Hi there, time for another of our on-going series of tools related posts. Today, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, or GIMP. And, yes, it is a daft name, even when you know that GNU, in this context, is an operating system rather than a large African ungulate.
The GIMP people describe it as “…a freely distributed piece of software for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It works on many operating systems, in many languages”.
I’ve previously talked about another image handling program, Inkscape; so why do I need both? Well, GIMP is what’s know as a ‘raster’ graphics programs, which differs from Inkscape’s ‘vector’ handling. In other words, GIMP works with pixels whereas Inkscape works with shapes.
Like Inkscape, GIMP is open source software; free software created by volunteers. Maybe unfairly, open source software is often described in terms of the propriety software with which it competes. So, Inkscape is the open source Illustrator, LibreOffice is the open source MS Office, and GIMP is the open source Adobe Photoshop competitor.
As noted above, GIMP is free, so it certainly beats Photoshop in the price department – Photoshop normally costs circa £650 (around $1000).
But how about on features? Well, I’ve used both, and GIMP competes pretty well. There are some notable exceptions: partial CMYK/LAB colour support, for example (Wikipedia has a comparison chart for most graphics software). But unless you know what those terms mean, well, you probably won’t miss them. Professionals graphics people probably want Photoshop, but GIMP is more than enough for the the rest of us.
Where GIMP really looses out to Photoshop is in the User Interface (UI). Rather than looking like a normal program, GIMP spawns a bunch of individual tools and baffling dialogs, meaning that many of the most useful features need to be hunted for. This results in a steep learning curve which is often remarked upon by people who are new to it – although there is plenty of documentation on the web to help you out.
Of course, GIMP is still in development and new features are being released all the time; the upcoming version 2.8 is supposed to fix some of the UI issues. Added to that an extensive catalogue of plugins to add and extend the functionality and you have a really useful graphics program.
And, again, it’s free. So why not have a play with the GIMP?
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