acronym that stands for GNU Image Manipulation
Program) is a free program for image editing and creation. Think of it
as the open source rural cousin of Adobe Photoshop: strong from heavy
lifting, lacking in some graces and prone to falling over.
GIMP has been around for 13 years and is currently up to version 2.6.7,
with installers available for Windows, Mac OS X, and instructions for
the various flavors of Linux. For this review I installed 2.6.7 on a
machine running Windows Vista Business.
Like a lot of open source applications, GIMP's development is targetted
at achieving functionality rather than at satisfying a particular
market or type of user. As a result, what, and who, GIMP is useful for
springs incidentally from what the developers have and have not
First in line for GIMP should be sophisticated photography hobbyists
who want to move beyond the basic editing options provided by Windows
Photo Gallery, iPhoto and Picasa. GIMP can perform all the steps in a
standard digital photography workflow - levels, curves, color balance,
noise reduction, sharpening, etc. There is a hiccup though - GIMP
cannot read camera raw files. But there is a free plug-in (with GIMP
there is *always* a plug-in) called Ufraw, which will let you import
raw files and adjust their exposure and white balance along the way.
Here is where the professional photographers step off, at least for
now: GIMP currently supports only 8 bit image channels. Ufraw can
produce the 16 bit per channel TIFF files that are part of the normal
professional workflow, but if you open them in GIMP it will warn you
that it will truncate the data to 8 bits. However, 16 and even 32 bit
channels are in the works for version 2.8, so the pros can check back
What else doesn't GIMP do? GIMP does not do CMYK, so graphic designers
and print professionals can go join the pro photographers in the
waiting room. There is a plug-in, naturally, that will generate four
color separations, but GIMP, unlike Photoshop, cannot edit CMYK images.
Lastly, but importantly, I have to say that I find GIMP's handling and
rendering of text clunky and almost primitive given its age. The
graphic designers have already left, but web designers might want to
go, too, and check out Inkscape, Adobe Illustrator's own open source
Who else does that leave? GIMP supports graphic tablets and has
powerful brush tools, so illustrators and artists who spent all their
money on their Wacom Cintiq tablets should take GIMP for a spin before
going into the red for Photoshop.
Having said that, I would like to point out that GIMP may not be ready
for professional use. During my review GIMP locked up on me three
times, requiring me to use the Task Manager to kill it off, one plug-in
crashed and portions of the main image window were not refreshing
regularly. Save often!
For the power hobbyist with patience, GIMP is the best point of entry
for sophisticated image editing. The thriving community that has grown
up around GIMP over the years has created a wealth of documentation,
tutorials (video as well as written) and forums to help them get the
most out of the program. Professionals will want to wait for a few more
versions before joining in.
Price - Free!
Lots of plug-ins
Graphic Tablet support
Plenty of documentation and tutorials
Image channels are limited to 8 bit
No CMYK mode
Text handling is clunky
Interface can be unsupportive
Prone to crashing