First MacPaint and MacWrite public demo

h/t Michael Tsai Blog

It’s quite fascinating to see how much of this ground-breaking UI R&D has become the standard way of manipulating text and graphics nearly 40 years later.

Except for the Lasso tool. For some reason, I have never seen it used anywhere other than MacPaint, which is a real shame, because it’s really useful. Photoshop Elements (my go-to editor today) has many kinds of selection tools, but not that one. (It does have a lasso tool, but it doesn’t constrict itself to the object surrounded the way the MacPaint one does.)

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The full version of Photoshop has three Lasso tools:

They are really great for creating elliptical and irregular borders.

It’s certainly fascinating. It makes me feel nostalgic. We’ve come a long way. Thank you for sharing.

I know all about those lassos - Elements also has them. But none of them behave as you can see in the MacPaint demo.

In that demo (at about time index 5:25), Bill Atkinson shows the lasso. He simply drags a lazy loop around the figure, and the app “constricts” the lasso so it selects the surrounded object and none of the white background.

In order to do this with the Adobe tools, you need to carefully drag/click the lasso around the border of the object. It’s a far more manual process. The magnetic lasso can make this somewhat easier, but only up to a point.

I realize that it is hard to do this when your objects is up against a background image (as is the case with any photograph), but the Adobe tool requires manual work even when the background is solid white. Try it. Create a blank image with a white background, scribble something on it, and then quickly surround it with a lasso tool. You’ll see the selection is exactly where you moved the mouse, making no attempt to constrict around the image. So when you go to move the selected image, the background moves with it.

I am aware of the fact that this is a contrived example. If you were really drawing something, you would probably do it with layers and let the layer transparency deal with the compositing, but it doesn’t change the fact that the semantics of that original lasso tool seem to be unique to MacPaint.

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Just to point out that in Affinity Photo and in Photoshop (don’t know about Elements but assume it’s the same) you can ‘shrink’ the lasso selection up to the hard color edge of an object. You do not need to carefully outline the object or use the Magnetic Lasso option.

Draw a rough selection around the desired object with the Lasso tool then:

  • in Affinity select the Selection Brush tool and drag inside the selected area to ‘shrink’ the area,
  • in Photoshop select the Magic Wand tool and, holding down the subtraction modifier key (I’ve forgotten which key this is and no longer have Photoshop), drag within the selection to ‘shrink’ the area.

These don’t ‘shrink’ by default as it seems that MacPaint did, but it is quite easy to do and allows the Lasso tool to be used more subtly. What if you didn’t want the ‘shrinking’ behavior in MacPaint?

Of course this works best when the background of the desired object is not too busy!


Outstanding history lesson in that video and certainly a reminder of how far we’ve come.

When I was trying to do that a while back … I decided to try the Affinity apps … think it was either Designer or Photo. It was practically automatic. I don’t get to use these things very often so I"m not good at telling anyone how to do anything. It can’t be too hard, though, as I managed to stumble onto it. Made the Adobe alternative like shoveling rocks and saved a TON of time.


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