Creative Technology Explained

What Can Photoshop Do That GIMP Can’t?

Shianne Edelmayer Updated 25-11-2019

The GNU Image Manipulation Program (or GIMP for short) is a popular open source image editing application that’s been around for awhile. While GIMP is considered a free Photoshop competitor, and there’s a lot it can do, there are some areas where it still falls short.


If you’re torn between the two programs, here’s a list of pros and cons for GIMP vs. Photoshop. What can Photoshop do that GIMP can’t? Quite a lot, as it turns out.

Note: This article isn’t a hit piece on GIMP! Plenty of us still use GIMP on a daily basis. It’s just an honest look at where Photoshop’s massive budget and team of developers have given it an edge.

1. Photoshop Has CMYK Color Mode

Does Photoshop Have CMYK Color Mode

There are two dominant color modes that professional designers use: RGB and CMYK. RGB comes from red, green, and blue pixels that are used to display images on a screen.

CMYK is a more in-depth color range that uses cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks to create a picture. It’s used by commercial printers to print high quality photos.


Any color can be described by these two systems, but unfortunately GIMP doesn’t offer CMYK mode.

Photoshop does.

If you’re working on something that needs to be displayed accurately while in physical format, then you need to work with CMYK for best results. For designers, no CMYK can be a deal breaker. This is especially true if you’re planning on printing your work. So in the battle between Photoshop vs. GIMP, Photoshop clearly comes out on top.

For more information on working with colors, we suggest reading how to create a custom gradient in Photoshop How to Create a Custom Gradient Using Photoshop CC In this article, we'll walk you through how to create a custom gradient using Photoshop CC in four simple steps. Read More .


2. Easier, Non-Destructive Editing

Edit Image Layers in Photoshop

One of the most powerful Photoshop innovations over the last decade is how much easier it has become to make non-destructive edits through selections and layers. Rather than changing the original file, you can use a wide array of tools to modify things in a reversible way.

This constant “undo” button is a huge reason why I personally enjoy the program.

But is GIMP good for this too?


While GIMP has improved a lot in recent years, non-destructive editing is one area where it still can’t quite compete with Photoshop. If you’re making simple adjustments to your image, that’s no problem. If you’re trying to do crazy Photoshop composites, however, it makes your work harder.

3. Better Support and Constant Development

Adobe Photoshop Help Center

Photoshop is made by a multi-billion dollar company. GIMP is made by a team of dedicated volunteers.

While this hasn’t stopped GIMP from creating a respectable program, it does have a lot of knock-on effects that are unavoidable when you’re faced with such an insurmountable hurdle.


So is GIMP as good as Photoshop when it comes to customer support?

Not even close.

Due to its large budget, Adobe has an entire team dedicated to helping you with every problem. As long as you have your Adobe ID on hand, you can simply speak or chat to technical support staff.

With GIMP, you’re stuck trawling through open source forums by yourself. It’s fun to be the one to implement a cool new feature, but volunteering to answer tech support calls? Not a hope.

By the same token, Adobe is able to keep development going constantly. GIMP is reliant on volunteers’ free time. Because of this, it can take longer for a GIMP developer to get around to fixing things, let alone implementing new features.

These are just a couple examples of how a bigger budget and team can help you.

4. Photoshop Has More Powerful Tools

Adobe Photoshop Healing Brush Tools

All this extra development, resources, time, and money mean that Photoshop has more powerful tools. Both Photoshop and GIMP offer basic functions like levels, curves, and masks, but when it comes to real pixel manipulation, Photoshop leaves GIMP behind.

For example, Photoshop has four separate healing tools, each with an array of controls that let you determine how they operate. GIMP just has one.

For removing the odd spot, this single tool is fine, but for serious editing work it’s not enough. This same situation repeats itself with many other features that the two applications share.

GIMP tools are great, but they’re a few years behind what Photoshop currently offers.

5. Photoshop Is Compatible With Other Apps

Adobe Creative Suite App Compatibility

Photoshop is part of a larger ecosystem. There are programs like Lightroom and Illustrator, where you can open up Photoshop files to work on them, along with additional Creative Cloud apps.

For example, I use Bridge to keep my files organized. I also use Illustrator for drawing line art. Then I take that lineart over to Photoshop, where I finish the coloring and digital edits.

In Adobe’s Creative Cloud, there’s a program for every job, and each of these programs speak to each other. Unfortunately, GIMP is on its own.

GIMP is a single image editing app. There’s no Bridge to organize things; no Illustrator to create crisp logos and art.

For people who just want to use an image editing app for basic items, GIMP is wonderful. But if you’re creating multiple, complex designs every week, Photoshop playing nice with other Creative Cloud apps is essential.

6. Photoshop Handles Camera Raw and PSD Files

Photoshop Camera Raw Files

Modern cameras can shoot in RAW or JPEG file formats. RAW formats contain a lot more information, and if you want to improve your photographs, you should be using them.

Thanks to Camera Raw, Photoshop can also handle RAW files from every major camera manufacturer. Periodic updates add support for new files.

GIMP on the other hand? It can’t do this. You need to use a RAW processor to convert the file to a JPEG or another GIMP-readable file format before you can edit it in the program.

Thanks to Adobe’s dominance, its proprietary PSD file format has also become widely used. GIMP can open PSD files, but there’s a chance that it will fail to render things correctly.

If you need to convert the file, this creates a real problem if you’re working collaboratively. The file you look at with GIMP won’t be the same one as the file they created in Photoshop.

So in this case, can GIMP do everything that Photoshop can? Unfortunately, no.

7. Photoshop Is Easier to Learn

Creative Cloud YouTube Channel

The question of whether or not Photoshop’s interface is more intuitive is debatable. It’s very complex, and there’s a lot to learn. What is not up for debate? The fact that Photoshop is easier to learn, thanks to countless awesome tutorials that are currently available.

These tutorials range from Adobe’s in-house videos, to our own articles on the subject matter. It turns out that if a lot of people need to use a service, then there will be a lot resources devoted to it.

While there are some tutorials for GIMP, there are not nearly as many. GIMP also leaves you very much on your own when you’re first starting out.

Photoshop Is a Powerful Tool Compared to GIMP

GIMP, Photoshop, and other mainstream image editing apps are great resources that a lot of people can use. We want to stress that in the case of GIMP, the program is perfectly acceptable for making simple changes to your image. It’s also one of the best design apps to use when you’re on a budget.

When it comes to heavy duty graphics work, however, Photoshop more than justifies the price tag.

If you want to learn about the program’s many features, here’s a rundown of some of the things you can do with Adobe Photoshop What Can You Actually Do With Adobe Photoshop? Here's everything Adobe Photoshop can do! While this article is meant for beginners, everyone could learn a new skills here. Read More .

Related topics: Adobe Photoshop, GIMP, Image Editing Tips, Image Editor.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Kristian
    August 8, 2019 at 6:16 am

    Lots of stuff have changed since Gimp 2.10 was released. IMO the functionality of GIMP comes close to rivalling (even superior in some aspect) Photoshop.

    Perhaps an updated version of this blog?

  2. vir/g/in
    June 18, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    haha how can FOSSlets ever recover.

  3. Pinhead Larry
    May 9, 2019 at 4:52 am

    Sounds like you wrote this article while cradling Photoshop's balls in your left hand

  4. Theo kelly
    October 16, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    I am a GIMP fan (full disclosure)
    I could write pages of details and criticism of this article. But instead I'll just say that you should take almost all of it with a grain of salt and simply try GIMP for yourself.
    If you are a PS user that goes double for you. If say only a working professional who publishes exclusively in the print media should choose PS over GIMP. Ann's if you are one of those, it's not likely that you are going to be looking to MUO for career related advice anyway.
    BTW - I'm still a fan of MUO. A skeptical fan, but a puff piece here and there is to be expected. Somebody had to pay the bills.

  5. anon
    July 24, 2018 at 2:19 pm

    This artical is an adobe fluff piece. I use both Photoshop and gimp, and am a professionally trained graphic designer. Its all about how you use the tools with your craft, not the 'X' amount of additional gimmicky features it has.

    The only major issues about gimp are these 5 things: CMYK soft proofing, gimps UX design, required tech literacy for its advanced features, and the fact you'll meet a few file format illiterate people pretending to be properly trained.

    - Yes, graphic designers can use Tiff, png and Svg file formats. So they really don't freak out if it isn't strictly a working adobe file, assuming everyone actually knows what their doing when their working together -.

    If you want the bleading edge tools and are willing to teach yourself advanced tech skills to use them correctly, then use tools like Gimp. Gimp is the cutting edge because "you can do what ever you want with it, besides sell it itself".

    If you want to just keep using a stable mass standard product use Adobe, just know it has hard limitations that gimp doesn't as a trade off. Adobe is the current standard because its 'simple and it works'.

    Additionally you could just use both. Just buy a CS6 suite if you don't like the CC model, it has all the really important features you'll use day to day anyways.

  6. techmedixx
    May 26, 2018 at 10:42 pm

    I have been using Gimp exclusively since switching to Linux. I even used it on Windows XP after deciding to no longer use pirated software. I agree with some of your points but as another reader pointed out there are plugins available to fill in the gaps.

    Gimp is better than Photoshop because it is open source. It can be trusted. Who knows what Photoshop is doing behind your back.

    I did own a legal copy of Photoshop 7 and I am still paying off the mortgage on it. Seriously though, Photoshop's price tag seems awful steep to gain the few "cans" it provides in comparison.

    As far as tech support goes if you really need that for a piece of software then something is very wrong.

    I have found most Photoshop tutorials will work for Gimp just as well. True, you may run into problems but not many.

  7. Inverge Design
    May 25, 2018 at 7:16 am

    I used Photoshop since a young age, illegally like most other people I knew at the time.
    Years later I became involved with visual design and photo editting again, and I was having issues getting a crack of Photoshop working, and found GIMP.

    My first impressions of GIMP were much like yours, "It's a good alternative, but falls short."
    CMYK is a valid issue, but I'm pretty sure it's available via plug-in, as are many things.
    After actually working with GIMP for years now, I find it to be much closer than I would have thought. Also I've been using 2.10 development builds for well over a year because of the powerful changes.
    At the end of the day, GIMP will require more skill and more steps to match things that Photoshop can approximate automatically. And I will concede that to a professional, time is a metric that determines value and quality.

    Another thing I'd like to mention: GIMP doesn't "stand on it's own". GIMP comes from the Linux/FOSS community, and we also have Inkscape which is extremely powerful SVG/vector design suite and excellent competitor to Illustrator.
    Then there's DarkTable for working with RAW images, instead of Lightroom. Also there's RAWTherappe and Luminance HDR, I prefer DarkTable.
    Krita is an excellent program for drawing and painting.

    All of these programs are open-source, based on open standards, so they can work with each other without being made by one company with proprietary tools and formats.

  8. u
    August 23, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    So reading this article I can see how biased you are.
    For each 'editing feature' that Gimp doesn't have there's a plugin you can download that will add it.

    Destruction-less editing is also easy with the gimp so I have no idea where you get the idea that it can't be done. Can photoshop open gimp .xcf files? No it can't.

    • mergen_blue
      September 5, 2017 at 6:35 pm

      It's just about $$$, you now.

    • Sam
      May 19, 2018 at 3:49 pm

      I knew something is fishy about this article! Thanks for making this comment bruh it's really helpful for starters like me.