Is GIMP better than Photoshop?

This old conversation starter (equivalent to singing a HSV (Hamburg’s football club) song in a Bremen pub – you are lucky if you leave the hospital without staying some nights) was brought up here. I found it at

Well, is it? I don’t think so. There are some things in Photoshop that I really miss in GIMP when I look at John Arnold’s photowalkthrough. Great ressource BTW, also translatable for GIMP. John goes deep into his stuff, much more than I do or could.

What do I miss: Adjustment layers and layer groups (or how they are called). To be able to change the curve of layer 2 when you find out at layer 16 that you have overdone it – great! And putting all the layers for one part of the image into a box and close the lid – how organized! GEGL promises the possibility for adjustment layers – I don’t hold my breath but keep my fingers crossed.

I miss 16 bits – not badly, but more after I talked with Joel and tinkered with monochrome. GEGL should fix that too.

CYMK – I don’t miss that – I’ll leave that to the printers.

And is Photoshop better? The big question how you define “better” and who you are.

For a lot of professionals Photoshop and family is the tool of choice. The workflow is streamlined for them, they can rely on skills in this program in new employees, they can buy professional support and a lot of customers expect PSD files.

For other professionals GIMP is better. I know of the photographer of Autozine (NL, FR, DE), who uses GIMP for processing his images, because he uses GIMP also for mangling the images by scripts in the back of the website. Try to get a Wallpaper from there – it’s resized by GIMP according to your wishes. ( I hope to get an interview with him soon. )

An amateur photographer with ambitions is well off with GIMP – or Photoshop. With GIMP the budget allows an other lens, with Photoshop he (in this case no she….) can feel near to the Pros. πŸ˜‰ There are other reasons for using Photoshop – all the friends use it, it’s better integrated into Windows, there are more books and all the magazines are full with tutorials.

Oh, and there are a lot of people who are really better off with neither: If you just want to brush up some snapshots from time to time, there are lots of programs around that are in this case better than Photoshop or GIMP.

For me GIMP is better. It is fully integrated into my OS, with Photoshop I would have to tackle Windows or Wine. GIMP can do all the stuff I want to do – something could be easier, but I can do it. For 16 Bit I can switch to Cinepaint. I have saved a lot of money (can someone please calculate 10 years worth of Photoshop updates?) and got a program where I can tinker as much as I want. I can even read the source or talk with the developers on their mailing list. I have a program that is constantly updated and has a very friendly community. Finally, I believe in the advantages of sharing ideas and stuff.

But one thing I can’t stand – people who loudly bash GIMP for being inferior than PS to absolutely unusable and use a pirated copy of Photoshop instead. I don’t buy the Software Industrie’s argument about “stealing” their stuff. It is no harm for them if someone uses their program who would never have bought it. It’s more harmful for the Open Source community. Imagine half of the pirated Photoshop versions replaced by GIMP. That would create a demand for well written (and paid for) magazine articles, would get more people interested in development and perhaps get some company sponsors on board. In two words: Increased Visibility.

25 thoughts on “Is GIMP better than Photoshop?

  1. Very good article. I agree completely with you. I think Photoshop is unnecessary for the majority of things. However, if people feel a need to shell out $600+ to fix red-eye then I say let them have it. After all, they are the “real professionals”. πŸ˜‰

  2. To clarify : support for the equivalent of adjustment layers is planned, even in reasonable detail. The actual implementation is likely NOT to resemble adjustment layers, because UI-wise they are a bad idea (the classic analog of layers is paper or cellophane cutouts. curve adjustment for example mismatches the ‘layer’ idea terribly, a ‘layer of adjustment’ just doesn’t fit the layers mental model — it doesn’t even have content like other layers.)
    So instead the idea is that you have adjustments attached to layers. same effect, without the confusing inconsistency.

    ‘layer grouping’ is also something that GEGL will facilitate.

  3. Of course there is. I work in a linear colorspace with the help of the profiles from that page. Rolf and I have briefly discussed doing a color management talk, however that currently isn’t practical for me.

    Anyway, it’s not hard to find the equivalent of those options in GIMP.
    (note that currently, profile conversion doesn’t work for GREY images though, only RGB or INDEXED)

  4. This is a well balanced article and I appreciate the matter-of-fact approach. The last paragraph is something I should keep in mind. I think this in fact what scares the established industry really. Instead of accepting that new business models have to be developed, they prefer to give OS a beating every now and then.

  5. @ Norman and David gowers.
    I did an experiment with the linear workflow in GIMP but unfortunately the whole point of 16 bits became apparent to me. In GIMP I saw clipping of colours which was not present when using 16 bits in Cinepaint.

  6. As much as I would like a blow for blow tutorial I accept that that is not possible. However, would it be possible to have a few hints which would enable me to get started and then I will see what I can find out for myself? Part of my problem may be that some of the expressions are not familiar to an old codger like me.

  7. Almost a perfect summary. I use both GIMP and Photoshop on Mac, depending on how the mood takes me and the work I need to do. Adjustment layers (or non-destructive edits, however implemented) are the only really major missing in GIMP from my side – I rarely feel the need for 16 bit. Shame that Wacom tablet doesn’t work properly, but that’s a Mac thing rather than an issue with GIMP. UI isn’t quite as nice, but 2.4 has taken a huge step forwards from 2.2 (or I’ve just gotten used to it?!) and it’s not an issue for me any more – the early show about setting up the docks also helped me massively in this regard!

    I’d probably still recommend Photoshop for people who are prepared to pay the money, but always with the caveat that GIMP gives you 90% of the functionality for 0% of the cost …

  8. Norman:
    you need to first make sure that your version of GIMP supports color management (easy. bring up view->display filters and look at the default ‘color management’ filter.)
    there is an archive on the page you linked which includes some ICC profiles. you need the ‘CIE 1931 D65 Gamma 1.0 profile’ which is a linear profile for editing, and the ‘NativePC’ profile.
    There are settings in Preferences for ‘working profile’ and ‘display profile’. Set working profile to the CIE 1931, and display profile to NativePC.

    If you’re loading nonlinear images — eg. pretty much anything that’s not self-created or a RAW file from a camera, you will want to convert the colors from NativePC to CIE 1931. Look in the Image->Mode menu to do this; assign ‘NativePC’ then convert to ‘CIE 1931’.
    If the image already had a profile attached, GIMP will prompt you on loading whether you want to convert it to the working profile CIE 1931.

    “In GIMP I saw clipping of colours which was not present when using 16 bits in Cinepaint.”
    This is absolutely true. I choose to use linear profile because it fixes a variety of problems caused by foolish assumptions in image manipulation programs. See

    As far as I’m concerned, it’s worth it to get colors to behave in a consistent way… and MUCH better looking antialiasing, naturally (antialiasing in the display’s sRGB colorspace is typically wrong because it is done linearly even though the response is nonlinear)
    I would like 16bit (particularly for HDR), 8bit works okay for me for now.

  9. It’s an interesting theoretical discussion, but here’s the practical discussion:

    Let’s say I’m a guy who makes “$$$” per week, and I want to be something other than a 3-footed donkey when it comes to the graphics I build/use/create for my website. Which is better: Photoshop (any iteration which will cost me not lesst than $99, but more like much more), or GiMP (which costs me nothing and has 50 times the firepower of [blech] MSPaint)?

    Clealy, GiMP is better. Free is better than going into hock when the truth is that you’re probably a n00b, and Photoshop today has so much power that you need to go to art school to learn to use it at something better than a purely-basic level.

    Here’s another way I look at it: GiMP is really built for the person who used to use Paint or some other rudimentary tool, but suddenly realizes that they ought to be able (for example) to select some object out of the foreground to use in another project. Or the person who wants to do really, really basic color adjustments but doesn’t really know it yet. Because it’s free, and because it has really obvious visual cues in the tools, GiMP is for that person. GiMP is better than Photoshop for that person because he’s better off finding out he has no real craftiness with a free tool with intermediate power than dropping real money on a high-powered tool and discovering he’s all thumbs.

    But here’s the thing: if you are doing professional-grade work (print media, glossy quality), GiMP is -not- for you. It can’t do that kind of work effectively — not until (as mentioned in this blog post) it has a better layers architecture and a better batch processing methodology, and frankly it does a better job of rendering Illustrator files (it does good now, but not like Photoshop). And if you want to be a pro, you have to buy the pro tools. That has always and forever been true in the art world, and it hasn’t changed in the age of digital media.

    GiMP is for us really crazy amateurs who want to do intermediate digital editing in a screen-res scale. Photoshop is for people who can make money doing what they’re doing.

    IMHO. Your mileage may vary.

  10. Since I’ve moved from Windows to GNU/Linux more than 5 years ago, GIMP has replaced my need for Photoshop. I’m a programmer though, and image editing is just a hobby for me.
    I think that GIMP is more than enough for the 99% of computer users, it’s just that Photoshop’s name is very famous.

  11. First of all, I love GIMP, It’s a powerful tool and many professionals, not amateurs, can work with that, when Rolf says :”…For other professionals GIMP is better. I know of the photographer of Autozine (NL, FR, DE), who uses GIMP for processing his images, because he uses GIMP also for mangling the images by scripts in the back of the website. ” Well, that guy works on the web, NOT on paper, if you are working in the publishing world you need CMYK and you can’t leave that to the printers, when you are making a professional work you have to control all the process because of your printed image have to be exactly like you see in your screen. If you are a pro, when you send a TIFF image to the publisher and he likes, the printed image must to be exactly that the image you are sending, not something similar. If you have some problem with the printed image you can be sure the publisher won’t call you anymore. That is basic.

    I’m agree with Frank Turk when he says that if you are doing professional-grade work GiMP is not for you. If you work for the web GIMP is a powerful tool, but for the “printing world” is not YET better than Photoshop.

    Sorry for my english,


  12. I’m making the switch from Photoshop. Although I use Adobe stuff for my professional artwork I still heavily promote open source technology so have begun to practice what I preach. The transition’s difficult, but getting there…

  13. Antonio, if your transition is difficult and you familiar with PS then maybe you can consider to use GIMP with PS interface? then try GimPhoto.

    GimPhoto is GIMP modification with:
    – based on GIMP 2.4.
    – new menu layout like PS.
    – new shortcut like PS.
    – CMYK separation.
    – Layer Effects.
    – new brushset and gradientset.
    – packed many plugins to fill missing PS function on GIMP like Save for Web.
    – packed with many photographic filters like Noise Reduction, B/W and IR.

  14. GimPhoto seems to be a heavily patched version of GIMP for Windows. Does anyone of the Windows users care to give it a try and tell about it?

  15. I work doing high-end 3d computer graphics and use photoshop often for lots of different reasons. I have a Linux and a PC workstation. Recently I took a look at Gimp and tried to analyze what it would take to make it a viable tool for us. The bottom line is it’s close – very close.

    1. We need 16 bit support – there’s no way around this
    2. Non-Destructive editing
    3. While Gimp opens photoshop files well, it will not open photoshop files with greater than 30 channels. Sometimes the files we need to edit have far more than 30 channels.
    4. Like an older version of Nuke my wacom tablet doesn’t get along well with Gimp (especially when using two displays) – there are ways to brute-force accurate positioning but I just want it to work straight out of the box.

    Having said that, I’m very annoyed with Adobe for not porting software to Linux AND for overcharging their customers. We have already switched to open source business applications – I’d like to do the same with Gimp – Good luck fellas – sweet tool

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  18. The “Bonjour” process of PS, which is installed secretly when installing PS, is one great reason for not using PS. Additionally, GIMP is much smarter than PS and you can customize it as you want. I’ve tried the trial-version of PS, but it didn’t convince me.

  19. Maybe I reach this a bit later. Last paragraph is absolutely right. I never had that thought and It make me think for a while about how important is to see any subject from various perspectives to have a better understanding of it.

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