Originally Published: Friday, 3 November 2000 Author: Naru Sundar, <a href="http://themes.org">Themes.org</a> Artist
Published to: enhance_articles_desktops/General Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Gimp vs. Photoshop: An Amateur Artist's View

Over the past few years, The Gimp has become an extremely popular graphics tool, used by both hobbyists and professionals alike. Many talented artists use this free and open tool happily without a second thought of the other products available on other platforms. But how does the GIMP measure up to Adobe's industry standard powerhouse, Photoshop? Naru Sundar leads the way to enlightenment.

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GIMP VS. PHOTOSHOP (An Amateur Artist's View)

As an amateur artist, I've worked with many different media. In my early years, I tried everything from oils to watercolors to charcoal. For the past nine years, though, I've focused mainly on digital artwork both for personal pleasure as well as for websites and applications. Before I became a hardcore Linux user, I used Photoshop in Windows as my primary graphics program. About seven years ago, though, I left the crash-ridden, bug-infested world of Windows and entered the wild and lush world of Linux.

About a year after I started using Linux actively at home, I heard about a program named Gimp that offered Photoshop-like performance at an open-source price. If you are like me, you've used Photoshop in a work environment (and thus are denied the chance to burn a quick copy of the latest version borrowed from a friend). You'll probably agree that the hefty wad of cash one has to fork to actually buy a copy of Photoshop is a thick chunk indeed. The Gimp is free. In fact it is Open Source. Unfortunately, the first version of Gimp I checked out (0.5, I believe) was far from what I expected -- in fact, it was closer to Microsoft Paintbrush than Adobe Photoshop.

A couple of months after that, I decided to give Gimp another chance and downloaded the source to the latest development version at the time, 0.99.5. I was floored. Even then, the hard-working developers who made the Gimp had succeeded in duplicating many of the key features in Photoshop. Now, the Gimp stands at version 1.2, reproduces the majority of Photoshop's features and offers a few more to boot.

A Photoshop user dropped in front of a Linux desktop running Gimp will find that most of the menu layout is similar to that of Photoshop. In terms of tools, the Gimp matches tool for tool against the most current version of Photoshop. Layer features and masking are also very similar. There are similar sets of built-in filters as well; in fact, filters are one of Gimp's standout features.

One of the key sections where Photoshop still holds an edge is in its support for CMYK. All of Gimp's operations currently takes place in RGB mode, where all color values are stored as fractions of red, blue and green. Industrial print methods require color separations in cyan, magenta yellow and black. Since Photoshop was designed from the beginning with industrial support in mind, it came out of the box with CMYK support. This is one of the main reasons why the Gimp will not earn much support in professional print design circles. On the positive side, a Gimp developer mentioned to me at LWE2000 that CMYK support is planned for Gimp 2.0.

Even in light of these drawbacks, one of Gimp's strong points is its filter capabilities. The built-in set of filters match up to Photoshop's initial set. The additional filters that come with Gimp are unique and great for adding interesting features to an abstract piece. I frequently use the Gimp to create abstract backgrounds and tileable backgrounds for Resources.Themes.Org. The wide variety of Gimp filters have allowed me to create some wonderful and interesting tiles that go above and beyond "simple swirly things." In addition, Gimp supports filters written in the Perl scripting language (using the gimp-perl scripting module).

In Photoshop 4.0, Adobe added a simple scripting feature. It was a simple action recorder that allowed basic tasks to be simplified. Linux users, on the other hand, are very used to scripts and appreciate and desire flexible scripting backends. This ideology is evident in Gimp's script-fu backend which provides a Scheme (LISP variant) based scripting backend. With script-fu one can create complex scripts that use everything from tools to other filters in complex combinations. All it requires a knowledge of Scheme. Granted this is a fairly large learning requirement, but I think its a cool feature nonetheless. (And besides, I know Scheme.)

Another area where Gimp stands out is in its keybinding support. In Photoshop, certain commands had their own built-in keyboard shortcuts which allowed users to quickly accomplish a certain basic task. This is nothing new. What Gimp added though, was the ability to attach a keybinding to any menu accessible feature. Since everything in Gimp is accessible via its context menus, this means that almost every single feature in Gimp can be attached to a particular keystroke combination (any combination of alt, control, shift and another key can form a keybinding). Adding these keybinds is just as easy: bring up the menu, move the mouse over a particular feature and press the desired keystroke combination -- just like that. This is an invaluable feature that greatly increases productivity and speed of use.

Right now, while Gimp developers forge on towards Gimp 2.0, Adobe is on the verge of releasing Photoshop 6.0. The most significant new feature is the borrowing of certain Adobe Illustrator features -- mainly adding vector object support for Photoshop. Most of the other "new features" are mainly fluff features that are either unnecessary or quickly reproducable with a simple script. Having used both Photoshop and Gimp extensively, I can honestly say that I believe Gimp to be the better product. The fact that it is a free open-source program is an even greater bonus. I tip my hat to the incredible community of people that have made this product possible. Bravo!

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