Think photo-manipulation software and you’re likely to think Photoshop. After all, the Adobe product is a true workhorse when it comes to creating graphics and editing images. But it’s also expensive. While there are other photo-editing software programs out there, one that has been quietly gaining followers for over 20 years is GIMP, or GNU Image Manipulation Program. GNU is an open-source operating system that often goes by the name Linux. GIMP is also open-source software, which means users can modify the program to suit their needs. Best of all, GIMP is completely free – with no tricky upsells to unlock additional features or time limits on use.
For years, the GIMP interface was not very user-friendly and indeed, seemed more geared to coders and open-source aficionados than to the average user. That has changed with successive releases of the program and GIMP is now as easy to use as Photoshop – if you consider that program easy. Truth be told both Photoshop and GIMP will require quite a bit of time along with a fair amount of trial and error to get used to the dizzying array of tools that can be applied to images. Working with layers also takes some getting used to. Tutorials on the GIMP website certainly help, but be prepared to spend time learning your way around.
Basically, if you’re looking for a simple tool to adjust the color, lightning and contrast in your photos, GIMP is probably overkill. But if you’re somewhere beyond a casual photographer, and you’re looking for a cost-free way to manipulate your shots, GIMP is worth a try.
Launch GIMP and you’re presented with a Photoshop-like interface. The center of the screen becomes the palette where you work on your image, while the upper-left corner of the screen contains some familiar tools. These include the lasso; smart select; paintbrush; text insertion; dodge/burn and smudge; eraser; ruler; scissors; crop and zoom tools; and several other options.
Once a tool is selected, the options to adjust the tool settings appear beneath the toolbox. So for example, select “Paintbrush” and you’ll be presented with an impressive number of tweaks you can make to the tool including size, aspect ratio, hardness and force.
Meanwhile down the right side of the screen you’ll find your options to select different layers to work on as well as a collection of backgrounds and clippings you’ve made from the image. Right-clicking anywhere on the screen brings up a handy toolbar that includes options to add layers, apply filters, adjust viewing options, and much more.
GIMP is available for iOS, Windows, and GNU/Linux. As we mentioned, the software is completely open-source, so if you have some coding skills, the options to tailor the software to your needs are practically unlimited. GIMP also has a pretty robust library of plug-ins so that even if you don’t know how to code, you can still loop in specific functionality to achieve your graphics goals. Plus, the software is always being improved by a team of volunteers, who released the latest version in February 2020. And you did get that part about the software being completely free, right?