MS Paint remarkably gets free update almost 40 years after it first launched

If this were the 1990s we'd be seriously excited. Paint's new features are genuinely useful

MS Paint 2023 layers and background removal
(Image credit: Microsoft)

The Paint app in Windows is nearly as old as your writer, but unlike me it continues to get better as it ages. And Microsoft has just announced its latest upgrade, which introduces some very useful features: layers and transparency.

Paint made its debut in 1985 in Windows 1.0 as a direct competitor to Apple's MacPaint, and Microsoft considered killing it off in the late 2010s: in 2017, it announced that Paint would no longer be in active development and might not be included in future versions of Windows. That would have been a blow to the meme-making community, who famously use it to make deliberately rubbish images. But it would also have been a blow to the Windows users who know that today's Paint is a very different animal to the one we used in the 90s when we were supposed to be working.

The new update is available to Windows Insiders now and should be rolling out more widely in the next Windows update. So what does it deliver?

What's new in MS Paint in 2023?

According to Microsoft's Dave Grochocki, "You can now add, remove, and manage layers on the canvas to create richer and more complex digital art. With layers, you can stack shapes, text, and other image elements on top of each other." Transparency support includes the ability to open and save transparent PNG images, and when you team it up with the background removal feature that makes it easy to combine parts of different images into something new. iOS 17 has a similar feature in its Photos app and of course background removal is common in all kinds of desktop photo editing apps.

The updated Paint app is hardly Photoshop. But then, it isn't intended to be: it's fun, free and surprisingly clever little app that you can use for quick image creation and editing, and the new features are genuinely useful: we remove backgrounds and make composite images all the time, and the ability to work across multiple layers is a must-have for all kinds of image creation and editing. It'd be a shame if Paint continued to be used largely for making memes, because it's capable of much more than that.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (