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GIMP: A Quick Walkthrough Of Everyone’s Favorite Open Source Image Editor

Danny Stieben 21-11-2013

Many people enjoy GIMP as one of their favorite open source tools, and with good reason: it’s among some of the most developed ones out there. We’ve covered all sorts of things about GIMP here at MakeUseOf, but we never really gave a rundown of what it can do. Is it just an over-hyped version of Paint, or can you do some serious image manipulation with it?


Editing Tools

gimp_tools GIMP has many of the tools you’d expect to have, including some slightly more advanced ones such as:

  • color select
  • burn
  • dodge
  • color alterations (hue-saturation, colorize, brightness and contrast, etc.)
  • layers
  • layer masks
  • selections by path and color
  • feathered selections
  • and plenty more

Each tool (both in the menus and the quick buttons in the left pane) have many different settings which you can tweak to get your desired result. Tools such as the paintbrush and airbrush tools also have support for dynamics, so if you’re using a supported drawing tablet you can control how thick/strong your lines are, whether the strokes should be smooth, whether jitter should be applied, and more. You can even play with levels and curves, which is something professionals seem to need for all the images they edit.


gimp_filters GIMP comes with a large amount of filters that you can apply to your images. This includes blurs, distortions, light and shadow effects, noise generation, edge-detect, rendering algorithms, and plenty more. Each of these are highly configurable so that you get the desired result that you’re looking for. For the example shown above, I took a picture of my university’s football stadium and applied an edge-detect filter on it. The stands aren’t a nice portion, but the building (lower right area of the picture) looks pretty neat.


gimp_liquid_rescale The best part about GIMP is that it’s very extensible, and there are many different plugins Better Than Photoshop? Make GIMP Even More Powerful With These Plugins We all know that Photoshop is the premiere application for image and graphics manipulation. It simply does everything you could possibly want, which is the reason why most professionals choose it and why your wallet... Read More available, so your needs should be pretty well covered. One of my favorite plugins emulates the content-aware resizing functionality found in Photoshop. To find more plugins, you can scour the Web for them, but you can also take a look at the GIMP plugin registry first to see if you can more easily find what you’re looking for.


Brushes are designs that a program such as GIMP can use while you’re painting on a canvas. However, GIMP only comes with a modest set of brushes, so you might want to enlarge your collection. You can easily find both GIMP and Photoshop brushes and place them in GIMP’s brushes folder. After you restart GIMP, you should be able to use those new brushes instantly, without any issues. That way, you won’t have to leave behind your favorite brushes if you decide to switch from Photoshop to GIMP.


File Formats and Compatibility


GIMP can handle plenty of formats so it’s almost impossible to come across a format that you can’t work with. The list includes bmp, gif, jpeg, mng, pcx, pdf, png, ps, psd, svg, tiff, tga, xpm, and more natively, with rare file format support through plugins. Usually, the most common plugin people would have to get is to add RAW support as many high-end camera save their photos in that format.

While GIMP has it’s own format for saving its “project” files (the ones that hold the information for layers, effects, and so forth, which gets discarded when you export it to a regular image format) called .xcf, it does have good support for Photoshop’s .psd files as well.

Compatibility is almost perfect among features that both programs have directly in common (such as layers) but this starts to wane as soon as you stray away from those features toward something more advanced (not all effects translate exactly the same unless the effects are saved as their own layers). Surprisingly, animation translates very well into the way GIMP treats it.



Not only do I love that GIMP is completely open source and well-developed, but it’s also very cross platform. It has always been able to run well on Windows, Linux, and other Unix-like operating systems, but Mac OS X users had to struggle with setting up an X11 environment so that GIMP would run. However, since version 2.8.2 (where the latest version at time of writing is 2.8.8) it has been able to run on Mac OS X natively. While Photoshop can run on Windows and Mac OS X, it’s difficult to get it working on any other operating systems via Wine. That isn’t an issue with GIMP, meaning it’s probably the best choice for Linux users.


Ultimately, GIMP is a very capable program that can handle almost all image-related tasks you can throw at it. It isn’t quite as capable as Photoshop (for those who can’t help but draw comparisons), but it is very good for most common people – and even some professionals. You can get GIMP from their download page. Check out plenty of tutorials here on MakeUseOf such as these top 10 beginner tutorial videos Top 10 Beginner Video Tutorials to Learn GIMP Fast Read More or how to trade faces How to Put Your Face on a Different Body Using GIMP How would your face look on a celebrity's body? You can find out! Here's how to superimpose a head on another body using GIMP. Read More !

What do you prefer (with cost in mind): GIMP or Photoshop? Are there any cool tutorials you can share with your fellow readers?

Related topics: GIMP, Image Editor.

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  1. CL
    December 22, 2013 at 1:01 am

    GIMP is horrible compared to Photoshop - that's the good news.

    Secondly, GIMP is not a replacement for Photoshop like Open Office is for MS Word / Excel.
    Professional graphics design and web development is not done with GIMP, so if you want to work in that industry you will not impress anyone with how cool you think GIMP is.

    And lastly, maybe I'm wrong, but last I knew there is no file compatibility with Photoshop PSD files or Adobe Illustrator. So everything you learn about GIMP has no commercial value. Oh sure, there will be that one guy that will reply who launches space shuttles with GIMP - I don't care - you will always have that one guy who makes it do tricks. The majority do not, and anyone seriously doing graphics work will default to Photoshop.

  2. Aravind S
    December 11, 2013 at 8:13 am

    It would be awesome if there were a Make Use Of Guide to GIMP!
    (All those who agree and want one, vote this comment)

  3. Jameson
    December 11, 2013 at 4:22 am

    It's the absolute best software I have used. I love Photoshop but I never used all those extra features and the cost was a little steep too. I heard about GIMP about a year ago and use it everyday for clients. I love this software, it really is capable of doing anything you can throw at it! Great review too!

  4. Ashwin D
    December 1, 2013 at 5:23 am

    Its Like a Freeware Photoshop!

  5. Ian K
    November 28, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Thanks for this great guide. For simple stuff, I use pixlr or pixlr express. However I always wanted to get a better grip on gimp.

  6. Bharadwaj
    November 24, 2013 at 6:35 am

    its really a wonderful tools i have ever used

  7. Bharadwaj
    November 24, 2013 at 6:34 am

    yes it is

  8. On W
    November 22, 2013 at 8:56 am

    For simple stuff I use Irfanview. For more fun stuff I use the Gimp. Since I hardly ever print out my works it's perfect for me.

  9. Jon
    November 22, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Ever since Photoshop CS, I've abandoned it for GIMP. However, this year, my daughter needs the Adobe Creative Suite for her classes in college, so I signed her up for the education package, which means I'm able to use PS again. At first, I didn't, but recently ran into trouble trying to do something in GIMP, so launched PS. I was surprised at how simple the task was in PS compared to GIMP. After doing what I needed in PS, I went back to GIMP, and still couldn't recreate it. Oddly, some things still feel easier to me in GIMP over PS, but I was a bit surprised how far PS has come since PS 7. And since I'm paying $20 a month, and have the whole suite of apps, I have a hard time opening GIMP now. I feel disloyal to my long-time friend GIMP, but PS has streamlined itself over time, while GIMP is falling behind.

  10. Fred M
    November 22, 2013 at 7:41 am

    For anyone that uses Paint.NET , there is a plugin for PhotoShop.

  11. shawn
    November 22, 2013 at 1:27 am

    I started using Gimp as an accident (to touch a pic) and I have been using for about 6 years.
    It is very powerful and there a plenty of feature I haven't used yet. But it can do anything!!

    My recommendation for new users:
    1. Start with one tool at a time
    2. Learn as you go
    3. If you have an idea, look it up on youtube!!

    I've edited many pics,; made my own icons; cropped former girlfriends. . .
    Once you learn it, you won't need another program.

  12. Matthew H
    November 21, 2013 at 9:59 pm

    Excellent as always Mr Steiben. Quite handy, as I recently had to brush up on my GIMP-fu too!