A Case for Using Gimp

Before I start answering the question of whether GIMP is a Photoshop alternative or not, I have to make it clear that the GIMP project hasn’t been developed with the idea of being a Photoshop killer, as it often is labeled.

Yes, GIMP does offer quite a lot, but it is not intended to be a replica of Photoshop. In a sense, comparing GIMP and Photoshop is like comparing apples to oranges.

GIMP, short for GNU Image Manipulation Program, is a “freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.” It doesn’t have all the perks of Photoshop, though new functionalities are being added all the time, and it shouldn’t be regarded as a Photoshop replacement for every required task.

Photoshop is a commercial-grade application, and as such, should provide more for the money you pay. After this clarification, I think we can continue with the comparison between GIMP and Photoshop, as well as see some outstanding images created with GIMP.

screenshot of the Gimp homepage including logo

GIMP v. Photoshop

Probably the most useful comparison between GIMP and Photoshop would be to evaluate their features side by side. However, such a task is next to impossible because both programs evolve constantly and a feature that is missing today will be present tomorrow, or possible to find a workaround with a plugin.

Additionally, since I am on camp GIMP and have been using the program for over a decade, I certainly don’t think of myself as a GIMP Pro), and my knowledge of Photoshop is next to nonexistent, it wouldn’t be fair to compare a program I more or less know with a program I am totally unfamiliar with.

Such comparisons are needless because they are not objective. If you want to see such a comparison, here is a review by a designer that is more familiar with Photoshop than with GIMP. The useful thing about this comparison is that it proves that a designer that is familiar with Photoshop isn’t at ease when trying to use GIMP. This isn’t surprising because as I note later, GIMP does have a steep learning curve, especially for somebody who is used to doing things the ‘Photoshop way.’

Gimp features screenshot

So, aside from feature-by-feature comparisons, here are some other points that differentiate the two programs:

  • Price – The most notable difference between GIMP and Photoshop is that GIMP is free. Of course, if you want to donate, or help with GIMP development, this is more than welcome. The difference in cost is especially important for designers that don’t design full-time and for whom the price of Photoshop could be the equivalent of a few months’ income.
  • Hardware Requirements – If you are a hardware maniac and can afford to get all the latest and greatest hardware, then the fact that GIMP is more light-weight and doesn’t require such powerful hardware isn’t a factor. However, for everybody else, Photoshop’s hardware requirements are a bit too much.
  • Platform Availability – Since most designers will either use a Windows or a Mac computer, maybe it isn’t much of an issue that GIMP is cross-platform, while Photoshop is available only for Windows and Mac. However, many other pros, the author being one of them, use Linux and in this case even if you want to use Photoshop, you can’t do it directly (running it in a virtual machine is too much of a pain, so this isn’t a likely solution).
  • Feature set – There is no doubt that in terms of features, Photoshop has more features, though the GIMP community does create lots of plugins, so it is quite possible that for many of the features that come with Photoshop, there is a GIMP plugin. Additionally, many of the features in Photoshop are not used by the majority of its users, or are used very rarely, so it turns out you are paying for something you don’t need. GIMP does have all the basic features, such as layers, channels, tons of filters, masks, and many more, so if you are worried it lacks vital features, this isn’t the case. There is even a GIMP plugin – PSPI – that allows you to run Photoshop plugins in GIMP, so functionality can be easily added, if required.
  • Ease of use – This one is pretty subjective. It is believed that with Photoshop many tasks are easier to accomplish, while GIMP has a steep learning curve. Even though I am quite familiar with GIMP, I have to agree on this. I’ve noticed that if I don’t use a particular feature for some time, even if I knew it before, it takes me some time to refresh my memory about its functionality. Well, to be honest, this is true for almost any program I use, with Linux commands topping the list – I don’t use a command for a week and then it is gone from my memory.
    If you find the GIMP interface too confusing, you could try GIMPshop. This is GIMP with a Photoshop-like interface (unfortunately, it is available only for Windows and Mac).

These comparisons can give you an idea if GIMP could be a Photoshop alternative or not. The choice of GIMP is like love – you don’t necessarily fall in love with the most beautiful or smartest person – you fall in love with somebody that is well suited to you.

If GIMP is good for you or not – you will only know this after giving it a try. What do you think?


  • qoalu

    Unfortunately the industry domination of photoshop is much too high to consider alternatives professionally. Everywhere you go you see “to deliver: .psd files”, in job listings the requirements are also Photoshop oriented.

    As far as I can conclude GIMP is more for photo-editing while photoshop is more useful for web-design.

  • I’m a huge fan of GIMP and have been using it for years. However, I’m NOT a designer, and if I were I think I’d be forced to use Photoshop, as everyone expects their work in PSD format, and GIMP’s PSD conversion script is far from perfect.

    Still, if more designers learned GIMP in school instead of Photoshop, I think the world would be a better place. I think Adobe’s products are bloated and over-priced – any alternative is worth investigating.

  • Stacy johnson

    Gimp is indeed an alternative to Photoshop but it can’t be labelled as a replacement.PS is an Adobe’s one of the best selling product.It is not a single product in itself but a diversified one.You may not want PS but Adobe gives you the option of PS elements.Above all PS touch for Tablets sets Adobe much ahead of competition.

  • adaivanoff

    You are right – maybe the compatibility issue is the huge drawback for the popularity of GIMP, not its technical parameters. Monopoly is never healthy and the situation around Adobe’s products proves it again.

  • Not everyone needs to do design for the corporate level. To me it’s like the difference between using a sharpie and a sakura pen, but even better because it’s completely free! You can even install gimp on a thumb drive and use it as a portable app.

    There’ are many aspects of open source software that give me a warm fuzzy feeling. Despite owning CS5 and CS6 and other application suites, I still find myself using open source software just for fun because I love the open source philosophy. I’m so glad that there are free alternatives to the premium software applications. They make the world a better place.

    Art makes the world a better place!

    Over the summer I bought two computers at a yard sale for a total of $5 and hoped to be able to give them to people in need. I installed ubuntu studio on one of them and gave it to a teenage neighbor. His mom told me that he uses his computer every single day and absolutely loves it! Ubuntu Studio comes with several graphic design programs pre-installed, even blender. Helping this young man express himself creatively has not only brought him joy but made me do the happy dance as well. :)

  • Despilfarro

    What about CMYK profile?

  • Stephen Lee

    I use both….and I would say for simple easy stuff GIMP is great….PS is good too it all boils down to workflow…and how you like to work. I like Fireworks better than both..lol anyway great article.

  • Andy Kelton

    GIMP is boon for those small companies and startups they can’t not afford price of PS. I have started my company with GIMP and always expect not go back to PS. Even I am planning to make a group of people like me to support GIMP and raise funds. PS simple over charges.

  • Gaea Oakleaf-Ogden

    Though this is an older article, I wanted to add in here that the Gimpshop is now compatible with Linux, for anyone who wished to use it previously but wasn’t able to, due to this issue.