Nobody will argue that using the program is a walk in the park but, if you put in the effort, GIMP can offer you results that are (almost?) every bit as good at its pay-for cousin - except in specific use cases.
The number one free image editing app
If it’s not Photoshop, it’s got to be GIMP
Every so often we talk about classic pieces of software, but GIMP really takes the biscuit. This wonder-app has been around since 1996 and still manages to be the number one in its category when we’re talking about free ways to edit your pictures, photos, and images.
As an open-source app, you’re not only able to download and use it for free but you could also, if you felt inclined, modify it to your particular uses. For the less ambitious among us, simply using it will be enough - much like cousin Photoshop, this app has a steep learning curve. Although downloading and installing GIMP is very easy (it has a traditional Windows installer), taking your first steps will be more of a challenge.
If you’ve used Photoshop before, the general layout of the interface, which has a pretty traditional Windows vibe going on, will be familiar and not terribly cool. Beyond that, however, you’re going to have to go back to square one, because although both programs use similar terminology, there are significant differences in the way you will use them and the depth of editing you can perform.
So, what can GIMP offer you? Well, it is a raster editor and supports RAW images. It also deals with layers and layer masks, just like Photoshop, and can offer you a whole host of filters, color options, and tools like transform and text. GIMP will also have a good go at opening a vast number of file formats, and you can add functionality and assorted features via a range of plug-ins that changes all the time.
If you’re determined to get to grips with GIMP, there are plenty of tutorials, videos, and extra help that will set you on the road. The GIMP community is active and helpful, and the developers are great at solving problems and squishing bugs fast. Once you get more familiar with it, you can set about customizing the interface and options so you create a UI that is quick and efficient for the tasks you want to perform, rather than everything that’s on offer, all of the time.
GIMP takes effort to get to know and use but the people who love it REALLY love it. It seems to be surrounded by a really enthusiastic and helpful community. If you make GIMP your mission, you’ll undoubtedly get lots of support in the process and, since it’s free, what is there to lose?
Where can you run this program?
GIMP will run on Windows, Mac, and UNIX/GNU.
Is there a better alternative?
Clearly, the first alternative that comes to mind is Photoshop, which is arguably better. If we restrict ourselves to free software, however, the field narrows considerably. There are faster and sleeker tools that will do one or more of the features offered by GIMP but relatively few that do it all. If you’re looking for alternatives, check out Paint 3D (the evolution of Paint.net - no, really!) or PhotoScape. It's generally agreed, however, that few (if any) free pieces of software will give you everything you need to replicate Photoshop. Each app offers a sub-selection of features, and you may find that the features you need lie somewhere else.
GIMP is a great tool on many fronts and it’s a perfect example of the power of open-source. Even so, to call it a Photoshop alternative is a little disingenuous - awesome as it is, it is simply not as powerful a tool.
One question - who, exactly, is going to use GIMP? If you have serious or professional photo or image editing needs, you’re definitely going to opt for a paid alternative, because GIMP just doesn't offer a full selection of editing options.
If your photo/image editing needs are less intense, GIMP is likely to be too complex and have too steep a learning curve for most people to bother with it. That makes us think that the typical GIMP user is a rare beast and probably not the average user. Even so, if you think YOU are that rare beast, go ahead. GIMP is a great tool and should be given the respect it deserves.
Should you download it?
Like we said, if you’re serious about your image editing, but can’t stretch to a paid tool, a little bit of effort with GIMP will give you awesome results - download with confidence.