I have been using GIMP for many years and do not want to go through the expense and learning curve issues of Creative Suite/Photoshop but occasionally I may need a CMYK file. Other than the Separate/Separate+ Plugins, are there any reasonable alternatives?

EDIT: I edited rather than commenting so this would remain visible - Thanks to everyone for their input so far. I haven't accepted an answer yet as I am reviewing the options presented, but I do plan to when appropriate--Ray

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    Out of curiosity: have you used the GIMP plug-ins and do you have any problems or critiques of the process and end result?
    – horatio
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 16:15
  • @horatio To be honest, I have not tried them yet. In the quick search I did, I only found versions for linux installs, not Windows. At this point, if I have to start learning about tarball's, it's going to push something important out of my brain. Trying Separate/Separate+ will have to be a weekend project Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 16:34
  • Most RIP software takes (and sometimes prefers) RGB files anyways.
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 17:26
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    The separate+ website has source and binaries for windows. ( cue.yellowmagic.info/softwares/separate-plus )
    – horatio
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 17:55
  • possible duplicate of Is it possible to use a fully open source workflow for print design?
    – Pekka
    Commented Apr 30, 2011 at 8:39

7 Answers 7


There's only one free, as in GNU GPL, alternative afaik:

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The short answer in no. Gimp, Inkscape, Imagemagik and others do not natively support CMYK. These programs have RGB to CMYK converters which is fine for images but that's it. When designing for print, starting in the CMYK colorspace is a must. Most printers will not accept RGB files unless it's kinkos and getting files converted to CMYK can cost $60-$100 an hour. You can probably find an old version of photoshop for cheap or free. If you are going to do a lot of print work then I'd recommend CS Design Standard or the cloud services offered by Adobe.


It's been a while since this question has been asked, but a 'cheap' alternative to buying Photoshop is subscribing to it.

If you buy a 1 year subscription, the current price is $24/month (or if you prefer, month to month is $36). As much as I love Gimp's philosophy, its CMYK support is still limited.


I doubt that Photoshop's CMYK features have changed much in the recent past, and you would probably be well served by a much older version - such as CS1 - Which can be very affordable on eBay. I don't know if a cheaper older version counts as an "alternative" to Photoshop, but decent graphics software that isn't Photoshop is hard to find.


A lot has changed since you asked the question more than a decade ago.

These free and open-source projects seem to support CMYK now:

Also, these proprietary projects that offer a better deal than Adobe's offerings seem to as well:


Well, if you are on a Mac, Pixelmator can do the job. I really like it.

But, if you really want the best software on the market, you should use Photoshop. Very huge community, a lot of tutorials, and everything else you can imagine.


Good luck :)


Unless you work in a big printing place then you should ALWAYS work in RGB and leave the CMYK nonsense to the experts in wasting dead-trees. Pro printers and their software will do a better job of CMYK than you will. Besides, do you really want to fill up your disks twice as fast with extra-dull CMYK-ness? And then when you have a colleague put those images online that they don't show up in some browsers because they end up as half-supported CMYK-jpeg's?

You have heard 'if you cannot do, then teach', well, there are a lot of teachers out there killing the minds of keen art students by instilling the overstated importance of CMYK into their brains. Nobody really cares about dead-tree CMYK no more except these 'teachers' and those they brainwashed.

If you do happen to have to work with a batch of CMYK images that you NEED to get into RGB, then Photoshop 'batch' is your best option, however, if Linux is your preferred tool of choice then apt-get install imagemagick and put your own command-line batch file together.

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    This answer seems to come on a bit strong, given that the question makes it clear it's for occasional CMYK output. I don't know if you're thinking only about photographs, but there are very good reasons for a CMYK workflow when working for print; it's not just a simple conversion the printers can do for you.
    – e100
    Commented May 9, 2011 at 19:09
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    Really not a useful answer (well, actually not an answer at all). Considering that (other than the relatively small number of web-only folks) almost every design shop produces for print as well as web and mobile devices. As e100 points out, the question was about an occasional need to produce a CMYK file. Commented May 11, 2011 at 4:42

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