Basic usage Tutorial

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Welcome to MyPaint!

This tutorial is a good place to start in order to learn how to use the program. For links to more complex tutorials, see  the Resources page.


MyPaint is a painting program, specialized in creating images from scratch. It is capable both of mimicking “real” media all the way to producing very “digital” style artwork. It aims to be simple and fast at what it does.

It is, however, by design, not an “image manipulation” program.  So even though you can certainly do most of your creative work in MyPaint, for final touch up, cropping, color curve adjustments and other “manipulation” stuff, you need to move your image into a program specialized for this, like GIMP.


MyPaint’s interface is deliberately minimalistic and fully controllable by keyboard shortcuts. The idea is to be able to paint away with as few distractions as possible.

Thus you normally work on your canvas with nothing else visible. You press keys to temporarily bring up dialogues, color selectors etc — these then go away as you continue working. However, while many artists prefer to work this way, others like to keep at least a few commonly used selectors permanently open next to the canvas; try it out and choose what you prefer.

The keyboard shortcuts are arranged so that you can work with your left hand on the keyboard and the right doing the painting. It is very easy to change your shortcuts. All commands can be found in the menu — Just hover with the cursor over the respective menu entry, then press the new keyboard shortcut you want. Done!


You paint by pressing the tip of the tablet pen down or, if you use a mouse, by pressing the left mouse button over the canvas. If you are drawing with the mouse you might notice small problems between the strokes. MyPaint is not really optimized for the mouse and you will not be able to get the full power out of the program with one. If you paint often it is really recommended that you use a graphics tablet.

MyPaint use the pressure sensitivity of the tablet in order to create a series of effects. Future versions will also support pen tilt and bearing for those tablets that have it. You can adjust the settings for your tablet in the Edit->Settings.. menu entry.

BrushlistSelecting your Brush

Press B to open the Brush list. This shows you all brushes available to MyPaint from the onset.  Click to select a brush. You can click and drag to order your brushes as you like.  At the top are a series of brush categories, ordered by type or by creator. You can click-and-drag brushes between the categories. The favorites category is an empty category which is a good place to group the brushes you use the most.

As an example, choose the brush named Smudge+, found in the classic category. This brush makes use of the pressure sensitivity of your tablet. Try to press hard and paint around, then gradually release pressure. You will find that as pressure drops the brush begins smearing (smudging) the existing paint on the canvas rather than painting new color. If you like the brush, pull it over to your favorites category so you can find it quickly again.

There are many powerful brushes delivered with MyPaint, it is worth playing around with all of them. You can also create your own custom brushes. This is a somewhat more advanced topic that can be read about in a separate tutorial here.


Adjusthing the brush on-the-fly

To increase the size of the brush, press the F key. Press the D key to make it smaller, this also works in the middle of a stroke. The brush outline of your cursor will change to show you its current size.

You can also assign shortcuts for on-the-fly adjusting other qualities of the brush stroke, such as Opacity (how much of the canvas shines through) and how Bright or Dark its colours are. See the menus Brush and Color for these commands.

It is however important to remember that all your on-the-fly commands might not exactly define the properties of a particular brush. Many brushes vary their properties based on pressure or speed for example, and what you set with the keyboard shortcuts is just a base value.


Undoing and erasing

One of the most useful commands in any painting program is the Undo (Z or Ctrl+Z) and its sibling Redo (Y or Ctrl+Y) to revert and get back changes you did.

You can also erase parts of your work by making your current brush into an eraser with the E key. Press again to revert to normal painting. If you have a tablet pen with an eraser tip, this should also work as you expect – just flip the pen over to erase.

The Delete key clears the canvas.

Change the ColorColourSampler

Press the G key to open the Color Sampler. This is MyPaint’s main color selector. Choose your color. Press G again to get rid of it.

Scribble around a bit with your new color, then press V and hold it down to bring up the Colour changer. This popup appears around your cursor with your current color at the center. Away from the center the colour changes gradually according to different parameters (exactly how it looks varies a bit between MyPaint versions).

Point to the colour you want to select and release V key. This is a very fast way to get shades of one color (Hint: clicking V a second time will bring up an alternative colour changer).

When painting you often switch between a few colours regularly. MyPaint remembers your five last used colours. Pressing the key X repeatedly will allow you to switch between them easily. You can also (even faster) press the right mouse button (RMB) instead.

Instead of selecting from a pop-up, you can pick colours directly from the canvas. Point at your painting and press the R key. This picks the color at the cursor – no mouse click is needed. You will see the chosen colour briefly appearing on screen. If you prefer, you can also do the same thing by clicking the canvas with the Ctrl key held down.

In the Colors menu you will find a range of entries for Brighter/Darker, Warmer/Cooler and Grayer/Purer. These allow for fine-tuning colors without having to move the cursor over to click in a selector, something appreciated by many painters. For best usage, assign keyboard shortcuts to them. Easiest way to learn what they do is to have the Color Sampler window open to see how they move through the color space.


Unlimited Canvas views

The border of the screen is not the end. The canvas of MyPaint grows as you expand your painting, only the memory of your computer sets a limit. Pan around your painting area using the Middle mouse button (MMB) or by holding the Space bar down. You can zoom in and out using the + and - keys.

A common thing for painters to do is to look at their painting from different angles (this is a time-honoured technique for finding flaws in anatomical drawings and portraits for example). MyPaint allows you to rotate your view of the painting as well as mirror it to either side (see the View menu).  If you get lost, use Reset (Zoom, Rotation, Mirror) from the View menu.

One thing to remember is that these commands allows you to view your canvas differently but they do not modify the painting itself. So if you e.g. save a rotated picture it will still appear un-rotated when you load it later. If you want to actually rotate, mirror or enlarge your painting, use GIMP.


Backgrounds and layers

When you start MyPaint for the first time you will see a white canvas to draw on. Go into the menu Layers and choose Background… You will be greeted by a background selector. This allows you to set a different look for your canvas, from different colours to various paper-like patterns and more. If you want you can also save a pattern as default, so it will always appear when you start the program.


MyPaint supports Layers. These are the equivalence of placing a transparency over your work and painting on that instead.  Layers can be thought of as being piled on top of each other and what you do on one layer will not affect any other layer. All layers appear above the Background mentioned above.

When you start MyPaint you have one single layer lying over a white Background. To test this out, scribble a little on this original layer with a big brush, then create a new layer above this with Ctrl+PageUp. The screen flashes to show that the new layer is empty.

You are now on your new layer.  Paint a bit over your previous scribbles, next try to erase your work — you will find that only colour on this layer is affected.

To switch between layers in the stack, use PageUp and PageDown. As you do, the screen will briefly flash to show only the contents of that layer. You can also directly jump to a layer by hovering over something visible from that layer and pressing H.

Layers are useful for experimenting without messing up previous work. You can get rid of layers by merging them down into underlying layers using Ctrl+Delete.

Pressing Shift+Delete deletes the layer outright, loosing its contents.


Saving and exporting your work

MyPaint can save/load images as PNG, JPG and ORA (OpenRaster, an evolving standard in the open source world).

Save in ORA when you want to pause your work and continue in MyPaint later, it is the only format which also stores your layer structure.

To allow GIMP to load ORA files you need to install GIMP’s ORA plugin. You can find it here. If you have no layers in your MyPaint image you can instead use PNG to export to GIMP directly. For best quality, stick with ORA and/or PNG. Avoid JPG until you want to publish your finished image on the web.

The Save Next Scrap feature of MyPaint (shortcut F2) saves a “scrap” of your work with an ever increasing numbering (settable in preferences). It is useful for quickly experimenting with different concepts and ideas.

Moving on …

Hopefully this gives you a good start for working with MyPaint. If you have any further questions or suggestions, take a look at our Resources page for ways to get in touch. There you will also find tutorials and links to some galleries containing artwork done with the program.

Once you have played around a bit and want to learn more, you might also want to read about one of the more powerful features of MyPaint, the capability to create your own unique brushes. This is described in the tutorial here.

Have fun!

Griatch 2010, based on original by Martin Renold (2005)

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