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GIMP 2.8 Review – Who needs Photoshop?

by Rob Zwetsloot

The premier open source image manipulation tool has been upgraded with some new and updated features. Was it worth the development time?

It has been a long time since GIMP 2.6 came out, the last version of the powerful image manipulation program, launching as a viable alternative to Adobe’s offering. With this pedigree, the latest version of GIMP has a lot to live up to, and the three years of development certainly seem to have helped its cause.

There have been a lot of major changes made to the way GIMP works, and the developers have been keen to promote the new single window mode especially. It’s been a feature requested by the community for a long time, being able to integrate the dockable toolbars into the main GIMP window. While the floating windows were created originally to emulate the look of Photoshop, they never really worked the same way, and there was plenty of times when we just lost the bars as they suddenly moved off screen during start up. The new, completely optional, mode smartly places the tool bars in the main window, allowing you to drag them around and modify completely as you see fit, with multiple columns and different tools. It works great once you get used to the little quirks.

Single Window Mode Tux Layers
The single window mode is a welcome addition

In general a lot of the tools and interface have been overhauled, with the ability to group layers a godsend for those doing some heavy layer work. The text tool now allows you to type directly onto the canvas, and the selection and boundary limited tools have greatly improved with some smarter anti-aliasing. It does feel like a genuine upgrade, with even the smallest gripes or concerns about the previous version properly addressed.

Then there’s all the cool little extras we never even though about, like the ability to do some basic maths in size value boxes, which is great if you’ve ever got out a calculator when you need to do some image resizing but want to keep the same ratio. You can also now rotate paint brushes, which is probably quite useful if you’re having to “paint” an image from the clipboard.

GIMP 2.8 Review - Who needs Photoshop?
Splitting up saving and exporting is another new addition

So GIMP 2.8 definitely shows that the extended development time has been put to good use. Everything seems like an improvement, with some of the previous limitations or time consuming tasks either fixed or better enough that they’re not a problem. An essential upgrade.



This new version of GIMP is vastly upgraded over its predecessor, with a mixture of community requested tool and UI overhauls complete with cool extra additions that all generally aid the workflow. If you’ve been on the fence in the past, the best free and open-source image editor just got a lot better.

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    • In my mag I show how to use Lab color in Gimp 2.8. It’s on russian, but may be useful.

    • bill

      The last hurdle seems to be better color depth, which is coming in the 3.0 release. Supposedly, this will be out by next summer and they promise it won’t be 3 years (like 2.8). I look forward to this. At least now GIMP can do more than half of what i need. With 3.0, that will push me up to nearly 90%. Yay!

    • Malix

      @bill High bit depth color is already here and will be available in the next release 2.10.

    • on4aa

      Who needs Photoshop? Perhaps those who want easy CYMK support…

    • k

      “You can also now rotate paint brushes, which is probably quite useful if you’re having to “paint” an image from the clipboard.” it’s not only useful, it’s an absolute must for anyone who uses non-round brushes. I used to use a plugin that did this in a not very intuitive way, I’m so glad it’s made part of the main UI now.

      on4aa, most people definitely do not need CMYK. What most people need is a colour-managed and calibrated monitor, so that what they see there is correct. If your monitor is calibrated, and you send the image to a print shop that’s also professional enough to do their printer calibration, then what you see is what you get. The only use for CMYK separation is when doing the actual printing, and even there you can use the separate+ plugin for GIMP.

    • k

      btw, I’m not saying there aren’t things Photoshop do that are lacking in GIMP, it’s just that CMYK is such a non-reason. Your monitor per definition can’t show CMYK (unless your monitor works by first changing the color of your wall and then shining light _onto_ it which is reflected at you, secondary/subtractive colours; most monitors just shine the light at you, primary/additive colours), so it’s only useful for print. And if you’re not printing yourself, CMYK separation makes no sense since it has to be the particular separation that matches the printer that you’re sending it to.

      Anyway: things still missing from GIMP 2.8 are high bit depth (already in the git master branch, coming in 2.10), masks for layer groups, more features that allow non-destructive editing workflows (e.g. something similar to adjustment layers / layer styles would be nice), and simpler scripting (currently you need to use some scripting language; recording actions from within the UI would be nice).

    • Shawn

      What’s a photoshop? ;)

      With GIMP, Inkscape, and MyPaint, why would anyone spend money on a drawing program? The best thing about them is their community support. When you have a problem, it’s often that it’s the developers that answer your questions. This does not happen with propriety software.

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    • CFWhitman

      High color depth is the major factor holding me back from more extensive use of GIMP. At this point I mostly make do with just raw processing software like Rawtherapee and Darktable. It would be nice to be able to also use GIMP without worrying about banding during color operations.

    • Sum Yung Gai

      The GIMP is already overkill for someone like me, who would probably not even use Adobe’s Photoshop in the first place. I believe the Photoshop users are much like other people in that they’re accustomed to Photoshop-specific issues and quirks. Fine, if that’s your thing. But enterprises who have considered other alternatives (e. g. Disney, who uses The GIMP and its derivatives) have seemed to do pretty well with it.


    • Aleve Sicofante

      The new Save/Export is not right.

      “Save”, “Save as…” and “Export” are well defined by its de facto use in every app under the sun, regardless of industry or OS. Redefining them here only makes the Gimp more difficult to use, not easier (which is, I understand, the goal).

      “Save” means “overwrite the original file”, period.

      “Save as…” means “save to a new file with a different name and/or format”.

      “Export” means “put the contents of the current document in a file of a nature this app isn’t intended to handle”. (At the same time “Import” means “bring data from an alien file and convert it into what this app is intended to handle”.) For instance, saving a spreadsheet to a text file or a word processing document to a non-editable file format (PDF or picture). In the Gimp, Export should be reserved for PDF, ASCII art or any other file type that isn’t a picture.

      I loathe this decision by the developers. I’ve read the explanation at the Libre Graphics World website and I have responded there too. There’s simply no excuse for asking users to relearn a well established meaning for basic UI idioms.

    • Finalzone

      @ Aleve Sicofante
      Dynamic keyboard shortcut features save the day. Highlight the item from the menu, press left+Alt then assign the command key like (Ctrl+S) to Export to… item.

    • Aleve Sicofante

      @Finalzone: I don’t use keyboard shortcuts that much. It’s still a design mistake and I hope they reverse it by the next version. I tried to file a bug about this but I’m not quite sure how to do it. I’ve subscribed to the dev mailing list and will expose my point of view there.

    • Dileep

      2.8 is great , rotatable brushes finally! and all sorts of brush dynamics

      The ‘export to [last exported filename]’ is a really nice function too.

    • Me

      @ Aleve Sicofante
      “Save” does not mean “Overwrite imported file”, “Save” means just “Save mywork”. The only possible format to save the work is XCF.

      There is technically no difference between JPEG and PDF, GIMP only knows how to import graphical formats into its internal structures (represented as XCF file when saved). GIMP does not know how to open and save JPEG files. If you do not know this, you do not know GIMP.

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    • rudy

      ok to be nice and keep it clean. worst 3 hours of my life i can never get back, download this and could not get it to work for what i wanted to use it for. all i wanted was to know how to turn a pic into a pencil sketch and even the tutorial didnt even help. its so complicated i think i should of just got photoshop. just so aggravated. and no support help or what?

    • brent

      What about brushes? For those looking to simulate traditional media or customizable brushes, what does the GIMP have to offer?

    • Subho

      I downloaded Gimpshop from , and now its easier for me to get accustomed to the GIMP UI. Gimpshop is meant for Phhotoshop users not accustomed to the GIMP UI. I say GIMP is now a nearly viable option.

      GIMP documentation is available under (click “6. Brushes” option)

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    • Twitter-Developer-xpact

      If the clients will send you psd file.
      How do you open the file psd?
      You can’t disregard clients request.

    • Ben

      There are two options for creating a pencil sketch effect: Use a downloadable Script-Fu plugin. Or option 2: Experiment with different filters with overlays. Do a bit of research on pencil sketches.