Consider GIMP as an Adobe Photoshop alternative for graphics editing

Adobe Photoshop and other expensive graphics editors may suit power users, but there are good reasons to test the GNU Image Manipulation Program.

There is a bitmapped, open source graphics application that might be the perfect tool for your company. Going by the strange name GIMP, it is a full-featured graphics editor with tons of features; scripting; and a fast, straightforward user interface.

GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, has functions similar to those of Adobe Photoshop. For day-to-day photo touchup, image resizing and format conversion, casual graphics users can use the GIMP editor right out of the box.

Power users currently using Photoshop, however, might investigate the many exotic filters and built-in scripting language. Naturally, before making a switch from an existing setup to a new application, it's always a good idea to go through a reasonable period of evaluation, testing and training to make sure users' needs are met.

Why use GIMP?

For one thing, the open source graphics editor is free. Cost is always a concern in the enterprise, and Photoshop goes for from about $70 to several hundred dollars for bundled suites. But expense isn't the only factor. Keep in mind that integrated graphics development environments like the Adobe suites are the graphics industry standard, particularly in Windows environments.

The GIMP editor, on the other hand, can produce amazing results with a moderate learning curve. Users can easily take advantage of a wealth of tips and techniques, freely available in the ever-expanding GIMP online community. There are countless how-to articles and tutorials available on the Web.

Another area where GIMP shines is its ability to scale up with an organization's user base. Executives and staffers need graphics for slides, engineers need pictures for their designs, tech writers need to tweak screenshots and photos for their documents, and marketers need to be able to make pretty ads. IT operations people will appreciate the fact that this Photoshop alternative can handle all these tasks and runs on all major operating systems.

On a tangential note, GIMP can even help busy employees and their children with homework, without their having to worry about licensing issues. Some parents may shell out the cash for commercial packages, but an open source graphics app can not only help save companies money, but also make for a happier work-life balance.

GIMP is available on Windows, Mac OS X and all flavors of Linux.

Build a trial

The first step in checking out GIMP is to go to Gimp.org and download the latest version for your operating system. Version 2.8.10 is the latest one for Windows and is about 86.2 MB in size.

Total newbies to GIMP will want to start using the open source graphics program right away to gain a feel for its user interface and menu layout. The evaluation team might enlist some of your graphics designers to get a good cross-section of the types of tasks required of the editor.

Next, be sure to build a list of requirements as you go through the trial period, making note of specific jobs that are easily accomplished with GIMP. Record which types of work are challenging and which ones simply cannot be accomplished using the package. Existing Photoshop users will certainly let you know what doesn't work, although I'd urge everyone to keep an open mind.

By all means, recruit enthusiastic users who enjoy exploring new applications and ways to streamline production. If you are considering switching from another package to GIMP, it definitely makes sense to do a few production jobs using both packages, then compare what works and what doesn't.

You'll pretty quickly see whether your particular organization can use GIMP's capabilities, or if you should just stick with your current graphics editor setup. Don't forget to ask if success with the package is a lack of having a required feature or a lack of understanding a feature.

In my next article, I'll discuss how the GIMP user community can help, and I'll look more closely at the Adobe Photoshop alternative's capabilities.

This was first published in February 2014

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