You’ve heard of Adobe Photoshop, right? It’s the famous, popular, highly regarded professional image manipulation tool for Mac and Windows. It’s also expensive. Very expensive.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could get a free Photoshop-like application for your Mac? Guess what? One exists.
Actually, more than one. It’s called GIMP, but it’s not a Photoshop clone. It’s a mind over matter issue. If you don’t mind that GIMP isn’t Photoshop, then it doesn’t matter.
GIMP stands for GNU image manipulation program. It’s a graphics editor, similar to Photoshop, which processes digital graphics and photos.
If you know something about digital imaging then you know about Photoshop. If you know you can’t afford Photoshop, which retails new for around $700, then GIMP might be your poor man’s solution. Maybe.
GIMP is Photoshop-like in that it can manipulate digital images, graphic or photos, adding layers, changing colors, and converting from one file format to another. Like Photoshop, GIMP is loaded with features—filters, special effects, color capability, masks, blending, and much more.
A poor man’s Photoshop? Not quite. GIMP is free and capable. Photoshop is expensive and very capable. Both can apply many tools and layers to create stunning images and graphics.
Both are complex applications for artists and graphic designers. Both have a steep learning curve, especially so if you’re starting from scratch or a beginner. Neither tool is for the faint of heart.
Like Photoshop, GIMP has a legion of followers around the world, despite the popularity and commercial success of Photoshop (which started life on the Mac long before Windows).
Compared to Photoshop, GIMP feels clumsy, heavy, seemingly devoid of the artistic organization and polish found in Adobe’s flagship product. GIMP runs on Macs with OS X, Windows XP and Vista, and on most flavors of Linux, which makes it a favorite of the geekier PC crowd.
Outside of the interface, basic similarities exist. GIMP has a plugin architecture, does multiple layers, has alpha channels, and handles basic text chores. GIMP historically has not handled CMYK or Pantone colors, another reason for avoiding it if you’re a professional with printing needs.
The target user also differs between Photoshop and GIMP. Some professionals use GIMP, though a tiny minority compared to the many legions of Photoshop users, both professional, semi-pro, wannabe artists and designers, and home users.
Forking out $700 to do graphics on a Mac requires both nerve and a second mortgage unless you’re a PS pro. GIMP weighs in with a free price tag, which should make it attractive to the home user, or casual graphic user, right?
Back to the interface differences. If you’ve never used Photoshop, and can manage the learning curve to get a handle on GIMP, you’re likely not to mind the tacked on, after thought interface espoused by GIMP.
If you go from Photoshop to GIMP, likely because you’ve come upon hard economic times and money has become an object, you’re also likely to run screaming from the GIMP interface looseness and sell a kidney to get Photoshop back on your Mac.
That said, if you don’t have money, can’t spell Photoshop, but need a photo and image processing app for your Mac (or Windows or Linux), then GIMP may have answers for you. Answers?
Yes, alas, there’s more than one GIMP out there, cross platform capability notwithstanding.
Darwin GIMP is another version for Mac users, from Wilbur Loves Apple (Wilbur being the GIMP mascot). Confused? It gets worse.
GIMP for Mac users requires the installation of X11, which comes with your Mac OS X installation disks. You won’t recognize much about using X11, though it works well on Mac OS X.
MacGIMP is an easier-to-install, and more familiar looking version for OS X, but costs from $79 to $149. There is yet another, perhaps even better alternative, especially for graphics and image processing newbies on a budget.
Photoshop Elements. Think of it as Photoshop Lite. $89. It looks, feels, acts, installs, and is fully upward compatible with Photoshop. It lacks a few of the high end, esoteric tools in the expensive full version, yet has a few consumer oriented tools of its own.
Elements is decidedly easier to learn to use than either Photoshop or GIMP. Relative to either it could be considered a bargain, a value.
The effort behind the various versions of GIMP is admirable. They haven’t created a Photoshop clone, but have managed to create a powerful image processing tool, though decidedly more useful for the geek squad than mainstream Mac users.