Get professional image editing for free with GIMPShop

You don't have to spend thousands of dollars to get professional image editing. Chad Perrin reviews the open source image edition application called GIMPShop.

This article is also available as a TechRepublic download.

Professional quality image editing tools are not quite as expensive as you may think. In the realm of image editing for Web design, it was long the case that the toughest competition for Adobe Photoshop came from Macromedia Fireworks, but since Adobe acquired Macromedia in 2006, that competition quietly went away.

Photoshop costs hundreds of dollars, and Adobe can afford to charge that much because Photoshop is regarded as the industry standard for image editing. It is not entirely without competition, however, and today its stiffest competition comes in the form of an open source image editor that doesn't cost one red cent: an application called The GIMP, which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program.

Photoshop is available only on Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows platforms. It is in part because of this that The GIMP has gotten to be so popular on other platforms, such as Linux- and BSD-based operating systems. However, that is not the only reason: Many who have used both Photoshop and The GIMP actually prefer The GIMP over Adobe Photoshop.

The popularity of The GIMP only increased once it was ported to proprietary operating systems as well. It is now available not only on open source OSes like Linux and BSD, but also on Apple MacOS X and Microsoft Windows. It is rapidly filling the niche of a professional quality image editor for people on a tight budget who cannot afford Adobe Photoshop.

Because The GIMP was not originally designed for a Microsoft Windows audience, its interface is not really optimized for an MS Windows GUI environment. Everything it does, it does reasonably well, and its interface is not poorly designed, but it may not be quite as "intuitive" within the environment of Windows because its interface was not designed to mesh with the GUI, like Photoshop's.

Anyone who has used Photoshop first, especially if he or she has used it professionally, is likely to prefer the Photoshop interface over that of The GIMP, both for this reason and because he or she is surely more comfortable with Photoshop after long familiarity with it.

Enter GIMPShop

One person who was more comfortable and familiar with Photoshop's interface was MacOS X user Scott Moschella, also known as "Jimmy the Geek" on the G4 television program Attack of the Show. He decided that The GIMP could benefit from an interface overhaul to make it match the expectations of Adobe Photoshop users, and he provided that overhaul. The resultant Photoshop clone, with The GIMP under the hood, is called GIMPShop.

GIMPShop is available for download from the TechRepublic Software Library.

Originally, GIMPShop was available only on MacOS X. But like most open source hackers, Moschella wrote and modified software for his own purposes, but made the results available to the rest of the world too. A growing community of GIMPShop users were quite happy with what he created, and a growing number of Windows and even Linux and BSD users envied the availability of a free, open source image editor that provided a Photoshop-like interface. Eventually, their desires were met as well.

GIMPShop is now freely available, and easy-to-use installers can be downloaded for a number of different platforms. Not only is GIMPShop available on MacOS X, but also on Windows, Linux- and BSD-based operating systems, and Solaris. It is available through the software archives of several operating systems, such as Debian GNU/Linux and FreeBSD, so that you need not even visit the GIMPShop Web site to install it.


The process of installing GIMPShop on Microsoft Windows is fairly straightforward. Start by downloading the Windows installer from the GIMPShop download page. Begin the installation by double-clicking the installer icon and make your way through the installer dialogs.

First, you'll encounter the Welcome screen for the installer (Figure A). Simply click the Next button to move on.

Figure A


Second, there's the License Agreement screen (Figure B). This simply displays the terms of the GNU General Public License, currently the most well known open source license. In short, as long as you make any relevant source code available, it allows you to use, modify, and distribute GIMPShop to your heart's content. To proceed with installation, you will need to click the I Agree button as you would for the End User License Agreement of a proprietary application.

Figure B

GNU License

The next three dialogs relate to choosing what components to install, where you want the application installed, and what Start Menu folder should be used for your GIMPShop startup icon. It is most likely that you will only need to accept the defaults. After clicking the Install button in the Choose Start Menu Folder dialog, the actual installation begins. When that is finished, a final dialog appears (Figure C) offering you the opportunity to view a Readme file. Deselect the check box if you do not care to read the Readme file, and click the Finish button.

Figure C

Read me

After installation, though it does not prompt you to restart your computer, you should do so. There are times when using GIMPShop immediately after installation without restarting the computer may lead to buggy behavior, though if that occurs, restarting the computer should solve the problem.

The first time you run the program, you will discover that initial setup is not yet complete. The first dialog welcomes you to User Installation, and the next prompts you to choose your Personal GIMP Folder. The default choice is likely to suffice for your needs, though you can change it if necessary. The next dialog shows an installation log and is followed by the GIMP Performance Tuning dialog (Figure D).

Figure D

Performance tuning

This dialog is probably the least obvious for new users. It offers a default Tile Cache Size value. You should make sure that the number is no greater than about half the RAM available to your operating system. If the tile cache size is set to half your available RAM or less, accepting the default should be appropriate. The default location for the swap folder should be fine. The swap folder is where GIMPShop will store image data to disk while the program is running if RAM starts getting too full, which is possible with low-RAM systems and very large image files or many edits.

When you click the Continue button in the GIMP Performance Tuning dialog, the final configuration options are set and the application's interface opens with a welcoming tip for new users (Figure E).

Figure E

Ready for image editing

At this point, you should be able to put the sort of image editing skills you've learned from working with Photoshop to good use, with a capable, powerful image editing tool that hasn't cost you a penny.

The other option

If you find that the Photoshop-like interface is not necessary, or for some other reason want to try out the original GIMP application without the Photoshop-like interface painted over it, the installation process is almost identical. Its Microsoft Windows installer is available at the GIMP for Windows page, on the main GIMP Web site.