Gimp…limping along without Photoshop

Name: Gimp
Cost: Free
Type: Software (download)
Rating: 3/5

GIMP logoWho doesn’t love Photoshop? It’s a candy store of brushes, textures, tools, and features. You get lightheaded when just thinking about the amazing changes you can make to your non-impressive photos from the zoo or beach. In fact, you get so lightheaded that you fall forward and crack your skull on your desk so that you don’t even notice how much the software costs. (If you are familiar with the costs of Adobe CC, then you may need a second concussion to truly not feel that financial pain.) Personally, I didn’t want the concussion or any other form of pain, so I sought out software that had the same qualities of Photoshop, but cheaper. Like, “free” sort of cheaper. GIMP answers that need. If I were a professional photographer or graphic designer, then I don’t think GIMP would be enough. When starting out with editing my first photos, I didn’t need a “candy store,” but rather the “candy aisle” of options to crop, remove backgrounds, and adjust lighting.

Disclaimer: I need to be honest at this point. I caved recently and purchased Photoshop Elements. I can’t even give you a good reason other than it was bundled with Premiere Elements, which is the software I really wanted. While I’m still learning Photoshop Elements (and there is a lot to learn), I don’t think I’ll go back to using GIMP unless I’m on my laptop, which doesn’t have Photoshop Elements installed on it. With this in mind, GIMP does have a newer version than what the screen captures show, but it’s essentially the same features a previous versions.

GIMP Workspace view

This is what GIMP basically looks like as you start editing a photo.

Goal: find free photo editing software that goes beyond just creative textures and cropping.


  • Did I mention it’s FREE?
  • It is fairly intuitive, especially since all the tools can be made visible on the tool bar so that you don’t have to go digging through menus or clicking other icons. (Some tools are buried, but the useful ones are visible.)
  • You can export the file as JPG, PNG, or other common file types.


  • No in-software guidance. (Yeah, this would be asking a lot of free software that has a variety of features.) You’re left on your own to figure out the tools and what they do to a graphic, though there are plenty of free tutorials, including ones on the GIMP site.
  • It takes a few seconds to startup after you click the software icon. Not a big deal, just have to be patient.
  • It doesn’t allow for editing RAW photo files. This is a big deal for avid photographers. You can convert the file, as described by Kat, in “RAW Photos with GIMP.”

GIMP workspace tools closeup

Here is a view of the available tools (as icons). There are more options under the top menus.

Insider View: Be sure to “export” the final image as a JPG (or other file type), rather than just saving because the save button only saves the file as XCF that can only be opened/edited with GIMP, which is common for graphic/photo editing software.

Final Thoughts: I feel that GIMP has served as the software to help me get more comfortable with the basic photo editing tools, while training my “mousing hand” to be more precise when erasing backgrounds and the like. Perhaps if I didn’t get the student discount for Photoshop Elements, I would have dedicated more time to learning GIMP and making it work for me.







Sample 2

This one took a while, as I had to remove the background (a downspout the butterfly was on). It’s saved as PNG so the background remains transparent.

Photo sample 1

Not much to this one beyond cropping and adding a “canvas” filter

2 thoughts on “Gimp…limping along without Photoshop

  1. Hi! You mention a couple of drawbacks to GIMP and it made me realize you’re missing some cool features! –

    (1) There is actually some in-software guidance. Hovering over tools for example gives you the name of the tool, what it does, and its keyboard shortcut.

    (2) Another drawback you list is actually true of Photoshop too – no direct RAW editing. You can’t edit RAW photos in Photoshop either. You might not notice that you’re launching a separate RAW converter program when you’re using something like Photoshop Elements but ACR really is a separate program just like RAWTherapee or UFRAW for GIMP. So, it’s a drawback of GIMP but it’s a drawback of Photoshop too. It’s possible to configure GIMP to launch UFRAW if it detects a RAW file is trying to be opened making the experience almost as seamless as it is when using PS.

    Export vs Save is totally wonky in my opinion. I think the reasoning for separating Save as XCF vs Export As jpg, png etc. was to help people not accidentally make destructive changes when they meant to save their layered XCF file – but based on complaints and confusion I’ve read in forums this seems like it the change did more harm than good.

    Anyway, great article! I would love to hear your thoughts on PS Elements vs GIMP since I have Photoshop CC and GIMP and am not familiar everything you get in Elements.

    • Thanks for the further insights about GIMP! Unfortunately, I stopped using it extensively when I got Lightroom, then Photoshop Elements, and then a “strong” suggestion from my advisor to produce more pages for my dissertation (which is not related to my blog writing or my photography hobby). I will keep your post in mind should I go back and review a newer version of GIMP, since my review was based on an older release. –Carrie Hannigan

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