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I have been using Photoshop since the beginning of time. Other than the infamous Paintshop Pro, it is the only image editor I have used.

I am about to embark on an adventure of trying out GIMP as a lot of people have been recommending it.

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Q: In What Areas (if Any) Does it Excel Over Photoshop?

It would be interesting to know from people who are seasoned with it if it excels over Photoshop in any areas or is it just a good as free alternative image editing application that is best suited to people on a budget?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Cai Aug 30 '18 at 11:04
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    A cautionary tale about Photoshop's automatic phone-home to the mothership. Could be expanded into an answer. In a nutshell, Photoshop can cut you off in the middle of a presentation if you happen not to have internet right then; Gimp cannot (and will not). – Wildcard Aug 31 '18 at 4:15
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To answer your literal question, there are a few areas where GIMP can be better than Photoshop. It's not particularly common (usually, at best you can expect them to do the job equally well), but it does happen. Off the top of my head (and keeping in mind that it's been many years since I last used Photoshop), here are a few examples:

  • As a historical example, GIMP had content-aware fill (via a free plugin) for several years before Adobe added an equivalent feature to Photoshop.

  • As far as I know, Photoshop still doesn't have anything quite equivalent to GIMP's Color to Alpha tool, even though it's very useful for things like replacing the background of an image while preserving soft edges. (Apparently there is an old plugin for it, but it's 32-bit only and no longer maintained.)

  • GIMP has built-in support for loading and saving multiresolution icons in the .ico format, e.g. for use as favicons on the web. For Photoshop, you need to find and install a plugin or use an external converter tool.

  • I haven't actually used the Adobe Camera Raw plugin in Photoshop, so I can't really compare it in detail with GIMP's UFRaw plugin. From what I've seen, Adobe's plugin certainly has a much smoother user interface and includes a bunch of editing options that UFRaw lacks, but on the other hand, UFRaw does have a pretty advanced technical back-end and supports lots of obscure camera formats. While Camera Raw is probably nicer to use for most people, I'd be surprised if one couldn't find anything that UFRaw does better.

I'm sure one could find quite a few more cases where GIMP does something better than Photoshop or has some feature Photoshop lacks, especially if plugins are included. (There are a lot of plugins for both GIMP and Photoshop, and not all of them have equivalents either way.) If you have both, you'll probably find that Photoshop offers more features and/or a better user interface for most common editing tasks. But every once in a while, there are some places where GIMP manages to shine.

And of course, there are two more advantages of GIMP worth noting:

  • Photoshop is proprietary software, and costs money to install (and the pricing is effectively graduated so that if you want more advanced features, you need to pay more). GIMP is free software (both "free as in beer" and "free as in speech"), meaning that you don't have to pay anything for it, can freely make as many copies as you want and even share them with others, and always get all the features.

  • Since anybody is free to download the source code to GIMP and compile it, GIMP runs on a lot of systems that Photoshop doesn't support. Sure, if you're using Windows or MacOS then you're probably fine, but even on x86-based Linux systems, you can only run Photoshop using an API emulation layer like WINE. And just try running Photoshop on a Raspberry Pi...

  • Wow! Amazing feedback. Truly helpful. Thank you so much :) – Invariant Change Aug 26 '18 at 14:38
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    "and the pricing is effectively graduated so that if you want more advanced features, you need to pay more" - that isn't true any more with the latest CC versions. There is now only one version of Photoshop, no matter which CC subscription plan you have. – Billy Kerr Aug 27 '18 at 10:17
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    Please note that UFRaw is not really considered the currently supported Camera Raw plug-in - Rawtherapee and Darktable are preferred in GIMP 2.10. – Michael Schumacher Aug 27 '18 at 13:27
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Before I start, just to let you know I'm a happy and frequent user of GIMP, but I also have an Adobe CC account, and use the latest version of Photoshop, which I also enjoy using. I'm not a fanboy of anything.

GIMP is not Photoshop, and it doesn't really try to compete with Photoshop. It's not commercially developed, and so it's not a commercial competitor, and likely never will be. Also, it's not only free (as in no money), but it's also Open Source, which is something Photoshop will never be. If Adobe abandons development of software, it dies forever, and Adobe has a bad habit of doing things like that.

As for the user interface, it's different from Photsohop's, but similar enough to make people think it should be the same (but it's not). Single Window mode is the most similar experience to Photoshop. As a user of both Photoshop and GIMP, I find neither user interface to be particularly user friendly. Neither is really designed for a raw "beginner". However, once you get used to GIMP, the problem that it's not exactly the same as Photoshop goes away. And by the the way, Adobe has a habit of suing companies who try to copy their user interface, so GIMP's is probably different for a very good reason.

And for that reason, I'm not going to list GIMP's user interface as either a Pro, or a Con.

Pros

  • GIMP has lots of free plugins. In fact they are probably all free since I've never yet found any that you have to pay for.
  • Updates/upgrades are free
  • The software works well on just about any old computer, it's smaller, and less resource hungry
  • It works on Linux natively (and also works on Mac and Windows)
  • You can legally install it on as many computers as you want

Cons

  • No CMYK mode, however there is a free plugin for CMYK output
  • No live layer effects, however there is a free layer effects plugin
  • Doesn't fully support the PSD format, although it will import basic PSDs, and can export to PSD. GIMP has its own native format - XCF.
  • Development is slower than commercial software such as Photoshop

Neither Con, nor Pro

  • GIMP has a steep learning curve, but then so too does Photoshop
  • Sometimes GIMP is quite bit slower than Photoshop, but that's probably a fair price to pay for a less resource hungry application anyway.
  • User interface is complex, but then so too is Photoshop's.
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    Non-destructive editing is a huge strength of photoshop in comparison to GIMP. It's planned for 3.2, who knows when it will come out. wiki.gimp.org/wiki/Roadmap – Eric Duminil Aug 26 '18 at 11:35
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    @EricDuminil - yes you are right, it is a strength of Photoshop. – Billy Kerr Aug 26 '18 at 11:43
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    Not 100% related, but one can get CMYK and layer effects by using Krita. – Andrea Lazzarotto Aug 26 '18 at 22:48
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    @AndreaLazzarotto - yes I use Krita too, however Krita is a bit different from GIMP and Photoshop - it's really a painting and drawing application first and foremost, and wasn't really intended as a photo editor. – Billy Kerr Aug 27 '18 at 9:41
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    Its hard to understate just how broad the range of plugins is for GIMP. The fact that people can use python to programattically do things to images means there's tons of crazy stuff out there: content-aware fill plugins years before photoshop's version (though less easy to use), special image filtering techniques or compositing based on cutting edge research papers, and more... – mbrig Aug 29 '18 at 20:45
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Since many have said most of what I was going to, there is one situation, somewhat specialized, that GIMP can handle that Photoshop could not.

I do astrophotograpy, and if I want to process the RAW images from the telescope's camera (not a SLR/DSLR attached), GIMP can process these files while Photoshop can not without a special plugin designed jointly by the ESO and NASA.

The FITS file format (Flexible Image Transport System) can be processed by GIMP, and quite well if you want to go to, say, the Hubble Space Telescope image archives. All images are stored in FIT or FITS format.

ESO/NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope group, by popular demand, created a plugin for Photoshop CS (and they claim it will work with some non-CS versions and other editors, but did not list them) called the "Photoshop FITS Liberator" toolbox.

I have not used this toolbox yet, so I cannot comment on how it compares with using GIMP. Since I need to be able to process FITS with my normal photography files, GIMP is part of my image workflow process.

  • Thanks, George. A great use case for GIMP - GIMP is better for finding UFOs on the moon. This could be a very good marketing strategy! :) #ViralMarketing – Invariant Change Aug 28 '18 at 11:02
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    I don't use it for finding UFO's, but if one does gets caught in front of my telescope, then cool 😉. – George McGinn Aug 28 '18 at 11:15
  • A bit unfair to count a function as lacking when ther is a generally available plugin for it. – Laurence Payne Aug 29 '18 at 19:14
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You can not compare GIMP and Photoshop because they do not represent the same category of tools.

The world is full of pixel manipulators that have

  • faster interaction speeds,
  • more filters,
  • better brushes,

and are

  • easier to use,
  • cheaper.

But this misrepresents Photoshop. Photoshop is mainly about its color management engine and its print related feature, CMYK and spot colors, Adobe’s Type engine and PDF/EPS support.

Now, are there areas where GIMP is better? Yes, GIMP has more and better filters than Photoshop. But again nearly any competent pixel manipulation software would have, because ultimately that is not what Photoshop is about.

But would I choose GIMP? No, not really. I would choose one of the other open-source or cheap editors out there, such as Krita, for example.

  • Thanks for your answer Joojaa. Some great points here. :) – Invariant Change Aug 26 '18 at 10:50
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    I like Krita, but since it does not support FITS format (just checked current version), it never made it into my imaging workflow. But it is an editor worth considering if you do not need to use it for what some call the lesser known file formats. – George McGinn Aug 28 '18 at 9:10
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    @GeorgeMcGinn use imagamagic for the rest ;) – joojaa Aug 28 '18 at 10:10
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    @joojaa you mean ImageMagick? I have the web version of it as I have a system called Editorial Stock Pro that managed my stock photography website including sales, and I needed ImageMagick to convert the images to the format requested by the user. I had not known they made a version to run on a PC/Mac, or from Filestack. Thanks. – George McGinn Aug 28 '18 at 11:11
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    @GeorgeMcGinn Yeah i do. – joojaa Aug 28 '18 at 13:20
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I've taken advantage of most of the things listed in other answers but there were a few which I didn't see highlighted...

Really flexible keybindings

Also called keyboard-shortcuts or 'accelerators' depending on where you're from, I found that – at least in CS3 – Adobe arbitrarily limited which key-bindings were allowed for certain functions.

The specific example I remember is that CS2/CS3 considered Full-Screen Mode to be a "Tool" which could only be bound to a letter-key like F, rather than something more standard like the F11 key, which was not allowed. This was one of the things that tipped me toward GIMP.

Subsequently, I've taken advantage of 6 hooks for "increase/decrease current foreground swatch hue/value/saturation" which are really useful for some tasks, especially painting.

No-fuss portable settings

A big host of settings in GIMP including tool defaults, brushes, and even scripts and extensions can simply be placed in one's ~/.gimp<version>/ directory (or %USERPROFILE%\.gimp<version>\ in Windows), and ported between different workstations using a USB-drive or using Git. This is nice if you use GIMP both at home and at the office, since once the file-links are set, settings are picked up automatically so there's no remembering to click on Import/Export Settings when sitting down or getting ready to leave.

Community and source-structure

This is a general advantage of open-source softwares; if you or your company want to develop or pay to develop/improve GIMP's functionality, this can be done and the resulting code is then (per GIMP's license) given back to the community, which might maintain it for everyone in perpetuum for free (if it's useful).

Looking forward, updates to GIMP tend to be focused on what users need, rather than what might allow a proprietary-software company to charge more, lock its users into their own software suites, or otherwise make money.

In many cases, it's also possible to find out exactly how and why something does (or doesn't) work straight from the developers themselves. This can help to inform decisions about which fixes or improvements might be worth the cost of contributing, if you're using GIMP as a part of your hobbies or business.

Other stuff

Many of the answers (and a few comments) cover a lot of the advantages that GIMP has I would also talk about, including:

  • Price
  • Lenient license
  • Hackable (ease of scripting, creating extensions, etc.)
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    Nice answer. So many contenders to accept as the answer - is there a multi accept options, hehe! Many thanks for this and your time - All very useful stuff for myself and anyone reading :) – Invariant Change Aug 28 '18 at 1:32
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    Just to avoid a possible "See, you are forced to publish any modifications you make to Free Software!" argument: you can both distribute a modified GPL-covered program fully internally in an organisation, and even pay someone external to develop these modifications, without having to publish them: gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#InternalDistribution and gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#DevelopChangesUnderNDA – Michael Schumacher Aug 29 '18 at 7:25
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    It just makes more sense from a Game Theory perspective to release your contributions, though, unless the patch gives you a competitive advantage and you care more about beating your competition than being more efficient overall. (Because, you know, it's not a zero-sum game.) – wizzwizz4 Aug 29 '18 at 10:55
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GIMP has plenty of free add-ons, some of them can be and also have been extremely useful. Even the basic package and the G'MIC-collection have so many that I still haven't tried them all.

I must say that fabulous available tricks in GIMP do not compensate lack of CMYK capablity, diverged user interface and missing advanced layer & object functionality.

  • Thanks, I will look out for this. I don't use CMYK as all my work is internet based, but it's definitely, something that could be an issue later on down the line if not added. – Invariant Change Aug 26 '18 at 8:11
  • @user287001 Photoshop-like UI. CMYK support isn't complete yet, though. – wizzwizz4 Aug 29 '18 at 11:01
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I have used both. Like you I had several years of Photoshop use before using GIMP. The thing is that we tend to forget how much of a learning curve there is with Photoshop. GIMP is very powerful but also has quite a learning curve. The way you do things on GIMP is different than the way you would do them on Photoshop.

The only thing which I think may actually be better in GIMP than Photoshop would be the way you can do masking in GIMP. I have heard that batch automations are better in GIMP but in my current job I am neither a photographer nor a designer, so most automation I do with image manipulation is done on the server with PIL.

Everything else is at either comparable or not quite as a good as Photoshop. Also there's the knowledge that that Adobe can't one day stop supporting your software - or shake you down for an upgrade - that's pretty nice.

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Amazing But Not a Photoshop Replacement - Yet

After playing around with it for a while, I have found it to be an amazing application for anyone on a who doesn't want to pay out a lot of money for priority software. However, for professional use, there are a few limitations which might prevent it from being a replacement for Photoshop at the moment, most noticeably in the UI, I found it uneasy to work with, but maybe after more use, this won't bother me so much? I think the basic UI is because GIMP has an amazing community of devs developing, but not so many UX/UI designers.

The Future is Bright

You have to take your hats off to this open source and free product for doing a fine job. Not now, but in the future, it could start to challenge the big players and priority software such as Photoshop. As bad as it looks, I am impressed.

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    "I could not find any area that excelled over Photoshop". Gimp's price is far better than Photoshop's one. – aloisdg Aug 26 '18 at 13:34
  • Haha! The most obvious one staring me right in the face. Thanks :) – Invariant Change Aug 26 '18 at 13:35
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    How did you manage to answer your own question in just one day? – nicoguaro Aug 28 '18 at 3:36
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    Good point. Even though I'm a season Photoshop user, I probably should of held off a bit longer before answering. I've used it a lot more since though and the above statements still holds true. However, there are features that I am enjoying a lot and as such, I should really update my answer soon with fairer feedback. – Invariant Change Aug 28 '18 at 7:51

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