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Paint Tool SAI review: not like Photoshop in the best way

Juliet Childers

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No Paint Tool SAI review is complete without breaking down its core features and comparing it to rival programs. Let’s learn all about this digital art program from its surprisingly small size to its even more surprising capabilities.

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What is Paint Tool SAI?

Systemax first launched this software in 2008, but it still clocks in at just 2 MB. The raster graphics painting and editor software works on Windows PC running 2000 or later. Updates to the base program require Windows Vista or later instead.

Paint Tool SAI review: not like Photoshop in the best way

The program allows users to draw and develop layers using various tools to create digital art. Though mainly focused on painting and drawing, SAI does provide some image editing with Brightness/Contrast and Hue/Saturation adjustments.

Is Paint Tool SAI free?

While free to download, Paint Tool SAI is not totally free. It requires a one-time payment of $50.81 USD or 5500 JPY for a software license after a trial period of 31 days. However, after this purchase, you’re good to use the program as you see fit.

image of the Paint Tool SAI user interface

Simple interface and small size

Due in part to its no-frills UI, Paint Tool SAI maintains a very small digital footprint. No rival program comes close to its size of just 2 MB. What’s more: it only requires 128 MB of RAM to operate. If you are editing and creating on a lower spec piece of hardware, this program may be the best option for you.

Other competitors, as reviewed below, take up significantly more space or require more RAM to operate.

image of art for Paint Tool SAI review

Key features for a Paint Tool SAI review

As you can see in the image above, this program is not limited in scope when it comes to artist imagination. YouTuber Mirey’s showcased the program’s features in a Paint Tool SAI review for a commission. As with any kind of digital art creation software, SAI includes all of the features you’d need to do so.

Here is a list of key features that stood out for this Paint Tool SAI review:

  • Full digitizer support
  • Anti-aliased drawings
  • Data protection for layer tools
  • Airbrush and brush
  • Able to adjust color luminescence and saturation
  • Able to view small versions of drawings
  • Intel MMX technology support
  • Selection and drag tools
  • Can move and lock layers
  • Touch-sensitive pencil tool
  • Large color spectrum
  • Very lightweight software in terms of required hardware specifications

Perhaps the best feature is how Paint Tool SAI empowers you to draw with a digital pen. Illustrating using mobile devices or tablets allows artists to feel more free and uninhibited while creating animations like cartoons or anime.

image of Paint Tool SAI review rival logos

Paint Tool SAI review: competitors

Adobe Photoshop

This program is significantly more powerful than Paint Tool SAI, but that’s by design. Paint Tool SAI is focused on drawing and painting while Adobe Photoshop can do far more. It features more format types, text layers, shape tools, gradients, transparency, and lots more. It is ~710 MB in size with a required 8 GB RAM minimum to operate.

Photoshop also offers better image editing options than Paint Tool SAI. However, it costs significantly more as a one-time purchase. The monthly subscription fee for just Photoshop is $20.99 USD per month or $19.99 USD per month for Lightroom and Photoshop with 1TB of storage.

Adobe Illustrator

This program has some of the same issues as Photoshop regarding price. Though a powerful program, Illustrator is $20.99 USD per month, so users will hit the comparable price of Paint Tool SAI quickly. However, it offers better versions of all of the illustrating capabilities than Paint Tool SAI.

If cost is not an issue for you, then you may consider Adobe Illustrator instead. It is ~1.76 GB in size and requires at least 8 GB of RAM to operate.

Gimp

This open-source raster graphics editor is free-to-use having debuted all the way back in 1998. While Paint Tool SAI is fantastic in some areas and lacking in others, GIMP is more well-rounded overall. It is also available for macOS, Linux, and Windows PCs.

Many users consider GIMP one of the best free tools available thanks to features like color mixing, layering, gradient features, and more. If you want a real contender against Paint Tool SAI, consider giving GIMP a try — especially if you don’t have a Windows operating system. It clocks in at 250 MB in size and recommends at least 128 MB of RAM to run.

Krita

Similar to GIMP, Krita is more well-rounded than SAI when it comes to the services offered. The biggest benefit Krita offers is a more intuitive interface. It also features HDR editing support, mirroring tools, PSD compatibility, and a more robust color palette.

It is also free and open-source as developed by the Open Source Raster Graphics Library project. Krita requires at least 2 GB of RAM and 300 MB of storage space.

Canva

Many people may be familiar with the originally browser-based editor known as Canva. It has a free option available to all with an intuitive interface, thousands of templates, an image cropper, various pay structures for paid subscriptions, and more.

However, it does lack things like full digitizer support and tools that make drawing with a tablet more natural. This may be due to the fact that Canva focuses more on design for things like social media posts, posters, and other graphics vs. creating digital art.

When using the desktop or mobile app, Canva recommends that you have at least 150 MB of storage space free. For the desktop app, Canva requires 1 GB of RAM minimum on Windows and 2 GB of RAM on Mac.

image of the UI for the Paint Tool SAI review

Verdict on Paint Tool SAI review

Though not the most robust program for creating digital art, Paint Tool SAI remains one of the most lightweight options out there. If you want to paint, draw, or otherwise create art, it is fantastic. Download Paint Tool SAI for free and try it out yourself.

However, if you are looking to make collages or edit photos, you should consider other programs.

PROS

  • Not very taxing on hardware so it’s great for lower spec setups
  • Great option for use with a tablet
  • No frills interface
  • Includes linework layers to reduce the amount of manual linework required
  • Very affordable when compared to some alternatives

CONS

  • Only available in English and Japanese with German translation
  • May lack the variety of tools that other similar (but usually more expensive) programs have
  • Only dedicated support is via email at support@systemax.jp

Developer: Systemax Software Development

Publisher: Systemax Software Development

Top Features: Full digitizer support, low hardware footprint, and great for tablets

Platform Reviewed: Windows PC

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