For our second article in the Free Creativity series, we are going to analyse the aims, features and possibilities of GIMP, the open source GNU image editing software that is readily labelled “the free Photoshop”. Is it a worthy tool for the creative mind? Let’s find out.
Take a look at GIMP.org and you can immediately see the vision of the software’s makers. They share it all with their users; the programming, the updates, the news, every detail behind their lovingly created imaging program. Like all of the software in this series, GIMP is free to download, available on most operating systems in numerous languages, and anyone can contribute to its coding. It is the legitimate child of a group of nice programmers and a mass dissatisfaction with Photoshop.
What is GIMP?
In a nutshell, GIMP is a free open source graphics manipulation program (To see more about open source software, click here). This primarily covers all types of image or photo editing, plus the generation (or rendering) of new images. This means that it can be used as a digital drawing or sketching package, though is not widely renowned for it. As well as photo retouching and complex filtering, it can be used with ease for simple tasks, such as cropping, resizing and saving in a variety of formats, including the popular JPEG, GIF and PNG.
So what is GIMP capable of?
- Painting and Drawing
- Photo retouching
- Basic image editing
- Advanced image filtering and modification
- Basic animation
For a list of all the features that GIMP has to offer, go to this page.
Download and Installation Information
Particularly with open source software, you will often see the words ‘stable’ and ‘unstable’ in the download pages. This is due to the constant development of the software, where versions are released without being fully ‘complete’. This is what ‘unstable’ refers to. It does not mean that it will harm your computer, just that there may be features that don’t work fully and errors (referred to as bugs), which can cause it to crash or not function as expected. Unless you are a developer or very keen to explore subtle updates, it is recommended that you always look to download the ‘stable’ releases.
Once again, following the trend of Blender that we explored in the first part of this series, the GIMP installer is not large and impractical. The current version is 20 MB, with most versions being in this region. If you wish to use GIMP on-the-go from computer to computer, you can get a portable version to put on your memory stick here.
Tips for downloading and installing:
- Visit http://www.gimp.org/downloads/ . This is the official page for GIMP releases. Note that the downloads are hosted on SourceForge, but are perfectly safe.
- Select the version for your computer. For most Windows users, this will be the link at the top of the page.
- Install GIMP on your computer as you would any other software.
Is GIMP easy to use?
If you have ever used the most popular imaging processing software Adobe Photoshop, then you will find that some features and tools vary, while others remain in the place that you would expect them. Something unusual that you will probably notice when opening GIMP is the floating toolbox (in it’s own window) and the rather small and blank main screen. For those particular about organising their screen, this might look messy, but you shouldn’t be put off by it.
It may not seem immediately clear where you should start, but simply go to File >> New to create a new blank image of the size you choose. To load an existing image you can either go to File >> Open or copy the image and go to Edit >> Paste. Once you have got underway, the rest is fairly simple. Use the toolbox on the right to make changes, or the buttons along the top of the window. Image effects (like Blur) are all in one place, underneath Filters.
A key part to more advanced image editing and composition in GIMP is the use of layers. Layers are an easy way to organise your image and make selective changes.
Learning to use GIMP:
With GIMP being the most popular free image processing software available, there is much support which can be easily found with any search. As well as the official tutorials and manual, there are lots of dedicated GIMP support sites.
These are just some of the sites you can use to help you learn more about GIMP:
Documentation including manual, tutorials and books: http://www.gimp.org/docs/
GIMP Forum: http://gimpforums.com/
GIMP Talk: http://www.gimptalk.com/
What has been listed here will get you started, but there is much more support out there that you can search for.
Share your experiences and advice about GIMP. We want to know what you like or don’t like about it, what websites you recommend and what advice you would give to new GIMP users. Leave a comment, post on Facebook or tweet us on Twitter.
Mark and Matt.