Gimp vs. Photoshop: Which Photo Editing Software is Best?

Pitting the standard software over the popular free program

A color swatch book

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Just because Adobe Photoshop is the standard for image editing doesn't mean it's the only option. If you want photo editing tools almost as powerful as Photoshop, simply can't afford Photoshop, or have outgrown the many online free photo editing tools, there are other competitors like GIMP, which is completely free. We looked at GIMP vs Photoshop to find out how they stack up.

What Is Photoshop?

What We Like
  • Advanced editing features, such as automated error removal.

  • There's a Photoshop for every platform, including tablets and phones.

  • Works with other Adobe products.

  • Simpler editors like Photoshop Express are free.

  • Cloud access from other PCs anywhere.

  • Photoshop Express can be tied directly to social media sites for quick uploads.

What We Don't Like
  • Most advanced features only available by subscription.

  • Advanced version has a steep learning curve.

  • The best version of Photoshop requires a high-end PC.

  • Free version not currently supported on Mac systems.

Photoshop is image editing and manipulation software sold by Adobe. It's part of a broader collection of software Adobe calls the “Creative Cloud,” designed to move your photos seamlessly between other programs Adobe sells, such as its publishing software InDesign or its video effects software After Effects.

There are also a suite of programs with the Photoshop name, like Photoshop Elements, Photoshop Lightroom, and Photoshop Express that have more limited functions than the main product and are designed for amateurs and those just starting out in photo editing and graphic design.

There are also mobile versions under the same names. However, this also scales in terms of price, from really basic software designed for social media sharing being free to the most advanced features only available by subscription.

What Is GIMP?

What We Like
  • GIMP is completely free, with no subscriptions, add-ons, or other fees.

  • No need to provide an email or sign up for a newsletter.

  • Backwards compatible back to Windows 7, MacOS 10.9, and most recent versions of Unix.

  • Older versions are also available for older systems.

  • Features additions and changes are encouraged by the GIMP community.

What We Don't Like
  • No mobile versions.

  • The interface isn't particularly user-friendly.

  • The documentation and tutorials available range widely in quality.

  • Updates are slow and lag behind Photoshop.

  • GIMP does not automatically save to common file types like JPG.

GIMP is short for GNU Image Management Program. GNU refers to the open-source software GIMP was originally designed for. What began as a college project has since become a vast free program overseen and designed entirely by volunteers. There are also different versions, like Glimpse, which address certain issues. In terms of overall feature set, GIMP is likely the closest you can get to Photoshop outside of Photoshop itself.

GIMP is, as software, a case of getting what you pay for. GIMP is free to download for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems, but it's also designed by a volunteer committee. As a result, GIMP is going to have its quirks, and it also may be a bit of a struggle to learn at first. But it also may offer plug-ins and other tools that may better suit your needs.

GIMP Vs. Photoshop Feature Comparison

Here's a quick breakdown of GIMP and Photoshop's major features:

Feature Photoshop GIMP
Cost

Free for low-feature versions; full program begins at $10 a month including cloud storage of projects.

Free

Platforms

Full version, Windows and MacOS. Other versions are supported on iOS and Android

Mac OS 10.9 and up, Windows 7 and up, and most Linux distributions

Built-in Cloud Access

Yes No
Plug-ins and associated software Ties into Adobe Creative Cloud, third-party plug-ins available. Free plug-ins available.

Should I Use GIMP or Photoshop?

When it comes to what software to use, start with your overall comfort level. If you just want to tweak the exposure of a few photos, or add a filter or two, then you're probably better off with Photoshop Express or Photoshop Elements, especially if you want to do it on the go, or have a bit more control over your social media photos than the online filters available on Instagram or Snapchat allow you.

If you're looking to develop photo editing or design skills, then the question gets a little murkier. At some point, you'll likely need to fully upgrade to Photoshop, but for students and hobbyists, that's probably too expensive, especially if they also need to upgrade their computers to keep Photoshop up and running. For them, GIMP is likely the best choice; it's free, it works on most computers, and it has all the core functionality you need to learn to become an advanced designer or editor. You may need to “translate” educational texts to GIMP, so factor that into your considerations.

For professionals and some working freelancers, though, the simple truth is that Photoshop is what's expected to be on your computer. If you're participating in projects that use photo editing as one part of it, Photoshop will likely be part of the production pipeline for development. If you're just starting out as a professional or freelancer, you may be able to use GIMP at first, but eventually you'll need to deliver projects in Photoshop.