Tuesday, February 5, 2008


No, this is not an unfortunate slur - it's actually an acronym for "GNU Image Manipulation Program."* And what a program it is! GIMP is one of the most mature and functional open source programs out there, and should be the first choice for anyone looking to do any sort of image editing.

GIMP is available for Windows, the Mac OS, and Linux. The closest commercial equivalent to GIMP is Adobe Photoshop - just like Photoshop, GIMP excels at editing raster images. It is under very active development, and new versions and bug fixes are constantly on their way.

As a tool for editing photographs destined for publications or presentations, you really can't beat GIMP. It has a whole host of very functional tools for selection, touch-up, and flat-out manipulation of images. Want to rotate a portion of the image? Easy enough. Need to remove a black background and replace it with white? No problem. There's not much more I can say - GIMP is fantastic! To be perfectly honest, I haven't missed Photoshop at all since making the switch (although I am sure Photoshop "power users" might disagree).

So are there any downsides to GIMP? Some users may report slow speeds, but this seems to be largely fixed in the more recent versions. For folks who may want to do extremely hard-core editing of color images for later printing, GIMP only supports RGB color formatting (although you can choose colors on the palette using CMYK standards). This may pose a problem if you want to send your files to a professional printer, but it should not affect the average user (or the paleontologist who is usually working in grayscale images). Finally, the GIMP toolbar and image editing pane open as two separate and discrete windows, rather than as subwindows within a main window (as in versions of Photoshop that I've used). This sometimes creates a cluttered editing experience, but it's more an annoyance than anything. Integration with a tablet can be a little bit of a hassle, but it works pretty flawlessly once you get it running (and I've never tried the same task in Photoshop, so I don't know how it compares in that regard).

*GNU = a type of open source software license; it has nothing to do with the African savannah.


Anonymous said...

Does it have anything equivalent to the system of data layers and the magnetic lasso in Photoshop - I find these to be very useful for making composite figures.

Andy said...

Yes, it does have data layers (and it can save a file with the layer information). I'm not sure about the "magnetic lasso" - there may be an equivalent, but I don't recall this tool from Photoshop.

Anonymous said...

The magnetic lasso is a way of making selections - it basically automatically clings to the edges of objects that have a high contrast with the background. Excellent for cropping backgrounds if you've photographed your fossils on a dark background. The "intelligent scissors" tool of GIMP looks to be somewhat equivalent. Anyway, thanks for posting on this - looks like it will make a very useful alternative to the extortionate Photoshop.

Mike Taylor said...

Just a quick word of agreement: I use Gimp all the time and absolutely love it. it's an achievement of this highest order. Figures such as the one at http://svpow.wordpress.com/2007/10/04/mystery-sauropod-dorsals-of-the-wealden-part-1-bmnh-r2523/ (click for the high-res version) were prepared using it.

John Conway said...

I love open source software, and use it wherever I can, but I think the GIMP has been one of open-source's great disaster stories. Essential features like CMYK support were so slow in coming (read: many years) most professionals and power users simply wrote it off. The interface is still seriously kludgy - and despite users screaming for a different approach, nothing's been changed. Usually with the dismissive "you just want it to be like photoshop". No, I don't want cryptically named menus, modal dialogs everywhere, everything hidden in right-click, having to click twice to activate menus then select a tool, and the myriad of other stupid irritating interface woes the GIMP suffers from.

I've heard there's big problems with the project, and that development is seriously hampered by in-fights. I'm pretty sure the "killer" open source image editing application isn't going to be the GIMP - although it might use a lot of it's underlying code (which might be okay).

Phew. Enough ranting.

dofollow blog said...

I love open source software, and use it wherever I can, but I think the GIMP has been one of open-source's great disaster storiesl

tips forex said...

Excellent for cropping backgrounds if you've photographed your fossils on a dark background.