May 08

Photoshop CS6 Too Pricey? Get GIMP!

Photoshop CS6 was released yesterday.  It includes several big improvements over CS5 including a new processing engine that speeds up the program significantly, additional video tools and some excellent additions to the content-aware toolset, among other changes.

But, what if Photoshop is just too darn expensive?  I bit the bullet years ago and purchased Photoshop 7, and have since upgraded to CS2 and then to CS5. I’m still debating whether to upgrade to CS6, but let’s face it…not everyone needs Photoshop.  This is especially true with the outstanding photographic organization and processing programs like Lightroom and Aperture, both of which can catalog your images and provide a very powerful means of doing most adjustment needed by photographers.  Many people only need Photoshop for the occasional cloning or layer work.  Is it worth the $700 price of admission for Photoshop just for that?  Only you can decide, but what might make the decision easier is knowing there is a very powerful photo editor that is 100% free, and it’s the open-source GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)

GIMP very recently released the long-awaited version 2.8, which includes an updated interface and several big upgrades to the toolset which brings the free program closer to Photoshop in functionality.  You won’t find Photoshop’s killer processing features like Content-Aware Fill or even the ability to do Actions, but all the big tools are there and work very well.  GIMP has full layer management, editable text, curves, levels, channel mixer, sharpening, a wide variety of filters, perspective correction and other transformation tools, cloning, healing, a history panel and much more.  Basically, it has the functionality of Photoshop from a few versions back.  It’s a very powerful editor, and best of all, it’s 100% free.

The downside to GIMP is the fact that you are missing some key features of Photoshop; mainly the big ‘wow’ features from the past few releases, as well as the ability to do quick actions.  There is also a bit more of a learning curve with GIMP, as some of the tools are in odd locations or don’t work the same as they do if you’re familiar with Photoshop (for instance, Unsharp Mask values are wildly different, with the ‘Amount’ slider being basically a multiple of 1/1000 that in Photoshop (0.10 = 100%).  It takes some time to work through these quirks, and GIMP 2.8 corrects a lot of the bad interface design that was found in GIMP 2.6.  It’s closer than ever to a true Photoshop replacement, and even for many serious photographers, GIMP 2.8 + Lightroom might be just what they need.

You can download GIMP here.

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad


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  1. Wolfgang Lonien


    try RawTherapee instead of Lightroom, and you’re 100% free. Its sharpening algorithm (called RL Deconvolution after its inventors) is the best I’ve ever seen, and also the curve manipulation tools are very nice. As is the demosaicing, which according to Imaging Resource is also the best there is.

    I run it in 64 bit on a Debian GNU/Linux machine, but there are versions for Windows (and I think even MacIntoshes) as well.


  2. Pekka

    A very good site concerning Gimp is “Meet the Gimp” http://meetthegimp.org
    You will find a lot of video tutorials there. Definitly worth a look!

  3. VG

    My new religion is Lightroom, and since really embracing its capabilities, I can’t imagine spending anymore $ on photobloat. But there are times when you truly want to alter the composition of a photo, and for that, alternatives like gimp or an older copy of photoshop are just fine. My point is that I think a lot of copies of photoshop are purchased just for adjustments better handled in Lightroom / dxo.

  4. Tomàs Rotger

    Good article!

    Ufraw + dcraw is an excellent plugin for working with RAW files in Linux (especially Ubuntu). And for a better job: Darktable is a program in the line of Lightroom, with good tools and excellent results. And finally, Photivo is a promising editor of RAW files, but under my point of view, still needs more development.


  5. preecher

    hey thanks for the info on rawtherapee…i just contacted adobe about upgrading from cs2 to cs5 and they said no and all the retailers still have it but says not available…excuse me but i say screw adobe…they’re products are way too expensive…perhaps hollywood and the few creatives in the 1 percent will keep them going…they’re not getting anything else from me…i’ve used inkscape which i really wish they would add a ‘save for web’ function other than that i’ve gotten better results out of it than ps cs2 and i also have gimp but haven’t really used it much as i’m use to ps but it’s time to learn gimp cuz i’ll say it again…bye bye adobe…

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