DNA Painter review – The best tool for DNA visualization?

dna-painter-review

DNA Painter Review Summary

DNA Painter is a genealogical tool that visualizes DNA segments that are shared between two or more people. Learn more in our DNA Painter review!

Nebula Genomics

Results
Price
Ease of use

Summary

DNA Painter is a DNA interpretation site that is compatible with other consumer genetic testing companies. The interface has a steep learning curve if the user is new to this platform.

4

This review is written with the intent to be as unbiased as possible. However, it represents the opinion of an individual reviewer and is therefore subjective. Furthermore, at Nebula Genomics we seek to educate the public about the benefits of Whole Genome Sequencing. Information about our Whole Genome Sequencing DNA test is therefore incorporated into the review.

January 13, 2022

Edited by Christina Swords, Ph.D.

7 Facts from our DNA Painter Review

  1. Location: London, England
  2. Products: a web application for chromosome mapping, ancestral trees, a tool named “WATO” to figure out how someone might fit into a known family tree, and some others
  3. Reports: interactive figures of DNA shared with family members and genealogy
  4. Result delivery: through the website
  5. Privacy: only segment data is uploaded to DNA painter (not raw data), which reduces privacy risks
  6. Cost: free to use for one genetic profile; $55/year subscription for bulk data import and ability to create up to 50 profiles
  7. Complementary products: Nebula Genomics (a very affordable 30x Whole Genome Sequencing)

DNA Painter Introduction

DNA Painter (DNAPainter) is a free DNA interpretation and chromosome mapping site that allows you to learn more about your family history and family tree. The site focuses on visualization. It allows you to “paint” large and small segments of chromosomes that you share with your relatives and common ancestors. 

The site was created in 2017 by Jonny Perl, a web and application developer based in the United Kingdom. He wanted to make an intuitive tool that would allow for a simple interpretation of DNA results. The website won the grand prize in the 2018 DNA Innovation Contest hosted by Grow Utah.

Are you interested in getting complete raw DNA data to use with sites like DNA Painter? Nebula Genomics offers Whole Genome Sequencing, a comprehensive test that decodes 100% of your DNA and enables the most accurate ancestry reporting. Click here to learn more!

Getting Started with DNA Painter

DNA Painter does not offer a genetic test. Instead, users upload data obtained from other DNA testing kits and access tools allowing them to paint their chromosomes. 

Please note that the software does not read raw data from an autosomal DNA test. It instead reads data about segments on your chromosomes. 

This company recommends uploading the raw data to FamilyTreeDNA, Gedmatch, or MyHeritage. 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, Gedmatch, and MyHeritage report your segments in common with other users. (For 23andMe, you will go to the DNA Relatives feature and look at matching segments.). Users can also upload family trees as GEDCOM files.

From those sites, you can get segment data. Then, when you have a sequence of overlapping DNA, upload the start and endpoints for the segment. But if you have a report from either the Ancestry or LivingDNA testing companies, you will need to get segment data from somewhere else first.

Entering in some matched segments into DNA Painter
Entering in some matched segments into DNA Painter

Review of DNA Painter Reporting Features

You can’t use this service unless you have already identified suspected biological relatives in another genetic database. For example, you would need to use the DNA Relatives feature from 23andMe to upload segments that match. 

The softwarer does not work well if you compare your DNA to that of a distant stranger. Segment painting is more useful if you have more DNA matches. This is especially true if your matches are from a more extended family. These relationships let you go further back into your genealogy research. 

DNA Painter itself isn’t making guesses about common relations; it’s a platform for you to discover biological relationships. So make sure to keep track of your family relationship to each person in the user group. Since users enter all the information, they also need to keep track of connections. 

If you don’t exactly know the relationship, DNA Painter can help. The website does provide a tool to help you guess relationships based on how many centiMorgans you share with a match or a genetic relative. Multiple genetic relatives may share the same amount of DNA.

A sample chromosome profile showing matched segments believed to come from different ancestors. The legend on the right shows the user’s self-defined ancestral sources for these segments
A sample chromosome profile showing common DNA segments believed to come from different ancestors. The legend on the right shows the user’s self-defined ancestral sources for these segments

Since DNA Painter compares genetic information between people who share many segments, you can’t go into the deep past. So you won’t learn about millennia-old specific ancestors like you can with chromosomal haplogroups. 

The software does provide cool genetic genealogy tips and features. The default DNA Painter tool has no special analysis of mitochondrial (or mtDNA) haplogroups or Y-DNA haplogroups. However, on the Tree tool, you can add in these haplogroups and incorporate data from mitoYDNA.org. 

Aside from segment painting, another interesting visualization DNA Painter provides is a fanned-out version of your family tree. While in this view, you can apply filters to look at how your tree’s DNA is shared. The “chromosome browser” function is easy to read.

One filter is particularly useful for the visualization. The site offers a filter that helps find common ancestors from whom you have inherited DNA. You can also highlight paths focusing on just X- or Y-chromosome DNA, as well as one focusing on mitochondrial. 

If you’re new to genealogy, especially using this type of information, you may find DNA Painter a bit hard to use for looking at your family line. The site has a somewhat steep learning curve. Fortunately, this is also supplemented with a lot of background information and tutorials. Unfortunately, this means you could spend hours reading everything on the site before you start painting matches with confidence. 

When starting with DNA Painter, the interface and tools may be ambiguous. It took some time to learn things. For example, editing a “match” really means editing all information about the segments you share. Similarly, “group” refers to all segments suspected to come from a single ancestor, not a group of ancestors. Tutorials such as those produced by Blaine Bettinger can help first time users.

Other tools that require specific knowledge include “What are the Odds?” (WATO), a free web-based tool designed to help you figure out how someone might fit into a known family tree.

A DNA Painter family tree
A fanned-out view of a family tree, highlighting confirmed genetic ancestors in brighter colors and black outlines

Review of DNA Painter Costs

DNA Painter offers two levels of membership – free and subscriber. Free members have access to all the analysis and interpretation tools subscribers have. However, they are more restricted in features for large-scale data input. 

Free members can only make 1 chromosome map profile (e.g. yourself), and one family tree that can go back to your 4x great grandparents. 

Subscribers can make up to 50 chromosome map profiles. They can also make 50 family trees that go back as far as they want. Subscribers can also make unlimited bulk data imports and import as many generations as desired of GEDCOM data. 

A subscription costs $55 for a year. Since DNA Painter analyzes data from other sources, you will need to factor in the cost of your original DNA test. 

Review of DNA Painter Privacy

The database stores user data such as shared segments, profiles, and trees. Segment data only contains information about where an overlap is (measured by the shared cM tool). This information from the shared cM project tool includes the chromosome number, start and endpoints, and the number of centimorgans and SNPs in the segment. 

Because users don’t upload raw data, DNA Painter does not know the specific gene sequences users or relatives have. By default, user data are private and only accessible to the user who created them. However, users can make profiles “shared”. Anyone with an appropriate link could open them. 

The privacy and security section doesn’t mention sharing user data or using it for other purposes. The terms and conditions don’t cover this either but mention the site can change the terms at any time. Since the tool doesn’t know the actual gene sequences of users, it would have more limited use for research purposes. However, the site retains the ability to revise the terms of use at any time without notice to users. 

A user can delete their account at any time by emailing a request.

DNA Painter in the News

Sheriff’s department details use of genetic genealogy to solve cold cases. This article from early 2021 mentions using DNA Painter and GEDMatch and data from 23andMe to solve such crimes.

The company, which has grown since its foundation in 2017, has been featured in many posts with people finding their ancestors. 

In 2018, DNA Painter won RootsTech DNA Innovation Contest.

More currently, in 2022, the professional scientist and business owner Roberta Estes, has profiled the company on DNAeXplain, a platform born out of her interested in genetic genealogy. The videos produced were created by Jonny Perl. Additional video sessions on DNA testing are available from Diahan Southard.

DNA Painter Reviews

Users have been discussing this service widely on Reddit. A post from 4 years ago has several notes from people who found the concept a cool and useful way to compare their DNA. Most reviews have been positive. The original post indicated that the person had discovered the service after hearing about it on the Extreme Genes podcast

More recent conversations come from users looking to understand how to use the tool and whether it would be useful for certain purposes.

Facebook group reviews give the service 5 out of 5 stars with 70 reviews. The users on this platform cite the service as easy to use and visualize information.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Unique visualizations allow for an easier and more intuitive understanding of shared DNA compared to many sites
  • Ability to generate and test your own hypotheses about biological relatedness 
  • Ability to work with many kinds of tests

Cons

  • Somewhat steep learning curve – interface interactions and terms can be ambiguous at first
  • Most effective when you have DNA testing results of several known relatives

Nebula Genomics

If you’re interested in using DNA Painter, you will need to purchase a DNA test. Consider using Nebula Genomics, which offers a complete genetic test.  

Whole Genome Sequencing

Nebula Genomics is a DNA testing company that offers 30x Whole-Genome Sequencing, the gold standard for genetic testing. Most other commercially available tests only read about 0.02% of your DNA. Nebula Genomics reads all 3.2 billion positions in your genome 30 times. 

This gives you an incredibly accurate and complete understanding of your DNA as it is 10,000 times more data than other commercial tests. And we did this while bringing the cost of whole genome sequencing below $300 per test. 

Privacy First

If you use Nebula Genomics to analyze your DNA, you have control over your genomic data, which is secured by new blockchain technology. Our anonymous testing service reduces the risk of your info being affected by any security breach. 

Deep Ancestry

30x Whole Genome sequencing provides the most comprehensive ancestry reporting on the market. We sequence the entire Y chromosome (for male users) and all mitochondrial DNA (male and female users). This lets us discover all the genetic variants present. 

Our ancestry reporting is produced in collaboration with FamilyTreeDNA. This gives our users access to the world’s largest Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA database. 

DNA Painter Review Summary

DNA Painter is a unique service for DNA interpretation that focuses on visualizing ancestry through DNA painting. The service uses segment-level data from companies like FamilyTreeDNA instead of raw data. The goal is to show users how their DNA matches with their relatives.

Importantly, this does not provide deep ancestry analysis from haplogroup analysis. The free service works great but does have a bit of a steep learning curve. 

DNA Painter isn’t meant to be a tool for everyone. But it can be a great tool for genealogy “power users” trying to expand their understanding beyond known relatives. Redditors who enjoy it use it to get past genealogy “brick walls”. If you find a suspected relative and can chromosome match segments to other relatives, you could combine your family trees.

If you’re interested in DNA Painter, why not use data from the most advanced test? You can have the most comprehensive genetic data and access to the largest Y-DNA and mtDNA databases. Test yourself with Nebula Genomics.

Did you believe DNA Painter has what you need to learn more about your ancestors? You should also look at our reviews of other DNA upload sites:

Interested in other ancestry tests or genetic genealogy? Read more in our other reviews:

Also, check out our GEDmatch tutorial to learn how to use it to learn more about your genealogy!

If you’re looking for an at home paternity test, you should also read our review of HomeDNA.

If you want to focus on your maternal and/or paternal lineages, you can look at YFull or YSeq, services which analyze mtDNA or the Y chromosome to determine specific lineage haplotypes. Full Genomes also offers Y chromosome sequencing and analysis.

Did you like DNA Painter review? You can read more reviews on our blog and check out our complete guide to the best DNA test kit and other home tests.

Take also a look at this blog post that gives an overview of other DNA upload sites.