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GIMP 2.6 Review

Kat Landreth from reviews the latest version of GIMP - the free image editing package.

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Ease of Use
Value for Money

GIMP 2.6 Workspace

While you might be tempted to limit a comparison of GIMP to other free photo editors, it's power, sophistication, and professional level tools make it more like Photoshop than anything else.

But people come to GIMP for different reasons. Some people come to GIMP in search of a free photo editing program, and others use it as a Photoshop alternative. I'll compare GIMP to free photo editors, and to Photoshop to give you a clear idea of what it's capable of.

For family photo editing and small business editing and design, GIMP's got everything you need. Easily resize photos for printing or the web, create graphic designs like banners and avatars for your small business, and retouch family portraits to perfection. There are a ton of one-click effects available, as well as more advanced filters to make your photos creative masterpieces.

GIMP does have its down sides. When you buy a premium photo editor like Photoshop, part of what you're paying for is customer support and proprietary tools. Those features are worth the high cost to some people, but for the average user GIMP may be the only photo editing software you'll ever need.

5 Best Features of GIMP

GIMP offers truly professional tools and features that let you take control of your images. My five favourite GIMP features are the clone tool, layers and layer masks, professional colour adjustment, exposure and contrast control, true graphic design, and GIMP's easy add ons like plugins and scripts.


The ability to clone was what brought me to GIMP in the first place.

While other free editors offer a 'healing' tool that covers or blurs blemishes, GIMP goes a step further offering healing tool and a clone tool.

Healing with a program like iPhoto lets the program decide how to cover blemishes in a photo. It's great for quick touch-ups, but if you're covering a large area you'll likely leave a big blurry mess in its place.

With cloning you're in complete control. You can choose exactly how to cover the area by picking an unblemished part of the photo to copy, and then stamping or brushing to paste over the blemish. You can make the edges blurry, make what you paste more transparent, and change how the pasted area blends in with the photo underneath.

Clone vs Healing

This is a crop from the corner of a photo I took of some spices (left). If I wanted to de-emphisize the peppercorns I could use the healing tool (middle) or to really take them out of the photo I could use the clone tool (right).

Like Photoshop, GIMP has both tools. Use the healing tool for small spots and quick fixes, and the clone tool for more demanding tasks.

On the down side, something GIMP doesn't have is a patch tool. In Photoshop the patch tool acts like a free form healing tool. You draw a line around an area that you want to heal and let Photoshop do its healing magic. Sometimes the results are great, and sometimes they're awful, but they're always fast. You can get much more consistent results using the clone tool in GIMP, it will just take a little longer.

Layers and Layer Masks

GIMP's got a lot of easy effects you can add with just one click, a lot like simpler programs Picnik or iPhoto. What sets GIMP apart is the abitity to add those effects on new layers, then hide those effects - restricting them to specific areas of the image - using layer masks.

Layers let you create and control parts of an image independantly of the other parts. It's like building a collage that ends up looking like a single image. Each piece of the collage would be its own layer that you can move and alter without effecting any of the other pieces.

You could add a mustache to a new layer over the Mona Lisa, then move it to turn it into funny eyebrows. You can even erase the mustache without erasing the Mona Lisa underneath.

Mona Lisa

New layers could be made of almost anything like text, paint, cloned stamps, portions of your original image, altered versions of the original image, or even parts from completely different images.

You get even more control when you throw in layer masks.

Picnik lets you add effects to fuzzy circular regions of a photo, but with a layer mask you can hide or reveal an effect in any shape you want, any where you want.

Layers and layer masks work the same way in Photoshop and in GIMP. One notable difference is that Photoshop allows layer-grouping and GIMP does not. Layer-grouping lets you link layers together and apply effects to all of the layers at once. With GIMP you must apply effects to each layer one at a time.

Another difference between Photoshop and GIMP is GIMP's lack of adjustment layers. Some Photoshop effects aren't just added to a new layer, but they're a new layer in and of themselves. That makes some editing a little more flexible in Photoshop, but it's not necessary. You can achieve a similar level of flexibility in GIMP by making a duplicate copy of the layer you want to change before you apply the effect.

I've subtracted 1/2 a star from the Features section because features like layer grouping and adjustment layers are very handy once you get used to having them.


Cameras don't always get colours right. Photos often turn out too blue or orange. Even when colours are accurate, they might not match the intensity or mood that you remember seeing. With Tools like colour-Balance and Hue-Saturation, you can easily correct colour problems like inaccurate white balance and enhance colours to match your artistic vision.

A common complaint is that GIMP can only use 8 bits of colour while Photoshop offers 16 and even 32 bit editing. I'll talk about this a little more in the Performance section of this review. For now I'll say that having the option to edit in 16 bit mode is cool, but not usually necessary. Unless I'm starting with a really poorly exposed shot, I don't often see a difference between GIMP and Photoshop in my finished photos (I use both GIMP 2.6 and Photoshop CS5).

Graphic Design

Programs like iPhoto approach the graphic design department by offering projects like photo books and calanders. With GIMP you're not limited to templates or pre-designed projects. You can make almost anything you can imagine. I can easily make a collage using a pre-designed template in iPhoto. But with GIMP I can make a collage with as many pictures as I like, in any pattern or random order that I want, with different effects, borders, text, stamps, and colours.

With GIMP you're not limited to working with pixel based images like the digital photos that came from your camera. You can also use GIMP to make graphic designs that will easily scale to any size by designing and drawing "paths". Paths are based on math, not pixels, so you can make them as big or small as you like without reducing quality. That's a really important feature if you're designing anything for the web.

GIMP Add Ons

One of the coolest parts about GIMP and other professional software is that it's expandable with the use of plugins, scripts, and brushes.

Premium editors may have plugins but they're often expensive - adding to an already large investment. If you're feeling adventurous and want to find and install them yourself GIMP plugins are often free from places like or And for the less technically inclined it's even easier to add on to GIMP for the cost of a smart phone app.

GIMP Ease of Use

With any software, ease of use often comes down to how easy documentation is to find and understand. Interest in GIMP has been growing with the DIY and small business movement, and with that interest has come better documentation and resources for GIMP. Unfortunately GIMP has been one of the best kept secrets in photo editing for a long time, so there's just not as much documentation for GIMP as there is for Photoshop.

The good news is, sites like ePHOTOzine, Software Pantry, and my own website Pare and Focus are coming out with more accessable documentation for GIMP all the time, and I only expect things to get better as interest grows.

Another downside of professional and advanced software is that it's advanced. Using pro-level software isn't intuitive when you use it for the first time whether you're using Photoshop or GIMP. Just another reason why easy to understand documentation is so important.

I would give GIMP a 4 out of 5 for ease of use mainly because documentation is a little on the thin side at the moment. I fully expect that as interest grows, GIMP will become easier for the average user to learn.

GIMP Performance

Unlike simpler free programs like Picnik that are web based and run on flash, GIMP gets installed on your computer. That means it can leverage the power of your hard drive instead of relying on buggy flash, slow internet connections, and overloaded servers. You're not limited to small files, and processing is usually much faster.

On the down side, because of GIMP's licensing, it can't use the same programing that other pro editors like Photoshop can take advantage of. According to GIMP's license, the computer code that GIMP is built on must be accessible and freely editable by any user. Even if GIMP developers could buy the rights to proprietary code that Adobe uses for Photoshop, they couldn't add it to GIMP because GIMP must make all of it's code freely available to the public.

Most of the time I don't notice a difference between how well Photoshop functions and how well GIMP functions, but there are a few features that I hope imrove with the next GIMP update. Namely jagged edges when drawing diagonal or round lines, not having layer grouping (the ability to effect many layers at once), and being limited to 8 bit colour processing.

Having 16 bits of colour at their disposal is really important for some professionals and people who do heavy editing to photos. Being limited to just 8 bits of colour can eventually cause loss of image quality like colour banding when you do heavy handed brightness, colour and contrast manipulations.

You can only take advantage of 16 bit colour editing if you shoot RAW files. If you shoot JPEG files this won't matter at all since all JPEGs always have 8 bits of colour, whether you process them in Photoshop, GIMP, or anything else. While GIMP itself only offers 8 bit colour editing, you can still take advantage of RAW's 16 bits of colour by processing in a RAW editor like GIMP's UFRAW that supports 16 bit editing.

Dark Puppy

The flash didn't fire while I was taking pictures of this puppy and this photo turned out way too dark. It was a RAW file which has 16 bits of colour so I brightened it with Levels in Photoshop CS5 in 16 bit colour mode. I processed the same photo the same way using GIMP.

Puppy Light

Neither photo is perfect, but you can see the 16 bit version has smoother transitions between colours and the details are better retained, particularly around the puppy's back leg and mouth. While Photoshop is the obvious winner in this contest, GIMP still did an admirable job rescuing this photo.

It's cool to know that I can rescue a photo like this if I really need to, but it probably should have gone in the trash to begin with. If you're starting with photos that are properly exposed (or at least better that my poor puppy photo) you shouldn't have any problems at all using GIMP.

Compared to free photo editors GIMP is more powerful, more advanced, and more flexable. It's faster too. Compared to Photoshop GIMP lags behind, but not by much, especially for the casual user.

I'm only taking half a star for this because I could have avoided the colour banding problem all together by editing the photo in GIMP's RAW editor UFRAW first.

GIMP Value for Money

This one is easy. GIMP is free but it offers professional tools and features. It can be built upon with add-ons and there's a huge community offering free support online. GIMP gets a 5 out of 5 rating for Value with no question.

GIMP Verdict

Whether you're considering GIMP as a Photoshop alternative, or you just want a free photo editor that will grow as your needs grow, it's definitely worth a try. You can't beat the price, and the tools and features GIMP offers rival those of professional premium software packages. In fact, I can't think of any good reason not to try GIMP first.
GIMP is an advanced photo editing package available for a bargain price that's difficult to argue with.

GIMP Pros:

Incredible value
More control than simpler programs
Pro features
Easily and inexpensively expandable
Huge community of GIMP users willing to help for free

GIMP Cons:

Only 8 bit colour (for now)
No professional support team
Sparse (but growing) documentation
Developers can't use proprietary code so major updates can be slow


Kat Landreth is author of a site dedicated to GIMP hints, tips, tutorials and techniques, and is the author of the forthcoming book: GIMP for Beginners. GIMP is available from

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To be honest I have added gimp to my PC's on numerous occasions over the years and I really have trouble getting it to do anything I just cant use it I dont find it at all intuitive and at that Im a self taught photoshop user so not a technophobe. I'm afraid its photoshop every time for me (and occasionally picasa). To be fair though I must admit I haven't tried Gimp for well over a year.
I used it the other day, and it seemed easier to use than the last time I tried it. Having used Photoshop for 10+ years, it makes me wonder: if I'd tried GIMP years ago, whether I would find it just as easy as Photoshop. Photoshop's pretty daunting the first time you ever use it.
I find that because when GIMP opens, you just have the tools and Layers type boxes, with no background, it is annoying. I am self-taught on Photoshop and still use version 7.
I've heard "GIMP isn't intuitive" a lot. And I agree, it's not at first. But I don't think Photoshop is when you first pick it up either. I think since I spent so much money on Photoshop, I felt like I had to make it work. Using GIMP, maybe it's easier to give up because there isn't as much invested.

There are GIMP quirks that can make it seem, um, different. GIMP's based on LINUX systems that aren't always intuitive for Mac and PC users.

I'm self taught in GIMP and Photoshop. I think the biggest difference between the two is that there are tons of Photoshop books, tutorials, websites, and videos. But there's not very much non-technical documentation for GIMP users. As documentation like tutorials, videos, and books become more available and easier to follow GIMP will seem like a cake walk.

PS - I have GIMP 2.6 and PS CS5 and now that I know both programs well, most of the time I think GIMP is more intuitive Smile
I'm self taught in Gimp also .. I found it quite intimidating at first but there are loads of tutorials out there .. videos on You Tube, websites and groups on Flickr which are very helpful ! .. I try to learn something new every day with it! .. I think it's a great alternative to PS especially as it's free and you can add lots of scripts, plugins and brushes (even PS .abr ones) Grin
Pete 19 18.8k 97 England

Quote:I found it quite intimidating at first but there are loads of tutorials out there

Many on ePHOTOzine too. We have a Gimp section
@ Pete .. I should have mentioned ePHOTOzine as i've learnt quite a lot from the tuts on Gimp here also Smile
I've used GIMP for a while and find it a very useful tool. My Photoshop experience is limited to trying a time-limited download version. I thought there were a few nice features in Photoshop that GIMP doesn't have, but there was no way I was going to pay hundreds of pounds to move to Photoshop.
I just downloaded your dark-puppy.jpg and used it in my free faststone image viewer.
with adjusting the shadows and highlights to 95, the saturation to -25 and gamma to 1.15 it is pretty close on the photoshop sample.
I got tired of the 8-bit colour depth of the gimp some time ago and gave been giving krita a try. What's your opinion of that application? I've grown to like it, but of course there's a whole new learning curve. The clone tool is just a special sort of brush, for example. But it supports greater colour depths.

Also, what about film gimp? Seems like it died but is being resurrected as cinepaint:
I've used GIMP for a number of Years, though only occasionally. I did an Open University Course in Photoshop, and passed.. yes it's good but not really for the novice, though if you're determined and patient, I don't think there is any reason why anyone couldn't master it. I took (possibly) the easy course (no Pun intended) and received expert tuition. I have both programs on my Laptop, but by preference and ease of use, I usually use Google Picassa..
I personally use the free photo editor Photo PosPro very succesfully for poster, banner ,web design and editing of photos how does GIMP compare to this.

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