colours line up with the contours of the face. The clone stamp is also very useful for editing out flyaway hair, or specks left by dust on the camera lens.

Paint NET liquify

The Liquify plug-in for Paint.NET lets you smooth and slim down features, or make adjustments to hair and clothing, but use a light touch - excessive use can yield strange and unnatural results

Like Photoshop, Paint.NET supports plug-ins, some of which are specially created for retouching photos. Installing plugins is easy - just download the ZIP archive, then extract the DLL file to Program Files > Paint.net > Effects.

One of the best for photo retouching is Liquify, which you can download from the Paint.NET forums. Just like the Photoshop tool of the same name, it lets you distort images by clicking and dragging, and you can use it to smooth out bumps, slim down noses and tighten jawlines. Keep your changes subtle, and bear in mind that the background will also be distorted by Liquify, so avoid using it near any lines or regular patterns.

Paint NET vignette effect

Paint.NET's photo-enhancing tools apply flattering filters to give portrait subjects a healthy glow, and the vignette effect draws the eye inwards

Like any photo editor worth its salt, Paint.NET includes a levels editor (under Adjustments), which you can use to adjust the contrast in your image. Tweaking the diagonal line into a gentle S shape will increase contrast and make your picture look more dramatic, but you might find decreasing the contrast yields a more flattering effect.

For a more dramatic change, try the Soften Portrait tool (under Effects > Photo). This softens skintones in your picture and lightens colours to obscure imperfections (a little like deliberately over-exposing a photo). It also adds a flattering warm color cast. The default setting is a bit strong for retouching portrait photos, so tweak the sliders until you're happy with the result. The Vignette effect (also in the Photo menu) is worth a try too - it adds an Instagram-style retro camera effect that draws attention to the subject.

With so many dedicated functions and filters, plus user-created plugins that replicate the most popular features of premium retouching tools, Paint.NET is an essential program for tweaking everything from selfies to wedding portraits - and it's completely free.

The best free photo editor 2016

Whatever your level of expertise, there's a free photo editor that will give you all the tools you need to make your pictures look amazing. These are our three favorite free tools for optimizing your images.

For more details, see our complete guide to the best free photo editors

1. GIMP

The most fully-featured free photo editor around, GIMP is powerful enough for just about any task.

2. Paint.NET

Not quite as feature-packed as GIMP, but Paint.NET's streamlined interface makes everyday photo editing a breeze.

3. PhotoScape

PhotoScape appears simple, but delve a little deeper and you'll find RAW conversion, photo splitting and merging, and animated GIF creation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cat is TechRadar's downloads editor. She's been a tech journalist for six years on magazines including PC Plus, Official Windows, PC Format and Windows: Help & Advice (with a brief stint in PR for the nuclear industry in between). If you have a question about software, drop her a line!