The damned, freaky, beloved Gimp…

Gimp Splash screen

So, where does all of this start from? The user Raja (thanks for posting 😀 ) posted an interesting and stimulating comment on the Painting Programs for Linux article. I decided to answer this post and argument it. The post was:

Obviously you are a regular photoshop user and find the gimp’s layout difficult to get used to. But that doesnt make it difficult to manage for everyone. I have been using Gimp regularly and cant find my way around with photoshop. For those preferring the photoshop layout, there is gimpshop which you may want to try. I just feel this post is unfair about gimp with nothing concrete to back your opinion that gimp is less powerful than photoshop (apart from CMYK support, but seriously, how many of us need it in daily life?)

My answer was a really loooong post and now it became this article. It is a better choice to write an entire article about it, since it is a very hot argument for me! Hot, meaning that I always am in need of good graphic tools and that I always follow the Free Software panorama in itself! 😀

Sorry Raja (seen Arjuna? ;) ) but honestly I think that it is a fact that Gimp is not a perfect toy to play with. Gimp has an horrible layout first of all. C’mon, it’s really hard to use it. Why can’t it be all resumed into a single window? And why are all the buttons so large, even with the smaller theme enabled… If I want one of the Gimp’s windows to show me all the info it has, then I have to enlarge it a lot. Too much to handle it. Each window becomes extremely large on my MacBook 13″ (with geubuntu)… and almost unusable.

Also, why do I have to handle a thousand menus for each window? Isn’t a single damned user menu enough?? I can’t get why Gimp has to make it so difficult. I tried and use GimpShop for sometime but, hey, it just changes the menù entries. None of the layout problems are fixed, so I think it is useless!! What is it needed for? Boh… never got it.

Of course I WAS a regular photoshop user before entering the Free Software world, who wasn’t? ;P
In reality, I started with Paint Shop Pro. I’m always having hard times with Gimp’s layout, it is 99% of the Gimp’s lacks in my opinion. If the layout could become much more usable, than Gimp would have solved 99% of its problems, really. I’ve been using only Gimp and Krita and Pixel for 3 years now and still I cannot get used to Gimp. As I said, no possible learning curve IMHO. Sure, if you start with The Gimp, maybe… but even that way I believe you would find yourself much more confortable with a layout a-la-photoshop like krita’s or Pixel’s…

Luckily there is some WIP in the Gimp community to restyle its unusable and difficult interface. For example, there’s this entire page called Gimp UI Redisign, thanks God. And then there’s the brainstorming and honestly I think that this particular solution is a winner and I’d pay billions of dollar to see it created soon, dammit! It would be a real revolution but… these pages are there from a long time and still no real effort to translate anything in code has been done :(

Old Macromedia design GIMP

What can I say? Just fantastic. Wonder if and when we’ll see a real Gimp from this mockup…

As for the functionalities, what can I say? PS comes packed with a lot of great filters for example, Layout options and properties that Gimp hasn’t. Some days ago I had to create a glowing aura around a picture. With PS? Layout –> something like layout effects (don’t remember anymore) and then add glow: you can completely set it as you like and see the result previewed on the REAL picture.

In Gimp? No option. If you want the backgroud to stay transparent, you can’t use, say, alien glow: it makes your background Black or of another filled color. Too bad, I can’t use this. To do it I have to :

1) select the picture,
2) expand the selection of some pixels
3) create a new layer
4) fill the selection with the color I like for the glowing effect
5) select none
6) bring the layer in background
7) apply to this layer a gaussian blure.

Are you joking? Seven versus one step? And for which result? For something that is going right on the junk if I decide to change a little the form of the image to have the glow effect, because the glow itself is not an effect, it is an artifact I created. So if I modify the form of the glowing image, than I have to delete the glowing layer and repeat all 7 passages. Crazy.

Also, do not forget that all of these filters do not show a real preview on the picture. If you are lucky, those filters has a tiny ugly window with a zoomed preview… or a little preview instead. Impossible to understand. So I have to apply each time the filter to see its real effect in the entire composition and decide if I keep it or throw it. WHY!? Argh! Couldn’t a filter show the preview on the original window of the image too (or only into the real window of the image)?


Freaking previes
Damnation, I cannot see the entire preview of my picture!!! Why am I supposed to see only little zoomed parts of it?!

These are only two problems. Wanna know others? Got an whole list, man. For example? Creating a new layer from a pasted picture. Why the heck has layers got to have a size on their own?! Dammit, I guess that’s only for the final dimensions in MB of the file… very bad. If I paste a new picture in my picture, then the pasted selection is fluctuating of course. If I say: “new layer” from the available options, it becomes a new layer with a different size compared to that of the original image… So I have to create a new big layer before I past the picture and THEN I can paste it and flat it down… crazy.

When I free resize a picture I expect it to be real time resized under the movements of my mouse. Despite the fact that the whole physics or resizing the picture are IMHO wrong and hard to use, I don’t know why and what was exactly in the mind of the developers when they decided that the original picture (the not resized one) had to remain on the screen while you drag and resize the modified version of it. I know, it is complicated to understand for a reader, imagine for a writer, me, since I’m also Italian. Hope you got it man. The free resize option in these conditions is almost unusable. How am I supposed to see how the resized picture looks like in the contest of the whole composition if the not resized picture keeps staying there during the entire resizing process? It is just impossible. Another trick here: while you start resizing the picture, you can hide its layer. this way the unmodified version disappears and you can see only the version you are modifying. But, hey, you have to think about it, you have to create a trick! It is not automatic!

Let’s see a real example then. In the following picture I copy-pasted the violet Geubuntu logo into the window with the golden one. The reason is that I want to quickly resize the violet logo to the exact dimensions of the golden one without having to eliminate the shadow in the violet logo (I cannot determine the exact dimensions of the violet logo respect to the golden one since the latter has no shadow at all, ok?). So I copy the violet logo and past it into the window of the golden one. Ok, it is huge compared to the golden one, gotta resize it. I then choose the resize button and start pointing the mouse on the violet just-passed logo but hey! A number of wrong and nasty things happens all at once. A new window opens, an useless window (why would I need the exact pixel dimension of the resized picture if I’m supposed to be free trasforming it and therefore I have no idea of the supposed size of the final result?!), then the ugly revelation: I cannot grab the picture by pressing the mouse over it and trying to center it! That’s because the image is too big and you can only grab it if you find a strange hot spot in the center of the image, but the center is unreachable right now, out of the screen… very bad user interface concept in this tool, the worst I ever saw, really. So I’m stuck because what’s worst is that wherever to touch the picture you resize it! You can’t move it, just resize it with this tool. Crazy. In PS you can move the picture if you click INTO IT, and resize it if you click on the hot-spots in the borders of the picture, in Gimp, using this tool, there are hot spots indeed but they’re useless, meaningless, since wherever you touch the picture it still gets resized and never moved! A person who never used The Gip cannot get it. It is just so crazy that it isn’t even imaginable!!! Why did they create such a freaking approach? Pure mistery to me.

Resize crazy tool
The resizing tool just works crazy. Unusable. A huge learning curve for what? No gain, only losses… too bad :(

So I cannot resize the picture since I can’t move it. What can I do? Of course, I use the move tool to move the picture and center it… at least in this way I can see the center image hot-spot when I will resize it again, so I’ll be able to free transform the picture still having the ability to move it while I transform it… but why had I got to do such workarounds, I guess? Just a bad design is the answer. Now we find the other horrible problem of this pseudo PS free trasnform-clone tool. I start to resize the picture but hey! I see the unresized picture too! So how am I supposed to see the golden logo and transform the violet one according to its dimension? I can’t. Wow, what an useless tool! Not to mention the fact that to resize the picture to the dimensions I like I have to do double the effort I’d do with another program like PS, since each time I risk to loose out of the window the center hot-spot and loosing it would mean not to be able anymore to move the free-stransformed picture… a real disaster, then.

problems resizing?

Ehm… How can I hide that damned big unresized picture!?!?! Please also take note of the meaningless animated selections boundaries around the original picture… the most chaotic interface ever seen in my life.

How can I solve it? Luckily I can solve it, often with Gimp you just CANNOT solve some very easy problems or you can but only after something like 7 steps or an entire tutorial while with PS you would just click a single button :( Very bad indeed. To solve it, we where saying, I have to hide the layer with the pastes image! Strangely and lucky me the being-free-transformed picture is not hided! A sort of bug? This time at least it is a very useful bug 😉


And here’s the providential maybe-bug

Oh… Lucky me I found a workaround for this :_)

Also, PS has some cool osnap functions completely absent in Gimp and company. Only PS has those functions and I really miss them… I mean that when you are dragging a picture near another, for example, the mouse helps you in placing the picture exactly where you’d like it to be. So you cannot make mistakes, for example, creating a grid of pictures. Well, with Gimp this is almost impossible. I didn’t find any workaround. It is just a major missing feature.

Then I could tell you about how crazy it is that with Gimp I have to use a different tool even to grab and move my picture, I could list you an infinite number of missing features but the answer is only one:

Can you do with Gimp all the things you can do with PS? Absolutely, NOT in the same time. With a lot of workarounds? Maybe but you loose a LOT of time. Really a LOT of time, man. Then another evaluation is needed! Since PS costs something like 1500$ and Gimp is Free Software, can you suffer the pain of hell and keep using Gimp instead of PS? That is, as a whole, what’s the best choice? Of course, IMHO, Gimp. C’mon, it’s a crazy little toy and it misses an enormous number of features for absolutely no reason at all (what would it cost to the devel team to create an usable user interface dammit?) but it is free.

Since we are not pirates and personally I don’t want to be it at all, then Gimp is the FORCED choice for us. But should PS become free, for absurd, then I wouldn’t even consider Gimp for a second. that’s sure.

hope I gave you interesting and fair argumentations D


  1. I thought I might leave my thoughts, as I have read this entire blog, and this subject does touch me too.

    I agree with you in every way, If a program wants to be taken seriously, it has to be a “One-Windowed” interface, with the exception of (in Gimps case) plug-ins and preferences windows.

    One such example is Gambas, a BASIC-like IDE.
    Version 1 had an absolutely grotesque three windowed interface, almost in every way like what the Gimp is now.
    Gambas2 on the other hand, is immensely better. They’ve put it all on a window and sharpened the interface still by having all you’ll ever need on the form view within 4 boxes (or “Dialogues as a Gimp Video tutorial told me) and the rest in neatly laid out tabs.

    I have since been able to learn the Gambas language effectively and it has increased my productivity in that area of programming.

    Interface-wise, I’d like the gimp to stay, but just have it so that the two side windows are fixed (ie: can never be moved, closed or minimised so help me god :D)
    Here is one I like… It almost had me convinced that gimp had brought out a new layout, until I saw the File menu on the left tab.

    other than that, I feel that the best way to go would be something in the realm of Paint.NET

    Though this is a “back-to-basics” paint program (Unlike what Gimp is trying to be), it’s true potential is in the third party effects people make for it. This is a growing vast collection, though it is not Photoshop, still has a highly professional output with an ease-of-mind use.
    As you can also see. it is a five windowed layout, but what is has better than Gimp, is that by default, the windows always stay above the image. (Which is the absolute least anyone could ever ask from the Gimp. As always, instead, we’re stuck with this “manual labor” routine of clicking the top left and clicking “always on top”).
    As brilliant as what I can say it is, unfortunately, this is a .NET 2.0 program and doesn’t work in wine. The source is in C# and covers nearly over 150,000 lines of it. So any work to port it to Mono is debunked and tossed.

    So Gimp mournfully wins again…

  2. oops… Sorry, not sure if the images I put up got through. (if they did delete this post).

    This the image of gimp I meantioned.

    And this is Paint.NET

    again, sorry. (I’m too used to the “img src=” script, that never seems to work anymore :p)


  3. Hi Lain, honestly I think that Krita is one good alternative growing fast in the world of OpenSource software. Krita has already got an incredible number of tools and capabilities Gimp has not, but it is very slow, too much for me, and then it misses some features gimp has that I cannot live without. Well, but it’s getting better and better, specially now that there is the port process to KDE4. Maybe it will become my first choice once it is released. And let’s not forget that it is implementing support for real painting simulation! No other tool in the OpenSource world is capable of real painting simulation, such as, say, Corel Painter… but…. it has some major faults for me.

    The first one is that it has plugins of its own. That’s bad because the total number of existing plugins fro Krita can be counted on the fingers of two hands. It is not compatible with Gimp Plugins and it is neither with Photoshop plugins. That’s a HUGE problem. I believe all the OpenSource Painting Apllications out there should have to be able to use the same plugins. Excange them with each other, you know.

    Then Krita, as I mentioned, is slow, but that’s because the code was not optimized in the version in Koffice 1.0, so maybe they got the chance to create a better software now with Koffice 2.0 for KDE4.

    And the last problem is just that Krita misses some essentials tools compared to PS or Gimp but…. hey, the big problem for me is the compatibility. The plugins problem.

    By the way, did you ever check Pixel Image Editor? If it was an opensource software I think it would be my first choice… too bad it is closed and proprietary… really a bad choice :(

  4. Ah, and the links to the pictures are OK for me, do you want me to delete them?

  5. I’m sorry to say that but in my opinion you are complaining just for the sake of complaining. The fact that some things works differently than you are used to does not make it useless. For example the exact dimensions windows in the resize tool is very useful.

    As I am used to gimp, I had a chance to work in Photoshop CS4 few weeks ago. And know what? I consider its interface useless. For example you cannot easily zoom your image in any tool mode (in Gimp its CTRL + mouse wheel), you cannot easily drag the visible area — the separate tool for that is a nonsense. In Gimp you simply press the middle button and drag the image. You can make it when working with the Free resize tool too, so it can make all the necessary adjustments really quick (zoom out, resize and and position roughly, zoom in and make fine adjustments)…

    Another example? Try rectangular or elliptical selection in Gimp. The possibility of refining it is just indispensable (I could not use the rectangular selection in PS because of the lack of this feature).

    And last, but not least, the multi-windowed interface has its uses. It is very convenient if you have multi-display setup. So I can keep an non-obscured image at one monitor and the tool at the other. However, I agree that a single-window setup should be possible too.

    • I’m not complaining for the sake of doing it and I think that you attitude is kine to damaging the opensource world. As I said many times, trying to say that everything is ok with very poor programs like Gimp just makes developers think they are done and their tool is ok as it is. It is not of course. Don’t you want a better Gimp with more features? Probably not, from what I read u probably don’t need any advanced feature when manipulating pictures. But I’m not sure about it, maybe it’s just an impression.

      In PS you easily zoom by keeping alt pressed and using the mouse wheel. You easily drag the view area via trackpad (in mac it is fantastic ’cause you have a multitouch trackpad and PS is fully integrated with it, even pinch zoom etc.) but I agree if you don’t have it it’s kinda nonsense to use another tool for this sole purpose. The selection tool… oh my man. Just try selection –> transform selection, c’mon. The multiwindowed interface. Well, sure, as you say it may be useful and it would be great to have both, I agree on that.

      What I mean by what I added right above here? That you don’t know PS at all and are complaining for the sake of defending Gimp at all costs, which is an error by any means. Now tell me where do I find in gimp some of the features I’ll tell you now.

      Where do I apply layer blending effects automatically, like dinamic shadows, lights, gradient, pattern and color overlay, strokes, belevels, any other damned fantastic dynamic effect? Because I strictly need those features, like any other professional designer. U know, when u aply a shadow in gimp, it’s just a picture, a pixmap. not a dinamic effect, you cannot later adjust it, temporairly disable it, etc. This is probably the most important feature of PS.

      Where do I find advanced painting abilities?

      When I past a new layer from clipboard, how do I explain gimp I want it to be the same size as the picture as it is obvious it should be? Because gimp weirdly has a different size for every damned layer.

      All the others problems I was talking about in the article… and, really, when I manipulate huge pictures (900 MB architectural tables), Gimp is almost unisable compared to PS on the same machine, u aware of this?

      Well, tell me. What I mean is simply that Gimp is PERFECT for common image manipulation, typical users and small works. But it’s absolutely absurd to consider it for professional works. Really :(
      Even if OF COURSE I’d love not having to spend every time a new PS license man. I’m not stupid. It’s just a matter of facts.

  6. Great post..

    I’m both a photoshop and a gimp user.. and I agree perfectly with you! The major difference is the “layer effects”-thing.. but there are bad things in photoshop too (the alt key usage for example – what other software use alt+scroll to zoom?)

    I’m currently using Photoshop CS4 with WINE and it’s definitely better than gimp.. both in functionality and in usability

    Now I’m looking forward for krita (koffice tool) and it looks promising.. maybe with some time.. :)

  7. Excellent article and explicitly describes the basic problems with why Gimp doesnt even compete with professional software and never will until they meet a simple feature request. Basic law in software development is you dont redesign the hammer when it already works, just because you think you know everything. We are going on almost 4 years now of millions of complaints with why Gimp blows the big one, but yet has the potentional to knockout professional software. It makes one wonder if they were bribed to never compete or something because as it stands, you have to take the 3k hit to really have a solid and fast production workflow and buy Adobe. Gimp workflow is terrible and simply multiply by 15 your time invested in editing a simple texture or image because its interface is terrible. People need to stop being fanboys and just make stuff work.

    • Totally agree with you pal. I’m already almost certain, sadly, that most developers of free software do it just to show off their skills and pretend that doing professional coding is just so easy that it’s crazy how much they ask you to buy a copy of Adobe PS. This isn’t true at all and what they achieved with gimp proves it: it’s really hard to code a nice professional productivity software. And this goes for gimp, openoffice, ubuntu, pretty much anything I’m scared…

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