GIMP 2.8: Freeware alternative to Photoshop

There are many excellent and free image editors available that are fully capable of performing most simple image editing tasks. My personal favorite simple image editor is the free IrfanView (irfanview.com) capable of the common imaging editing tasks such as cropping, removing red-eye, and performing color corrections and related enhancements. But you need to do much more than simple photo editing, such as producing creative enhancements and other artistic effects. The granddaddy of high end sophisticated image editing and enhancement software is Adobe’s popular Photoshop, which just introduced a new version, Photoshop CS6, which is now available (Amazon) for $699. The previous version, the two year old Photoshop CS5, is available “marked down” to about $550. Many of us would like much of the power of Photoshop without the expense, and that is where GIMP comes in.

In early May 2012, a stable version 2.8 of GIMP was released. According to Wikipedia, “GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free and open source software image retouching and editing tool and is freely available in versions tailored for most popular operating systems including Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS X, and Linux.”

According to the GIMP Web site, “(GIMP) is a freely distributed program for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It has many capabilities. It can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc. GIMP is expandable and extensible. It is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything. The advanced scripting interface allows everything from the simplest task to the most complex image manipulation procedures to be easily scripted.” For those interested in making animations, such as animated GIF files, GIMP has that ability when used with one of the many free plug-ins that can expand its capabilities. GIMP is available for free for most operating systems including GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, FreeBSD, Solaris, and AmigaOS 4, with documentation and desktops in 52 languages.Since GIMP is considered as an advanced photo and imaging program, it is not as intuitive and user friendly as the more basic programs such as IrfanView, but with a little practice and following some of the online tutorials (www.gimp.org/tutorials), it is not difficult to master many of the features of GIMP. Not being graphically gifted, I decided to try GIMP and downloaded the new GIMP 2.8 for Windows, which was a large 72.7 mb download. There are also several hundred GIMP plug-ins, all of which are free, that can add additional features and enhancements to GIMP; these plug-ins are available at registry.gimp.org/node.

After I downloaded the GIMP installer for Windows (requires XP SP3 or higher), I installed the program. There were no add-on toolbars, search engines or other “revenue enhancements” offered during the install process; it was a clean install, free of any forms of advertising. After the install, which took about a minute, I opened the program, which opened three windows; two of the windows are referred to as “Docks” and included a Toolbox, and a Brushes & Layers dock, with the third window being the program window. In total, there are about two dozen “docks” that provide hundreds of image editing and creation tools.

As an experiment for my first use of GIMP 2.8, I opened a recent JPG image of my youngest granddaughter. The first item that I noticed was that the window has a grid displaying the image size in pixels. Just to get some experience in manipulating images in GIMP, I selected the Colors choice on the menu, and changed the hue, saturation, color balance and other options. I then selected Colors - Auto - Color Enhance and in a few seconds the image was modified with richer colors. I selected Tools - Text and was able to select fonts and size, add text to the image. I tried several of the special effects under the Filters - Artistic menu, including Cartoon, and was able to modify the image. One function that I was able to master was Red Eye Removal, found under the Filters - Enhance - Red Eye Removal menu. I selected the location of the eyes, which had a moderate case of red-eye, and GIMP changed the colors of the pupil such that the red-eye disappeared from the image. I am well aware that I am artistically challenged, but I found that GIMP has dramatically greater functionality than I have artistic ability.

Since GIMP offers much more than just photo and image editing, I decided to attempt to create my own artistic creation; I clicked on File - Create - Patterns and selected a camouflage pattern. While the colors in the patterns could be individually selected, I tried my hand at some other creations and patterns, including “Land,” which created a topographical map-like pattern, and a variety of other interesting patterns. I tried File - New - Template and created CD labels, Web banners of various sizes, and images in standard screen sizes and paper sizes.

GIMP is a powerful and comprehensive image creation and editing utility, requiring that the user has creative abilities in order to use any but the most basic functions. I found the tutorials to be a tremendous help in learning how to use GIMP, as well as some of the other GIMP free tutorials and lessons available at www.makeuseof.com. A free “cheat sheet” with the basic GIMP commands and shortcuts can be downloaded there. For those who would like to try a free sophisticated image editor and creator that can also make Web banners and animated GIFs, GIMP would be an excellent choice.

Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.

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