This story was originally published on April 14, 2010, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.
The Linux world is filled with numerous capable packages for justabout every computing category. Graphics manipulation applications areno exception. In any list of able-bodied graphics candidates, GIMP 2.6 should be one of the top three contenders.
GIMP is Linux Speak for GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freepowerhouse that sets the standard for displaying and tweaking allthings photographic on a computer screen. It is a very close firstcousin to the not-so-open-source program known as Adobe’s Photoshop.
In the high-end category of graphic manipulation apps, GIMP is one ofa few high-caliber players. Programs in this high-performance classare not photo cataloging viewers the likes of Google’s Picasa. Theyare advanced photo manipulation and retouching tools.
One such app in this classification is xv, a shareware interactiveimage manipulation program for the X Window System. Another isPhotogenics, a graphicspackage for creating images from scratch or by modifying existingpictures. Also in this group is the free ImageMagick, a collection of tools for image conversion,annotation, composition, animation and montage creation in over 87major image formats.
When I left Microsoft Windows for the Linux platform, I desperatelyneeded an inexpensive replacement for Photoshop. One of the firstphoto editing apps I encountered was GIMP. It is available in mostLinux package management systems. Its tool set has all the bells andwhistles I used in the Adobe product.
GIMP became my de facto benchmark measurement for similarphotoshopping apps. The fact that GIMP runs on both of my Linuxworkhorse distros — Ubuntu and Puppy Linux — made using it a realbargain.
I especially like GIMP’s module-based, customizable interface. Forexample, I can change themes, colors, spacings and icon sizes. Thedockable modules let me stack them into tabs or float them freestylein their own open windows.
Perhaps one of GIMP’s best features is the extensive preferencespanel. There I can set my defaults for environment options likeresource consumption and image thumbnail size along with Tool Optionsand display parameters. These individualized settings come in veryhandy when working with photos on my netbook. I love the do-it-my-waychoices.
Thinking Isn’t Optional
GIMP comes with a learning curve. If you are unfamiliar with photomanipulation packages in general, any of the top-notch photo editingprograms will be intimidating at first. But GIMP gives even those witha working knowledge of graphics editing a bit of a challenge.
One reason for this is the sheer number of options available in thedrop-down menus. You can spend an hour or two playing around with thechoices found in the Image, Layer, Colors, Tools and Filter menusalone.
I recommend leaving the hints option engaged. When you hover thepointer over a menu item, a bubble opens telling you what that optiondoes. Of course, you can always click on a selection and then resortto the Undo option in the Edit menu to get the picture back to whereit was before you messed it up.
Using the modular design of GIMP takes some getting used to. When youopen the program, a vertical Toolbox panel opens on the left edge ofthe screen. Near the top center of the screen is a blank viewingwindow. Of course, since these are unattached elements, you can resizeand drag them anywhere you want on the monitor.
However, once you open an image, this viewing window fills nearly allof the remaining screen real estate. This photo window is fully movableand resizable. It remains detached from the toolbox panel. The toolboxcontains icons and check boxes for numerous editing commands. The mainviewing window contains all of the drop-down menus.
As mentioned earlier, under the Windows menu are options to pull outvarious menus so you can dock them elsewhere on the screen. This givesyou the ability to localize and customize particular tools you use allthe time in various photo editing sessions.
3 Dozen File Formats
GIMP handles more than three dozen file formats. These range from thecommon formats such as JPEG, GIF, PNG and TIFF to special-use formatssuch as the multi-resolution and multi-color-depth Windows icon files.GIMP’s plug-in architecture lets you extend format capabilities.
By loading a file of one format and saving it as another format, fileconversions are easily handled. The list of possibilities includesEncapsulated PostScript Image (.epa), AutoDesk FLIC anjimation (.flc),Photoshop Image (.psd) and Alias Pix Image (.pix, .matte).
Making a format conversation involves clicking on the File Type byExtension menu in the File saving panel. It doesn’t get any easierthan that. Of course, other photo viewing apps let you change fileformats. But having this option in GIMP just makes the app much moreuseful.
I also like how GIMP integrates file compression features to savespace. Any format can be saved with an archive extension such as ZIP,GZ or BZ2. GIMP transparently compresses the file without any extrasteps. This eliminates having to save the graphic file and then loadan archiving tool to compress it.
That’s pretty slick. It’s also pretty handy. Numerous times each dayI shuttle photo files onto thumb drives or attach them to emails.
Some Tricks and Tips
The real power of GIMP lies in its ability to enhance photos and othergraphic files. I am what you might call a very imprecise photographer.Graphics files are often a necessary evil to my journalism work.Maintaining the exhaustive family photo albums is a time consuminglabor of love as well.
To be blunt, I mostly point and shoot. What looks good in a tinydigital camera viewing window is often not nearly as good when viewed on abig screen. So file editing is as critical to me as is editing a textfile.
GIMP’s transformation toolsets go a long way in fixing photo flawssuch as perspective distortion caused by lens tilt. Ditto for fixinglens barrel distortion. Particularly handy is the channel mixer. Itis a great boon to touching up B/W photography.
Digital Retouching Tools
GIMP has tools for advanced photo retouching techniques. It is easy toremove unnecessary details with the clone tool. Touching up minordetails is a snap with the new healing tool added to this currentversion of GIMP.
Be sure to check out the freehand select tool with its support forpolygonal selections. It lets you mix free hand segments withpolygonal segments. You can also edit existing segments by applyingangle-constraints to segments and use the normal selection tooloperations to add and remove elements.
Brush dynamics is an awesome tool. You can map different brushparameters to pressure, velocity and random. The velocity and randomsettings are applied with a mouse. The Ink tool handlesvelocity-dependent painting much better than earlier versions of GIMP.
With Brush dynamics you can let GIMP handle your brush stroke. GIMPregulates brush pressure and velocity so they vary along the length ofthe stroke. Pressure starts with zero, increases to full pressure andthen returns to no pressure. Velocity starts from zero and goes tofull speed by the end of the stroke.
Whether you are a consumate photographer or are all thumbs on theshutter switch, GIMP can mend a fistful of picture-taking ills enable extensive artistic touches to any photograph. It isan indispensable graphic manipulation app.
It is far superior to other graphic editing tools. Use it to get thekinks out of your digital pictures. Then use another app to catalogand display your photo albums. The view will be so much better.