How a free photo editor compares to the industry standard
Adobe Photoshop has long stood at the top of the list of professional image editing software — but it’s always been attached to a pro-level price. While Photoshop is much friendlier on your wallet than it was years ago thanks to a $10 subscription plan, the industry standard editor will never be as affordable as GIMP, an open source photo editor that encompasses several of Photoshop’s heavy hitting tools.
GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, is an open source, free Photoshop alternative. Besides the free price point, the open source design means that the program welcomes code adjustments, along with being available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. But how does it stack up to a program so popular that it’s been turned into a verb? Here’s what photo editors need to know when trying to decide between GIMP and Photoshop.
Includes many of the same tools
Lacks the professional interface of Photoshop
Updates aren’t as frequent
Missing some advanced tools
Lacks graphic design features, like CMYK
While GIMP may be free, Photoshop is no longer the $700 program it once was. With the advent of the Creative Cloud, Adobe moved all of its major programs over to a subscription model, which means you’ll have to continue paying for it for as long as you want to use it, and those monthly fees will add up over time. Fortunately, if you’re just in the market for Photoshop, the $10 Photography Plan is pretty easy to stomach. What’s more, the subscription model ensures you’re always running the latest version of the app.
The Photography Plan also includes Lightroom, a non-destructive RAW photo editor and organizer that integrates well with Photoshop; Adobe Camera RAW for converting and opening RAW images in Photoshop; and 20 gigabytes of cloud storage, to which you can add more for an additional fee. All of this adds up to an undeniably good value at $10 per month — but that still comes out to a more than free.
GIMP doesn’t offer as complete a package as the Creative Cloud Photography Plan. It doesn’t include cloud storage nor its own RAW processor and organizer, though you can opt for an open source Lightroom competitor like RawTherapee. GIMP also needs a plug-in to convert and open RAW files, which, fortunately, is also free.
Photoshop has long been an industry standard for photo editing as well as graphic design. GIMP, like other open source programs, tends to have fewer advanced features, since there’s no company motivated by a profit to continually improve it. But free doesn’t mean bad, and for some types of users, GIMP has all of the necessary essentials without needless bloat. It also takes up less space on your hard drive.
As an open source program, GIMP is easy to customize. Even if you don’t have the programming knowledge to adjust the open source code, GIMP has several plugins to expand features, while the user interface can also be easily customized. The program is lightweight, so besides taking up less room on the computer, it’s also compatible with older computers and budget devices that may not have the RAM that Photoshop requires.
Tool-wise, GIMP can handle the same basic and mid-level edits, and in some cases, even the more advance edits that Photoshop can. If you just need to crop and resize a photo, GIMP can easily do the job. While not quite as advanced as Photoshop, GIMP isn’t just bare bones photo editing, either. It still offers layers, curves, filters, and many more tools that go well beyond basic.
But as the industry standard with a dedicated company making frequent updates, Photoshop is certainly the more powerful program. For example, GIMP has just one healing brush tool while Photoshop has four. GIMP also doesn’t handle CMYK color, doesn’t allow for non-destructive photo editing using adjustment layers, and requires plug-ins for some features that are built in to Photoshop. Adobe also innovates at a blazing pace, and started integrating artificial intelligence into Photoshop several years ago with tools like Face-Aware Liquify, which automatically detects features of a person’s face and lets you resize the eyes, mouth, and nose without having to make any manual selections.
That’s not to say GIMP never sees updates — in fact, the software usually sees some sort of minor or major update every few months, and plans for both non-destructive editing and CMYK support are in progress.