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GIMP: A Free Alternative to Photoshop

July 14, 2010

Adobe Photoshop is the king of photo editing software, but with its hefty price tag it tends to go on people’s wish lists.  You can get the basics for $99 with Photoshop Elements 8, but for true Photoshop capabilities such as what you get with Photoshop Cs5 12, you’re talking about $699!

However, even if you think Photoshop is the key to your heart, you might want to give GIMP a try.  GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a graphics editor program that is FREE.  You download it and are good to go, without putting down a penny.  You can use it to retouch images (reduce red-eye, crop, rotate), or to make your photos more artistic and of better quality (black & white, decrease noise, increase contrast).  You can also use GIMP to create your own graphic art.  There are free drawing tools that make it fairly easy to come up with your own logos and graphic icons.

Image courtesy of

Why should you give a photo editor program a try?  Take a look at this example below from GIMP’s own website.  Don’t these look like entirely different photos?  Not only are the colors different, but the building itself looks like it’s standing taller, as if the photographer was taking the photo from a completely different perspective.  There’s a lot of white space that opens up between the main building and the one standing next to it.  But these aren’t two different photos—this is what you can do to a photo with some basic image editing from a program like GIMP.

Image courtesy of

While GIMP can be tricky to learn, if you have experience with Photoshop, you’ll be able to figure it out with a little patience.  Check out the main tool bar pictured to the left…look familiar?  Well, maybe not that familiar upon first glance.  But most of your Photoshop features are right here—eye dropper, paint brush, text.  And the ones you can’t see right away are probably there, just a little tucked away.  It just takes some getting used to, that’s all.  Laura and I actually used GIMP to edit a photo of a flower in my front yard to make our current “summer” header image.  We were able to crop the photo and adjust the starkness to improve the quality.

There is one main tool bar (pictured to the left), menus, and several dialogue boxes for detailed tool options, such as filters, brushes, and layers.

Check out GIMP’s online tutorials to help you learn how to use this program.  GIMP offers tutorials ranging from basic to advanced, including lessons on how to use the selection tool, reduce red eye, increase saturation, use gradients, and even how to make animation frames.

One way for visual learners to catch on to GIMP’s format?  Youtube it.  Seriously.  Look up ‘tutorials on GIMP’ and you’ll find endless videos.  Some of them are bad and some are downright horrendous (anyone can post a video on Youtube, after all), but some are fairly helpful for learning GIMP basics and how to do graphic design with the program.  I used Youtube to teach myself guitar chords having zero experience, and I use it to get the equivalent of free sheet music for some of my favorite piano songs, like “Clocks” by Coldplay.  Any time you want a “How To,” don’t just Google it—Youtube it.

One Youtube video I found helpful was this one, which shows you the basics of how to use the toolbar, layers, and text.  Watch this and you’ll get a good feel for how the dialogue boxes work and what simple designs you can accomplish in just a few minutes:

While this is a great alternative to pricey Photoshop, this thing is a beast to learn.  Laura and I are both quick at learning new technology, and we were both very frustrated figuring GIMP out.  In our experience, even simple tasks like cropping required a little online research via Googling.  Kind of a pain.  However, once you do become comfortable with this program, it really is a great free substitute for Photoshop.

Some advice?  Play around!  The more you play with any program, the more you discover and the more comfortable you become using the features.  If you think back on it, it’s probably how you learned to use your cell phone and first computer.  Give yourself an “assignment” to test your skills.  Try creating a classic publishing logo with a green background and stylized letters, or try mimicking what’s already out there—logos by Apple, Rock Band (note the slanted ‘A’ you can practice!),—whatever your heart desires.  If you learn how to recreate what you already see, then you’ll better be able to bring to life your own designs and become a graphic artist extraordinaire.

Have you played around with GIMP, or do you have another photo-editing program you swear by?  Or are you a loyal Photoshop fan?  Leave a comment and let us know about your favorite programs out there!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2010 4:09 PM

    That is amazing!! I am downloading it as soon as I get home. Thanks guys – you’re the best(s)!

    • July 14, 2010 6:54 PM

      Glad we didn’t disappoint! GIMP really is helpful. A little hard to use at first, but the fact that it’s free makes it worth it. Let us know what you think of it!

  2. July 14, 2010 8:07 PM

    I’ve never heard of this, but it sounds awesome! Love the demo of the building pic. I actually have never used a photo editing too (gasp, I know!) but maybe I should start!

    • July 15, 2010 4:43 PM

      I was slow to try photo editing too, but trust me, once you start you’ll never go back! Thanks for reading!

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