What Can Photoshop Do That GIMP Can’t?
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The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is a popular open source image editing application GIMP: A Quick Walkthrough Of Everyone's Favorite Open Source Image Editor GIMP: A Quick Walkthrough Of Everyone's Favorite Open Source Image Editor Read More . It’s often described as a free Photoshop competitor. While it can do a lot of what Photoshop can do Perform These 7 Awesome Photoshop Tricks in GIMP Perform These 7 Awesome Photoshop Tricks in GIMP Read More , there are some areas it falls short.

This article isn’t a hit piece for GIMP. It’s just an honest look at where Photoshop’s massive budget and team of developers have given it the edge. There’s more than one reason that the vast majority of professionals use Photoshop.

CMYK Color Mode

There are two dominant color modes that professional photographers and designers use: RGB and CMYK. RGB comes from the red, green, and blue pixels that are used both to capture images with cameras and to portray them on a digital screen. CMYK comes from the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks used by commercial printers.


Any color can be described using these two systems though which one you use depends on the task you’re doing. If you’re working on something that needs to be displayed accurately on screen then RGB is the best, however, if you’re going to be printing your work, then you need to work in CMYK for the best results.

GIMP doesn’t offer a CMYK mode while Photoshop does. This is more relevant to designers than to photographers, but it can be a deal breaker if you’re planning on printing your work.

For more on working with colors, take a look at how to create a custom gradient in Photoshop CC How to Create a Custom Gradient Using Photoshop CC 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 .

Easier Non-Destructive Editing

One of the most powerful innovations in Photoshop over the last decade has easier non-destructive editing. Rather than changing the original file, you use Photoshop’s tools to modify things in a reversible way. If you want to see them in action, I use a load of non-destructive techniques in my article on creating a spooky Facebook profile picture Make a Creepy Facebook Profile Picture with this Free Photoshop Template Make a Creepy Facebook Profile Picture with this Free Photoshop Template Halloween is coming up so it's time to change your Facebook profile picture to something spooky. We show you how with a selfie, a skull, and Photoshop. Read More .


While GIMP has improved a lot in recent years, non-destructive editing is one area where it still doesn’t compete with Photoshop. If you’re making simple adjustments to your images that’s no problem but if you’re trying to do crazy Photoshop composites Create a Crazy Killer Doll Image with This Photoshop Tutorial Create a Crazy Killer Doll Image with This Photoshop Tutorial Want to create awesome composite images? We should you how with this easy-to-follow free Photoshop tutorial. Read More it makes your work a lot harder.

Better Support and Constant Development

Photoshop is made by a $40 billion dollar company. GIMP is made by a team of dedicated volunteers. While this hasn’t stopped the GIMP team making a respectable program, it does have a lot of knock on effects. It’s fun to be the one to implement a cool new feature, but volunteering to answer tech support phone calls? Not a hope.

Adobe has entire teams dedicated to helping you with every problem. It’s simple to phone up and speak to support staff in whatever language you want. They’ll walk you through fixing your problem. With GIMP you’re stuck trawling through open source forums by yourself.

By the same token, Adobe is able to keep development going constantly. GIMP is reliant on volunteers’ free time. Things like bugfixes are continuously rolling out from Adobe while it can take longer for a GIMP developer to get round to fixing things, let alone implementing new features.

More Powerful Tools

All the extra development resources means that Photoshop has more powerful tools. The basics like levels, curves, and masks are available in both programs but when it comes to real pixel manipulation Photoshop leaves GIMP far behind.

For example, Photoshop has four separate healing tools each with an array of controls that lets you determine how they operate. GIMP has a single healing tool. For removing the odd spot it’s fine, but for serious editing work it isn’t enough control.

The same situation repeats itself with many of the other features the two applications share. GIMPs tools are just at the point that Photoshop was at a few versions ago.

Play Nice With Other Apps

Photoshop is part of an ecosystem. There’s Lightroom, Bridge, and every other Creative Cloud app that you can open your Photoshop work in. For example, I use Lightroom to perform basic edits and keep all my photo organized. Then I do the heavy editing in Photoshop. Finally, if I want to design something or print a booklet with my work I’ll kick the file over to Illustrator or InDesign. There’s something for every job.


GIMP is on its own. It’s just a single image editing app. There’s no Lightroom or Bridge to organize things. No Illustrator to make business cards. For people who just want to use an image editing app for basic things occasionally this is fine, but if you’re shooting 1000 photos a week then having Photoshop play nice with Lightroom is essential.

Handle RAW and PSD Files

Modern cameras can shoot either RAW or JPG files. RAW files contain a lot more information; if you want to improve your photographs you should be using them 13 Tips to Quickly Improve Your Photos 13 Tips to Quickly Improve Your Photos Good photos and bad photos aren't determined by cameras but by photographers. Here are 13 tips that will quickly improve your photos. Read More . Out of the box, Photoshop, thanks to CameraRAW, can handle RAW files from every major camera manufacturer. Periodic updates add support for all the new cameras files. GIMP on the other hand, can’t. You need to use an additional RAW processor to convert the file to a JPG before editing it in GIMP.


Thanks to Adobe’s dominance, their proprietary PSD file type, has become widely used. It’s often used for commercial purposes much like other proprietary formats like PDFs and DOCs are. GIMP can open PSD files but will occasionally fail to render things correctly. This creates a real problem if you’re working with someone else; the file you look at with GIMP won’t be the same as the one they created in Photoshop.

Easier to Learn

Whether Photoshop’s interface is more intuitive is debatable — GIMP has improved a lot in the last few years going from unbearably ugly to bearably ugly — but what’s indisputable is that Photoshop is much easier to learn thanks to the countless awesome tutorials available online 7 Awesome Sites for Learning How to Use Photoshop 7 Awesome Sites for Learning How to Use Photoshop If you want to get to the point where you really understand how to leverage the power of Photoshop, you have to learn from the best. Here's seven awesome sites that will get you there. Read More .

While there are some tutorials available for GIMP, most people are using Photoshop. Even the tutorials I write for this site, like how to make a Christmas card How to Make Your Own Christmas Card in Photoshop How to Make Your Own Christmas Card in Photoshop It's never been easier to make your own Christmas card on Photoshop. In this article, we walk you through making one. Read More , use Photoshop. If you want to use GIMP you can follow along as best you can but you may encounter problems. It also leaves you very much on your own when you’re starting out.

Wrapping Up

GIMP is a great application for many people. It’s perfect for making simple changes to your images. When it comes to real work, however, Photoshop more than justifies its price tag. CMYK mode, non-destructive editing, the Creative Cloud ecosystem, and everything else that Photoshop brings to the table are essential features for most professionals.

Again, this article isn’t meant to be a take down of GIMP. It’s just mean to help you make an educated decision between the two programs. If you don’t need any of Photoshop’s more powerful features, GIMP may be the app for you. Basic tasks like editing backgrounds are perfectly doable in GIMP 6 GIMP Background Tweaks and Tips to Customize Your Images 6 GIMP Background Tweaks and Tips to Customize Your Images GIMP offers lots of different ways to remove the background of an image. But which is the right one to use, and how do they work? 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.