In the time I've been active on SF&F, I couldn't help but notice comments that compliment screen shots that are annotated with circles, specifically hand-drawn, more especially red, and with a special shout-out when it appears that MS Paint was used to make the annotations.

This is the kind of delightful cultural quirk that I love, even if I don't understand it (and I'm probably not the only one who feels that way). So, when I finally had an opportunity, earlier today, to annotate an image myself, I dutifully opened up MS Paint and hand-drew some red circles, added the image to an answer, and was rewarded with a comment complimenting my red circles! Hooray!

But this got me thinking: What the heck is up with all that? Why are hand-drawn circles praised and perfect computed circles and ovals booed? Is this an SF&F.SE thing or is it some wider Internet meme? (I did search know your meme for this, BTW) Either way, does anyone know where it comes from?

See below. The first shows the circles I drew (circled):

enter image description here

The second shows the complimentary comment (circled):

enter image description here

  • 8
    It’s not just SF&F. Somebody added a hand-drawn red circle to one of my posts on Stack Overflow meta last year. I think it’s a Stack Exchange thing.
    – Molag Bal
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 18:33
  • 4
    Blast, it looks like my question has been asked and answered at Meta.SE: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/138031/… Although apparently the community opinion about freehand arrows is not consistent. Also the Meta.SE answer has nothing about where this comes from. I think it is an SE/SO thing, since I haven't yet found it anywhere else on the Internet. Commented May 13, 2016 at 18:38
  • 13
    +1 for hand drawn red circles over hand drawn red circles. Being meta on meta is so meta. :)
    – T.J.L.
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 13:51
  • 3
    I think we need another question about why the community hates non-hand-drawn arrows
    – Valorum
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 9:34
  • @Richard Or do they... I was being snarky and making the math work out to +1. :)
    – T.J.L.
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 17:51
  • 1
    @T.J.L. - On several occasions I've been taken to task for using arrows.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 18:02
  • @MologBai: Yeah, sometimes I'm not fast enough, so other users have do the freehand red circle edits in my stead. Sorry.
    – b_jonas
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 21:14
  • Your standards for "circles" seem very low.
    – Misha R
    Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 5:50

5 Answers 5


It's a Stack Exchange-wide meme.

The fourth highest-voted answer in the Many Memes of Meta thread (main meta version) says:

enter image description here

See also Is there a joke about "Freehand Circles" that I'm oblivious to? (also on main meta).

  • I was just about to answer my own question with this. +1 desipite not adding a freehand circle to the image about freehand circles. You're on report. Commented May 13, 2016 at 18:41
  • 7
    Hang on.... It has been shown that special combinations of free hand circles and drop shadows in unison have led to spontaneous erotic climax...what?!
    – AncientSwordRage Mod
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 14:24
  • @AncientSwordRage That was roughly my thought too ... I guess we'd have to ask TheTXI.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 14:27

I've created a helpful infographic. I added the first freehand red circle to indicate my preference. This answer is now Community Wiki, so everyone else can edit the image and add their own two cents.

Another circle

  • 3
    That demonstration is not done professionally enough, and so it's misleading. Freehand circles must be drawn without antialiasing, to mimic the appearance of freehand circles drawn with the traditional windows Paint program. You can achieve that non-antialiased effect with the pencil tool in gimp. You may afterwards show the image rescaled in the post, or have imgur recompress the image to a medium quality jpeg, but even after those transformations you can see if the freehand circle is of the modern anti-aliased kind.
    – b_jonas
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 13:50
  • I replaced the graphics with a version that contains non-antialised freehand red circle.
    – b_jonas
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 14:01
  • @b_jonas - MS Paint now offers anti-aliasing as standard.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 17:33
  • One would have to circle the other option to indicate their preference, which would be hypocritical. Well-played.
    – DCShannon
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 18:33
  • I don't know what antialiasing is, but I drew the first circle in MS Paint. I drew another one just now, because I figured @b_jonas' counted as his own, and erased mine. So now we have two.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 23:24
  • Thanks @Jonah, I wasn’t sure where the circles were.
    – Molag Bal
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 3:42
  • Do they have to be free hand mouse circles? I'm almost afraid to contribute freehand circles from my Surface 3 with the pen... ^_^
    – T.J.L.
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 19:50
  • @T.J.L. - As long as they are freehand and red, they will be loved.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 19:55
  • 1
    Done! I resisted the compulsion to sign it or embellish it with a mid-line curlicue... the pen makes it so easy. :)
    – T.J.L.
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 19:59

Slytherincess's red hand-drawn circles

So, yeah, I've got nothing ... I can say the circles are certified "non-aliased" by the image gurus in Mos Eisley!

  • 1
    I like them! Great job
    – Valorum
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 19:20
  • @Valorum -- Thank you! It was fun making them :P Commented May 19, 2016 at 21:28
  • What intrigues me is how closely your work resembles Rachel Nash in her early "COLOR | GRAY SERIES" period.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 21:36

I think it also comes from the use of circles in many of those "Top Ten Thing You Didn't Know About XYX" spam advertisements at the bottom of websites that try to get you thinking that you missed something so obvious.


If you follow my posts, you'll know that I love freehand red circles. You could even say that I overuse them. I use them for just the meme value in posts where you don't need a freehand red circle (at least one of my edits adding such a circle has been reverted by another user).

But for some posts, the freehand red circles do have a genuine use. They're a good way to highlight some small detail on an image in a way that nobody will confuse as being part of the image. This works for a lot of things, like live action film screencaps, cartoon screencaps, software interface screencaps alike.

Here's an example from my question What is the speck moving in the sky in the very last scene of My Little Pony: FIM S6 E2? I want to point out a very small detail on a screencap with other interesting objects. The freehand red circle and arrow immediately jumps out to a viewer, and nobody will think that it's part of the original screencap.

(Frame showing speck in the sky)

For live action films, you can sometimes get the same effect by darkening the whole frame and showing an ellipse in the original bright colors. But for a vivid colorful cartoon frame and a very small detail to concentrate on, that won't work.

As another example, consider a detailed comic strip image like this one from Jenayah's multi-identification question Who are these Multiverse Flashes? Many of the characters drawn in small size in the background can be individually identified (see the answer to that question as a proof for that). How would you point out one of those characters in the image to single them out and ask or tell something about them?

Council of Flashes

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