Since the dawn of time (aka 1985), Windows has always shipped with a basic image-editing program: Paint. For MacOS, there’s no native equivalent, whether you’re running the latest version or an older one. Apple removed MacPaint long ago.
However, Apple’s default app for opening images, PDFs, and other files — called Preview — comes close. It doesn’t mirror Microsoft Paint, but it has a few editing tools, like drawing, adding text, and inserting shapes. Most people don’t know these features exist because they’re hidden behind a button they never think to click.
Keep in mind that Preview doesn’t allow you to create new artwork from scratch like Microsoft’s Paint — there’s no blank canvas. These tools are more for annotating and highlighting photos and other files rather than creating new pieces of artwork.
Read on to find out how to enable the paint features hidden on your Mac. We’ll also go over how to use the built-in tools, and if you’re looking for something simpler, we’ll go over one-for-one Paint replacements you can download.
Note: The screenshots provided below are based on MacOS Big Sur. All the functions are still the same, but the presentation is slightly different. We also used MacOS in Dark Mode and a fluffy kitten.
Finding the hidden tools in Preview
Use Finder to locate the image you want to edit in Preview. If the image only appears in the Photos app, right-click on the photo, select Edit With on the pop-up menu, then click Preview.
With the Preview app open, click the button resembling the tip of a pen inside a circle. As shown below, it’s located immediately left of the search field. This button displays the Markup Toolbar.
If all you want is to quickly draw on your image, click the pencil icon and get to it. Changes are saved as you go, so if you want to keep the original image intact, consider making a copy of the image to edit before diving in.
The other tools should be fairly obvious if you’ve ever used an image-editing app. However, read on for a quick rundown of each tool, starting from the left.
Selection Tools is the first tool on the left. It controls what mode your cursor is in, with four individual options.
Here you can select a portion of the image to move or edit. There’s the standard rectangle for selecting an area, along with an elliptical selection tool. Two additional “lasso” tools cling to shapes as you select an area.
Next, the Instant Alpha tool lets you click an area of the image to “magically” select an entire region of a similar color.
The Sketch tool allows you to draw freehand. If all you want is to quickly draw something on top of your existing image, Sketch is what you want. Preview will even automatically tidy up your sketch.
For example, if you attempt to freehand a circle, the application automatically smooths the curve. A rough circle like this …
… quickly becomes smooth, as shown below. If you don’t like the correction, an option to eradicate it appears in the bottom left corner.
Keep in mind that Sketch is different than Draw in that it automatically corrects lines unless you select otherwise — Draw doesn’t do that. Sketch also doesn’t register varying line widths. Draw, on the other hand, relies on a Force Touch trackpad to capture various stroke widths.
Insert shape and edit tools
The next button group mostly relates to adding specific shapes and text. It also includes the ability to resize photos.
The Shapes tool lets you add shapes — rectangles, circles, speech bubbles, and stars — directly to an image.
There’s also a magnifying feature called Loupe to zoom in on something specific. Adjust the overall size using the blue handle and the magnification using the green handle.
The Text tool inserts a text box to the center of your image. You can type whatever you want, then move the text box to its desired location.
Font and color choices are handled with the Text Style tool on the right-hand side of the toolbar. You can set the font, size, color, and alignment of the current text box or the next text box.
The Signature tool lets you insert a previously saved signature.
The Adjust Color tool brings up a panel to change the contrast and saturation levels, and so on. Experienced designers will know what to do here, but everyone else could do worse than hitting “Auto Levels” and seeing if they like the results.
The Adjust Size tool lets you change the size of the image, using a menu.
Style and color toggles
The final section of the toolbar lets you set the thickness, colors, and fonts used by the tools we previously outlined. These tools are used before or while editing sketches and shapes.
The Shape Style tool lets you choose the thickness of lines created by other tools. You can also use it to add a variety of textures and add a drop shadow.
The Border Color tool, shown below, lets you set an outline color for the current shape or the next shape you create.
The Fill Color tool, set to the right of the Border Color tool, lets you set a shade for the inside of your current shape or the next one you create.
The menu bar
That’s it for the Markup Toolbar. You’ll notice a few features are missing, such as options that allow you to crop and rotate an image. You can find these options by clicking Tools on the menu bar. You’ll also see most of the Markup Toolbar functions listed under Annotate on the Tools drop-down menu.
Paint alternatives for Mac
Of course, some people might find Preview’s hidden photo editor to be too complicated, especially if you’re a Windows transplant. You might want something simpler and a bit more familiar.
We recommend checking out Paintbrush if a stripped-down version of Paint is what you’re really after. This bare-bones editor does everything Paint does in more or less the same way.
For similar features with a bit wider scope, Patina is a great Paint alternative if you’re willing to shell out three bucks. It’s worth the low price, in our opinion.
Overall, both Paintbrush and Patina come pretty close to mimicking Microsoft’s adored Paint app. The learning curve does feel as tricky as traversing the Preview tools.
It could be a childhood nostalgia for creating pictures in Paint, or maybe you just switched over to a Mac for the first time. Regardless, you can still get a similar experience from these apps. Spend some time exploring in Preview before you jump right over to a Paint alternative. Some Mac users find that Preview provides all of the elements they need most.
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