Software Spotlight: ZSoft PC Paintbrush

edited August 2017 in Software Spotlights
Apparently Microsoft is planning to remove Microsoft Paint from Windows 10. I thought this would be a good time to show off its origins as PC Paintbrush from the small Marietta, Georgia based company ZSoft.

But let's step back a little further first:


The story really starts with Apple MacPaint. It was designed as a simple and easy to use bit-mapped drawing tool. In contrast, many others were shape/vector based drawing programs. MacPaint stood out among other drawing programs of the time, making them look clunky in comparison.

My own observations was that the unique simplified yet powerful user interface combined with the simplicity of black and white screen drawing resulted in a tool that was very artistically inspiring.

But most importantly to this story, many created similar looking clones.


One notable clone was Mouse Systems PC Paint. PC Paint ran on IBM PCs with a Color Graphics Adapter, and was commonly bundled with Mouse Systems Mice.

Despite the similar name, it has no direct relation to PC Paintbrush.


About the same time or shortly after, ZSoft created their own painting program for IBM PC DOS systems called PC Paintbrush. They also sold several variants: PC Paintbrush Plus included scanner drivers, and later Publishers Paintbrush included extra font and zoom features targeted at desktop publishers.

The earliest versions I have been able to find so far are 3.x. It would be great if we could find some earlier releases. (Note that confusingly Publisher's Paintbrush uses a different version numbering sequence, even though it is almost the same thing as PC Paintbrush. Also note that the Microsoft OEM uses yet another version numbering)

A November 1984 advertisement can be seen in this PC Magazine: ... &q&f=false

I just added version 3.77, dumped from original media. I'd recommend taking a look at the flyers included with the manual. There is some good information about ZSoft Publishers Type Foundry, and it suggests there was a version of PC Paintbrush for OS/2 1.1.

PC Paintbrush was notable for supporting virtually every single IBM PC video card produced prior to its release date. Between all the different DOS versions currently on Winworld, there is support for:
AT&T 6300 High Res
AT&T 6300 w/ D.E.B.
ATI EGA Wonder
ATI EGAWonder800+
ATI Graphics Solution
ConoVision 2800
Cordata computer;640x400 2 color (Cordata is the later Cornoa brand) 
Cornerstone 1600
Cornerstone DualPage
Cornerstone PC1280 
Cornerstone PG1600 
Cornerstone SinglePageXL 
Corona Computer; 640x400 2 color 
CPT Computer;720x738
DFI VG-2000
Everex EV-600
Everex M.E.D. EV-657
Everex Viewpoint VGA
Gemini Tech VC-0002
Genoa SuperEGA HiRes+
Genoa SuperVGA-10
Hercules Incolor Card
Hercules Monochrome
IBM 3270-PC (APA)
IBM Color Card
IBM EGA High Res
IBM EGA w/ Gray Converter
IBM PCjr Computer
IBM PS/2 8514A
Matrox VGO-AT
MDS Genius VHR
MDS Genius2
Mindset II Computer
NEC Monograph
Number Nine Pepper 1600
Number Nine Pepper Pro1280
Number Nine Pepper SGT
Number Nine Revolution 512
Number Nine Revolution
Orchid Designer VGA
Paradise Autoswitch EGA
Paradise VGA Bit-16 Plus
Paradise VGA Plus
Paradise VGA Professional
Persyst BOB (EG) Board
Persyst BOB 16 Board;640x400 16 color
Persyst BOB Board
Persyst BOB II Board;640x400 16 color
Persyst BOB-16 Board;640x400 16 color
Plantronics ColorPlus
Princeton Graphics LaserPage
Princeton LaserPage
Princeton Pub Labs MultiView;800x1000 16 grays
Profit Multigraph II
Quadram Quadcolor I/II
Quadram Quadcolor II
Quadram QuadVGA Spectra
Scantek on EGA
Scion Display Adapter
Sigma Color 400
Sigma EGA 480
Sigma L-View
Sigma L-View for PS/2 
Sigma LaserView 
Sigma VGA 
Sigma VGA/HP16
STB Graphix Plus II
STB Multi-Res II
STB Multi-Res
STB Super Res 400
Tandy 1000
Tandy 1200,3000
Taxan Crystal View
Tecmar Graphics Master
Tecmar VGA/AD w/128k
Tecmar VGA/AD w/64k 
Tecmar VGA/AD
Toshiba T3100 Computer
Trident TVGA
Tseng Labs EVA
Tseng Labs Monochrome
Ventek PS2000 Display
Vermont Microsystems PM100;1024x1024 2 color
Verticom 2Page Display;1280x960 2 color
Video Seven Fastwrite VGA
Video Seven Vega Deluxe
Video Seven Vega VGA
Video Seven VRAM VGA
Wyse WY-700
Xerox 19" LFS VX 222C;1152x860 2 color;
Xerox 6065 High Res;640x400 2 color
Xerox 6065 w/E.G.C.;640x400 16 color
Xerox Full Page Display;720x992 2 color


Now, here is where things start to get interesting. After Mouse Systems released their mouse products to the market, Microsoft began producing their own mice.

With these mice, Microsoft bundled a cheesy little drawing program called Doodle. At the time, few IBM PC programs used mice, and Doodle was a weak program that compared badly to Mouse Systems PC Paint.

Microsoft needed a better drawing program to compete with Mouse Systems, so they licensed PC Paintbrush.

It looks like it first shipped with the 4.0 mouse drivers, but if there was a 3.x driver release, we seem to be missing that. It continued at least up to the 7.0 mouse driver in 1989, which included both an enhanced DOS version and a Windows version.

When Microsoft finally released Windows 1.0 and 2.0, Microsoft included a primitive monchrome-only painting program.

This appears to have been written entirely by Microsoft ("Microsoft Paint (c) 1985 Microsoft Corp. by Dan McCabe, et al"). And it probably evolved from the sample paint program shown off in earlier versions.

Like Doodle, it was perceived poorly.

Luckily for Microsoft, ZSoft ported PC Paintbrush to Windows. Although probably targeted at Windows 2, it also ran under Windows 1.

An interesting technical note: Neither Windows 1 nor 2 support color Device Independent Bitmaps internally. To draw with color bitmaps, PC Paintbrush for Windows had to use EGA and VGA specific device dependent hacks.

Microsoft included PC Paintbrush for Windows with the 7.00 Microsoft Mouse drivers, and with certain Windows 2 packages. ZSoft also sold the Windows version retail.


Finally, starting with Windows 3.0, Microsoft bundled PC Paintbrush as a standard component of Windows itself.


ZSoft continued to enhance their products, however these enhancements did not find their way back in to Windows. PC Paintbrush IV and 5 for DOS add many new features.

Wanted: PC Paintbrush 5 for DOS


There also was a much later Windows product sold by SoftKey under the name PC Paintbrush. It is so different, it is unclear if it is really even related to the original ZSoft product.

It could be that Winworld is missing some intermediate Windows 3.x retail PC Paintbrush releases.

In Windows 95 and later, the Paint application underwent some rewrites and revamps, but retained the same basic user interface and capabilities. It resumes the use of the name "Microsoft Paint" rather than "Paintbrush".

Microsoft Windows Paint became important as a "standard" part of Windows. If you or your users needed to open and edit quick image, you could rely on it almost always being there.

Paint in Windows was was not intended as a professional graphics program. But as professional graphics programs advanced, Paint saw no new features.

In fact, it grew a bit of a reputation for its primitive abilities. Yet as a standard component, was still considered quite useful.

It even gained a bit of a following from users taking the limited abilities as a challenge to create artwork. Often as a tool for creating "meme" rage comics.

Starting with Windows 7 Microsoft bastardized the user interface by adding Microsoft's "ribbon" shit.

Windows Vista Paint was the last one with proper menus.

Finally, with Windows 10, Microsoft has vowed to remove Paint. No, not in the next Windows release, but as part of a Windows 10 "update". While a replacement is long overdue, it is simply stupid of Microsoft to change major features in a released product. (Yea, yea rapid release, continual updates, no new Windows versions, that is also stupid).


Personally I find ZSoft interesting, as their headquarters used to right up the street from me. Currently there is a business named "AlphaGraphics" there that may or may not be related.


  • Starting with Windows 7 Microsoft bastardized the user interface by adding Microsoft's "ribbon" shit.
    Which is why I'm lucky to have Paint XP instead. I found that bloody difficult to use :?

    Anyway, interesting history here. Thanks for sharing :)
  • M$ isn't going to 'remove' Paint entirely. They are just going to make it a Windows store app (that is, the store app will act as a wrapper for the original Win32 mspaint.exe -- there won't be any difference). Along with offering that "Paint 3D" bullshit.
  • SomeGuy wrote:
    Luckily for Microsoft, ZSoft ported PC Paintbrush to Windows. Although probably targeted at Windows 2, it also ran under Windows 1.
    Ahh, another Windows 1 program! Obscure bits like this make SomeGuy's Software Spotlights the best. You rule, man.

    A bit off topic, but is there any kind of list of Win1 applications? There don't seem to be very many of them.
  • Toastytech has the most complete list of applications currently available. WUGNET back 30 years ago kept a list of all Windows applications released down to the lowly spinning globe icon freeware. Unfortunately, all the Compuserve forums devoted to early Windows are long gone and I don't know of a place that archived any of it.

    Windows 1 had fewer applications than Mac but more than GEM, VisiOn, and more business applications than Amiga or Atari ST at the same time. Of course, it wasn't until late in Windows 2 life span that the first Windows applications that were competitive with the best applications on other platforms showed up.
  • Nice!

    I also have different version of it.
    I'll have a change to upload it.
  • The industry was a wonderful place from 83 and forward. Great article, love the throwbacks.

    I have as part of my legacy and vintage collection ZSoft Paintbrush 5+, including manuals. I will locate it and upload it. I may have Version 5 around somewhere.
  • A fascinating program for sure, though I'm not really going to miss Microsoft Paint when it is removed. I never even used it anyways on my Windows 10 machine except for that one time I created a couple of pieces of cheesy artwork in 5 minutes.
  • Really nice article, SomeGuy! Helped me to decide which one to install in which VMware'd version of DOS for my little tech museum. :)

Leave a Comment

BoldItalicStrikethroughOrdered listUnordered list
Align leftAlign centerAlign rightToggle HTML viewToggle full pageToggle lights
Drop image/file