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Ye old “GIMP vs. Photoshop” revisited March 29, 2011

Posted by oktyabr in consumer, GIMP, graphics, it's debatable!, open source, opinions, personal, software.

My original post GIMP vs. Photoshop is still one of the posts that I get the most comments on, even though I wrote it over a year ago!  Not all of the comments get published though 😉 

This one did because after the name calling was done the writer actually had a point, sort of, so I thought maybe I’d revisit the topic…  What follows is the comment and my reply:

Douchebag 101 said on March 29, 2011 :

Photoshop can do, which GIMP cannot (as far as the version I tried):

3D Image editing, video animation painting and editing, plus automated technical/medical image measurements that are well beyond GIMP.

Photoshop also got an image browser known as Bridge, which is quite handy.

“GIMP can import screenshots with builtin screen grabber, scanner images, plus camera shots (but not in raw format). GIMP supports 39 image filetypes including the core .bmp, .gif, .jpeg (but not .jpeg2000), .png, .pdf, .psd, .tga, and .tiff. GIMP also supports the standard New, Open, Close, Save, Save As, Recent, Revert, and Prferences commands.” – Quote from a review. Photoshop can do/open;

^All above mentioned as well as; video now, and one of the widest range of camera raw files. Couple this with the Camera Raw dialog (shades of LightRooms Develop command) and Photoshop clearly bests GIMP and I have not yet considered the Photoshop Printing options and the Automate and Scripts commands.

In scripting, Photoshop again has more options with VB, JavaScript, and Actions while GIMP has Script-FU which gets at the basic GIMP programming structure.

Do I have to continue?

And my reply:

Read my original post. 3D Image editing?!?!? In a 2D paint program? From my article:

That’s like saying the tire iron in the trunk of my car is an EXCELLENT walnut cracker! Need to pound a nail? Buy a hammer.

No professional would use Photoshop for 3D editing… They would use a program designed for that. It’s like the vanity mirror on the passenger side sunscreen of most “high end” automobiles… it’s there, it helps justify a much higher price tag, but does anyone really need it? Same with “video editing”. I bet even those who downloaded a pirated version of PS tend to have a pirated version of Sony Vegas and Aftereffects they prefer to use than PS for video.

Technical/medical image measurements might be true… I haven’t experimented with that yet… but then the very few PS users that *need* this wouldn’t be considering GIMP anyway so that argument is moot. Again, re-read my original article. GIMP isn’t designed to replace PS in every use and market (and in fact the developers maintain that directly competing with PS is NOT one of their goals!), it’s simply a free, portable, cross platform alternative that *most* users will find fits their needs quite well (without the $700 pricetag). For the majority it’s fine.

It might be worthwhile however to touch again at this point on GIMP’s ancestry… particularly it’s birth as a *nix software first and what that means… In the unix and linux world the operating system is designed to be open as are apps written to work on it. It’s relatively easy to “connect” one application and pipe data back and forth to another, in effect making the creation of very sophisticated chains of processes possible in an interconnected network of small, dedicated utilities. The “Unix way of doing things” boils down to the philosophy of “Write programs that do one thing and do it well”. It’s object oriented programming extrapolated to a higher level. Don’t reinvent the wheel if someone has something you can “#include”.


In truth it’s the way that most well written softwares work, even those for windows. Lots of little programs all working together under the hood to achieve an end goal. The big difference is that because most Windows based software is “closed source” applications tend to be less extensible and thus *need* to include everything “out of the box”. GIMP and likewise other applications with a *nix pedigree, being “open source”, focus on collecting the means to “do one thing and do it well”… with the provision that if “extras” are needed badly enough it’s relatively easy to write an extension for it that will add it. In a nutshell, GIMP may seem less powerful than other programs but it does what it was designed to do and if that isn’t enough there is probably a plugin (or someone working on one) that will make it do what you want it to.

RAW? plugin for GIMP: http://ufraw.sourceforge.net/

Likewise, since GIMP is open source and extensible, there are plugins out there for just about any format under the sun, if you need them. Ooops! I forgot to mention that GIMP has automatic compression too… Working with huge files? Simply save your work with “.zip”, “.gz” or “.bz2″ and GIMP will automatically archive your work in the chosen compressed format to save disk space. GIMP’s virtual file system, inherited from it’s unix/linux pedigree, means working with files on your local hard drive, a NAS, SMB (windows) shares, or a remote machine using FTP/HTTP are all no-brainers… What? You mean not all software can do that?

Scripting? LOL! GIMP development has pretty much phased out “script fu” although the name still sticks. You can script for GIMP in *many* more languages than PS including Python, Ruby and Perl, which also means easy access remotely, whether that’s P2P from your laptop to home or as an embedded web application. There is even a full version of GIMP online: http://www.appsverse.com/GIMP-Free-Image-Editor-Download/Apps?id=gimp

So yes, I’d say GIMP has the tools and means to be as “automated” as you like as well as scriptable. Photoshop “actions”? GIMP just calls them “scripts” and there are plenty to choose from (google is your friend).

Even if I hadn’t bothered to write any of the above reply, what in your reply makes you think PS is worth $700? Is there some “must have” feature that can justify such a price tag? Tell my readers, if you would, supposing you had $700 (more or less) to spend on graphics software… What would you spend it on and why? (Anyone?)



1. oktyabr - March 29, 2011

I just discovered a truly “portable” way to take GIMP “on the go” with you:


This is cool! Whether it’s from a USB portable device (memory stick, portable hard drive, etc.) or even burned to a CD, GIMP portable works by clicking on the .exe *on the media*… NOTHING to install!

Computer on the fritz? Using a public access computer like at a net cafe or public library? Visiting someone and didn’t bring a laptop? GIMP portable might be the perfect solution.

Ah, the beauty of open source software!

2. Crystal - April 18, 2011

Far be it from me to overly champion Photoshop, but I’d just like to point out that Photoshop Elements comes at about $50, not $700, and is aimed more toward the same market as GIMP. It seems a little silly to compare the price tags of an application built for professionals and an applications built for consumers. Elements, I believe, has most of the applicable features, sans the pen tool/B-spline feature, and is a good deal lighter than full-featured Photoshop. 🙂

For the uninitiated in the world of open source, Photoshop also tends to be somewhat more intuitive to install, but for the price, well, who’s complaining. 🙂

That said, could you give a comparison of GIMP vs. Photoshop for artists? Tablet support, support on Macs, handling extremely large files, and so on would be pretty interesting, I think.

3. Crystal - April 19, 2011

Right, let me give a quick update to the question that I asked earlier. I’ve never actually used GIMP on my home computer (although I’ve used it elsewhere), so I’ve never used it for art before. I downloaded the latest version, got new tablet drivers, and eagerly awaited happiness.

1) Tablet support (for my tablet, at least, a common Wacom Bamboo) on the GIMP is pretty lousy. It works, but it’s buggy, and it seems to be a long running bug with no solution other than living with it. What fixes I did find seem to generally involve changing source code and rebuilding, or downloading Ubuntu patches.

Now, putting aside the fact I’m a Fedora fangirl and not an Ubuntu one, I’m not even on a Linux distro at the moment. I’m on Windows 7. And yes, I can rebuild if I wanted to.. but I don’t want to. I want it to work right out of the box. What’s the point in downloading a program if I have to fix their source code? I’m sure you’ll agree. 😛

My tablet works on 4-year-old Photoshop CS3 like a dream… and before that, it worked on 9-year-old Photoshop 7.0, also like a dream. I’d say Photoshop won there, hands down.

3) Handling large files. As per what you said earlier, I opened up a decent-sized .psd file that I was already working on – about 50MB, maybe 13 layers. That’s a mediumish file for an artist, even an amateur artist. And good Lord it was.. not good. 😦 Lots of things lagged. Saving took forever, and I was already having tablet problems to begin with, so on top of lagging, the cursor was shaky and uncontrollable and it went all over the place.

I also found it difficult to change brush sizes easily (they go pretty big, but not big enough), but I’m sure if I made my own custom brushes that problem would be fine.

Since I made that file in Photoshop and have handled much larger files, I think there is no argument here that Photoshop again wins.

Frankly, I’m a little surprised; I’ve always been confident in open source software. I suppose if I struggled with it a bit more, I could get it to work with me, but you’d never convince someone who isn’t already a programmer to do it – they wouldn’t even know where to start.

In conclusion, I don’t know what Photoshop is worth, but to make art, I find GIMP sub-par… or at least, pretty blasted annoying. Which is a shame. I sure had no problems with the price. :<

oktyabr - August 6, 2011

And the cost of PS…. plus Windows 7? 😉

4. Matthew - June 7, 2011


I’ve used the Gimp for years with my Wacom Intuos tablet. I mostly do painting, so I can’t say for certain if the gimp is on par with PS as far as photo manipulation.

The gimp has very intuitive layering modes that are infinitely useful when painting light or making final touch ups. (softlight, grain merge/extract, darken/lighten, come to mind…)

I often use PS books and tutorials to learn digital painting techniques because the software is so similar. (I just borrowed Bold Visions:The Digital Painting Bible; if you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend the book. )

To answer you question regarding the brushes, yes by creating and saving custom brushes you can make any size brush you need.

If you have already purchased PS, you might as well stick with that since I’m guessing you are more familiar with it.

oktyabr - August 6, 2011

Thanks for your reply Matthew! Busy time of year for me (away from the computer) and I appreciate it when someone else takes the time to provide a helpful reply to a question I don’t catch. Cheers!

5. ARGHMATEY - June 16, 2011

Been using PS CS4 and CS5 since they arrived on the market. I’m one of the ones who found gave an ARRGH MATEY! Battlecry and went for the gold. Photoshop CS4 Extended Pro Edition was bloody amazing. Roughly 1200 dollars coming off the line, I’d pay every penny if I had the money. CS5 is even more astounding. By using a pirated version, I can compress the files and over ride the data ‘requirements’ and open it just fine on a netbook and have it work like a dream. CS4 was a bit clunky on systems that were designed too small for it, but CS5 is smooth, streamlined and works amazingly well on any system.

I taught myself to use it over the course of three years. Didn’t have it on this netbook, lost my original core files, been a bit more paranoid than usual lately, waiting for a lull in the war to download it again — decided to try GIMP.

Downloaded it — great! Worked quickly and wonderfully.

Installed it — very fast! I was impressed.

Opened it — Ew. Closed it and uninstalled it.

I should have learned my mistakes about open source software when it came to open office. When you can have the best of everything for free, why get the crappy stuff for free, too?

Argh, a pirate’s life for me.

6. ARGHMATEY - June 16, 2011

Oh — In regard to your UI hogging comments — never had that issue, ever. But then again, my version was illicitly obtained, so who knows? Maybe without all the tracking crap, it works that much faster. *shrug* I did have some start up issues of that sort with CS4 when it would boot up, for the first two minutes or so, but never after, and certainly never anything of the sort with CS5. But I, unlike most Windows user, am capable of keeping a clean and functional computer. That could be part of it, I’m sure.

7. cranraspberry - February 3, 2012

CMYK. As much as I love GIMP, I was recently faced with a business card creating situation when the printer required a true CMYK file, and I couldn’t provide him with one.
I have since found out about Scribus, but haven’t tried it yet and haven’t figured out whether that would do the trick.

oktyabr - February 3, 2012

You need a new printer then 😉 While it’s true that GIMP does not have full CMYK support (yet) it is lower on the list of priorities because it’s simply not needed much anymore. A good printer should have been able to translate any given image themselves into the required format.

cranraspberry - February 3, 2012

You know, it’s interesting that I’ve come across people saying this several times, but in reality the only online printer I can think of that supports RGB is moo.com, but their business cards are weirdly sized.
Every other printer I’ve considered (and I have at least 10 sample packs lying around in my office right now) wants files in CMYK, much to my frustration. 😦
I ended up sending in an RGB file, and the colors got only slightly messed up, but I wouldn’t take that risk again if working with more expensive materials like brochures and postcards.

oktyabr - February 3, 2012

I’ve had great success with vistaprint in the past and can highly recommend them, at least for business cards. I’m sure for “one offs” there are similar services available for larger prints like brochures and such but I have no first hand knowledge of them. Digital printing has come a long ways… No one thinks twice about sending a png, raw or jpg format photo in, digitally, to have blown up even in to large (and expensive) prints, I can’t believe something with a much smaller palette would have more difficulty. None the less if you simply must have DTP capabilities in GIMP there are ways to achieve it, the functionality is just not present in the software as it is “out of the box”:

oktyabr - February 3, 2012

It’s also useful to consider that, supposing that only open source tools were available, that one consider linux which offers both the excellent CMYKtools as well as Krita, which also provides native CMYK handling. This could be done on a dedicated computer, a dual boot along side windows, or even a “live cd”.

cranraspberry - February 3, 2012

The thing is that I’m on a Mac. And judging by the extensive googling I did when faced with that situation, there is no way of getting GIMP to do CMYK on OS X. I’m not even sure there’s any way of doing it through crazy coding, not that I’m capable of any kind of coding, but still.

oktyabr - February 3, 2012

Not suggesting you actually consider it but there ARE linux distros, even live ones, that are Mac friendly. Ultimately I think you are in a very uncommon position and only you know what will work to your satisfaction. I just wanted to make the point that even cmyk for Mac users with free software is possible. 🙂

8. cranraspberry - February 3, 2012

Oh, and as for vistaprint, I’m pretty sure they offer only digital, not offset printing, 10-12 pt stock (I use 16 pt), and don’t offer other great things like spot high gloss UV coating, so unfortunately they wouldn’t work for me – my design involves photographs, and on thinner paper and without coating they would just look cheap and sad, alas.

9. Angelo Pesce - August 28, 2012

Comparing software based on back of the box features is silly, gimp as many other OS softwares do that, they go for the feature list without ever caring about how the features are implemented. In other words usability and workflows. When I retouch I use probably 5% of photoshop functionality, and I would totally buy a cheap photoshop with only 5-10 main features if they were done to the CS levels of usability, speed and workflow. Lightroom is an example of a software that does exaclty nothng in terms of features that PS or bridge don’t do (the raw conversion engine is one to one the same as PS camera raw) but that is essential to photographers only because of workflows… Gimp is borderline unusable for my retouching needs and I’ve never seen a pro artist even coming close to say anything different about the way it works.

oktyabr - September 4, 2012

I would never suggest that an artist compromise their time creating art by learning a new piece of software or even a UI. That said for those of us that have spent the majority of time working with GIMP there are no feature implementation issues; rather trying to learn PS is for many of us not only a waste of money but also of time.

And even THAT is possibly an overstatement. The two pieces of software have more in common than differences. Most books, tutorials and even videos for either software are generally easy to adapt for the other, given you take the time to learn.

10. gear4 - February 26, 2013
oktyabr - March 2, 2013

Thanks for the link. Not exactly a well written “shootout” of the three; the comments on that shootout were golden!

$30 isn’t bad, if you got your Mac for free. The biggest thing that article missed is that GIMP is not only FREE, it is also the only one of the three that is completely cross platform compatible. I run all three OS’s in my house, OS X, Win7 and Linux. I can install GIMP on every machine for the low, low cost of ZERO.

I can start work on my Mac, save it to removable media, the cloud, or the NAS on my LAN and retrieve it later to finish working on it… on any computer, under any OS. Want to collaborate with others on some graphics? Doesn’t matter if your team is one artist or one hundred. Zero cost, cross platform, and simply good enough for most users, if they would simply forget about the price tag and try the software.

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