The GNU Image Manipulation Program (or GIMP for short) is a popular open source image editing application that has been around for a while. While GIMP is considered a free Photoshop competitor, and can do so much, there are some areas where it is still lacking.
If you are torn between two programs, here is a list of pros and cons of GIMP vs. Photoshop. What can Photoshop do that GIMP cannot? Quite, as it turns out.
Note: This article is not a hit piece on GIMP! Many of us still use GIMP on a daily basis. It’s just an honest look where Photoshop’s massive budget and team of developers have given it an edge.
1. Photoshop has CMYK color mode
There are two major color modes that professional designers use: RGB and CMYK. The RGB comes from the red, green, and blue pixels used to display images on the screen.
CMYK is a darker color range that uses cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks to create images. Commercial printers use it to print high quality photos.
Any color can be described by both of these systems, but unfortunately GIMP does not provide CMYK modes.
If you are working on something that has to be displayed correctly in physical format, then you need to work with CMYK for best results. For designers, no CMYK can be a deal breaker. This is especially true if you plan to print your work. So in the battle between Photoshop vs. GIMP, Photoshop clearly comes out on top.
For more information on working with colors, we suggest how to create a custom gradient in Photoshop.
2. Easy, non-destructive editing
One of the most powerful Photoshop innovations in the last decade has been how easy it is to do non-destructive editing through selections and layers. Instead of changing the original file, you can use a wide array of tools to modify things in a reversible way.
This constant “undo” button is a very big reason why I personally enjoy the program.
But is GIMP good for this as well?
Although GIMP has improved a lot in recent years, non-destructive editing is an area where it still cannot compete with Photoshop. If you are making simple adjustments to your image, this is not a problem. If you are trying to do crazy Photoshop composites, however, it makes your job harder.
3. Better support and continuous development
Photoshop is created by a multi-billion dollar company. The GIMP is created by a team of dedicated volunteers.
While this has not stopped GIMP from making it a respectable program, it has a lot of knock-on effects that are unavoidable when faced with such a bottleneck.
So is GIMP as good as Photoshop when it comes to customer support?
Due to its large budget, Adobe has a whole team dedicated to helping you with every problem. As long as you have your Adobe ID in your hand, you can just talk or chat with the technical support staff.
With GIMP, you are stuck by yourself through open source forums. It’s fun to implement a cool new feature, but volunteered to answer technical support calls? No Hope.
By the same token, Adobe is able to sustain growth. GIMP is dependent on volunteers’ free time. Because of this, a GIMP developer may take longer to fix things, let alone implement new features.
These are just two examples of how big budget and team can help you.
4. Photoshop has more powerful tools
All this additional development, resources, time and money means that Photoshop has more powerful tools. Both Photoshop and GIMP offer basic functions such as levels, curves, and masks, but when it comes to actual pixel manipulation, Photoshop supersedes GIMP.
For example, Photoshop has four different treatment tools, each with an array control that lets you determine how they operate. GIMP is just one.
To remove odd spaces, this single tool is fine, but it is not enough for serious editing work. This same situation repeats with many other features that the two applications share.
GIMP tools are great, but they are a few years behind what Photoshop currently offers.
5. Photoshop is compatible with other apps
Photoshop is part of a larger ecosystem. There are programs such as Lightroom and Illustrator, where you can open Photoshop files to work on them with additional Creative Cloud apps.
For example, I use Bridge to keep my files organized. I also use Illustrator to draw drawings. Then I take that linear to Photoshop, where I finish coloring and digital editing.
In Adobe’s Creative Cloud, there is a program for every task, and each of these programs talks to each other. Unfortunately, GIMP is on its own.