Adobe ushered in the monthly subscription model and that’s about the only way to get the graphic design standard of the industry, Photoshop. If you want Photoshop, you get it by paying by the month. Forever. If you want similar tools, use this app instead. It’s free.
GNU This, Adobe!
In some ways it’s unfortunate that I live in an Adobe and Microsoft world. It’s the nature of business to standardize on, well, standards, and both the media behemoth Adobe and the Office behemoth Microsoft (both with monthly subscription plans) are what corporations use. Mostly.
There are free alternatives to both. While Photoshop Elements is something of a bargain, and delivers most of what most of us need in Photoshop but with a single price tag and not a monthly payment, there are less expensive but capable alternatives.
Say hello to GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program that dares to compete against 21st century graphic apps after 20 years of not having a price tag. Yes, GIMP has been around that long but that doesn’t make it long in the tooth.
GIMP suffers from multiple personality syndrome. There’s GIMP, there’s GIMP for OS X (not the version I recommend), and there’s also GIMP for OS X (the one I prefer). They are not the same. That’s the nature of open source projects sometimes. Forks. The latter version of GIMP runs on Linux, Windows, OS X, and even various flavors of Unix.
What you get is an entry-level way to learn what Photoshop does but without the commitment to a price tag. That makes GIMP a good deal for fledgling or tightwad graphic designer wannabes who don’t mind the lack of polish and sophistication that comes with a monthly subscription fee. GIMP for OS X feels much like a Windows or an app ported from somewhere else, but is Mac-like enough to be more than usable if you don’t mind a bit of the Fisher Price interface.
This version of GIMP will look and feel familiar if you’ve used any Mac photo manipulation or image app. It comes with the standard array of tools on palettes, but each is customizable so you can create your own workflow.
While GIMP is especially adept at enhancing photos, it’s equally useful with graphic design as the objective because tools and plugins abound. File format support ranges from JPEG to GIF to PNG to TIFF to PSDs. The interface, despite customizable options, is an acquired taste.
The app opens most PSD files and handles layers with ease. The tool palette layout remains somewhat similar to Photoshop and other Mac graphic apps but with plenty of differences, which also means a bit of a learning curve. This version of GIMP has a number of tutorials which makes the app a good one for anyone on a tight budget or just getting started in photo enhancement or graphic design.
Caveats? Sometimes you get what you pay for. GIMP for OS X can be slow to navigate and find files on the Mac, slow to apply various filters to large images, and cumbersome to use– if you have experience elsewhere. Oddly enough, exporting files (JPEG is my example) results in files with similar quality to Photoshop file exports but at slightly larger file sizes.
Otherwise, GIMP is a good way to get into Mac (or Windows, Linux, et al) graphic design without coughing up much coin. It’s free.