Archive for July 2009

Contributing to the War Effort: Gimp vs. Photoshop

July 6, 2009

It was recently suggested to a friend of mine that he try out Gimp on his newly upgraded Mac. This friend already owns a copy of Photoshop CS4 and thus has no compelling reason to switch. Good.

In many books on the subject, the claim is made that Harland & Wolff describes the Titanic as “unsinkable.” This claim is not true. They touted the double-hull construction, and then the media of the time took that ball and ran with it: it was the press that called the great ship “unsinkable.”

Likewise, the Gimp team has never suggested that The Gimp is a Photoshop replacement. Bloggers and the rest of the open source community did that for them.

They’re wrong, in any case.

I like the idea of open source software, but, taking Gimp as our example (and, by extension, Inkscape), its single biggest advantage is that it is free. That’s where the Yellow Brick Road ends.

So, as I said, Gimp is marketed – as much as anything open source is marketed – as a Photoshop replacement. Let’s accept that, then, midguided as it is, and look at a few key areas where such an assertion is patently wrong, and I’m going to do so with real reasons.

Today, July 6th in the year of our Lord two thousand and nine, if you do a Google search on “gimp vs. photoshop” you’ll get more than seven million results. Of those, let’s say half are legit and/or not repeats. Of those, let’s say that just over three-quarters are whining about how the interface is different. Well, no shit. Different software, different interface. Let’s get qualitative:

1. You can’t nest layers, so organizing your graphic is pretty tough. No, scratch that. In real practical terms, it’s impossible.

2. Adjustment layers. One of Photoshop’s most powerful features. Gimp doesn’t have them. Sure, you can add layers that adjust layers below them, but that’s every layer from the adjuster, down. To isolate the effect, you have to merge the adjuster and the target, at which point, your adjustments are done. Better get it right the first time…or duplicate your target and hide it so you can go back and try again, further complicating the document.

3. Stroked paths that curve, pixelate and do weird shit with the stroke width.  Gimp can make Web2.0 style buttons and frames, but only if you’re willing to put up with awkward looking corners.

4. Text rendering is sloppy, with similar symptoms as issue #3: curves pixelate. You can get around this somewhat by creating your text huge and scaling it down, but that’s a real pain in the ass. You can also drop into Inkscape* to do any work with curves, but then you have to deal with differences in scaling between the two applications, likewise a real pain in the ass.

These are HUGE failings that Gimp is going to have to overcome before it will ever seriously compete with PS.

…which it isn’t officially trying to do anyway.

* Inkscape is also a serious memory hog, and if you have anything visual going on – hulu.com in another window, for instance – the Inkscape interface just stops refreshing. Maybe that would go away with a better video card, though it irks me that I’d have to upgrade what’s already a higher-than-baseline PC.

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