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Handy Tweaks To Make GIMP Replace Photoshop


GIMP1 is the favorite graphics editing program of many designers and graphic artists. It is free and compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux (the two big reasons for its popularity). It has a wide array of features, as well as plug-ins, filters and brushes. Documentation is primarily available in online communities, as well as through extensive add-ons.

GIMP screenshot

GIMP was never designed to replace Photoshop, yet with every release, it comes a little closer to being able to do so. It can be used to author graphics, create logos and edit photos, as well as make short animations (using GAP). Despite these features, the open-source app is a foreign world for many users switching from Photoshop. Familiar tools are missing, menus are laid out differently and tasks must be accomplished in unknown ways.

In this article, we list eight tweaks to make GIMP a more serious Photoshop replacement option. Version 2.6 was used to test the following tweaks, but past versions of the app should work as well.

Installing Plug-Ins, Brushes and Filters Link

Before continuing, you need to know how to install add-ons. It’s very simple to do, and takes little time. You’ll find three different folders in the application’s program folder. The location of the application folder depends on the operating system you use:

  • Windows: the folder is located in C:/Programs/GIMP.
  • Mac: right-click and choose the application folder.
  • Linux: press Ctrl+H in the Home folder to reveal the hidden .gimp folder.

GIMP screenshot

To install a brush or plug-in, copy and paste it into the appropriate folder and restart GIMP.

1. Add the PSPI Plug-In Link

The PSPI plug-in allows GIMP to use Photoshop plug-ins. This increases the number of filters available to GIMP and allows Photoshop users to not have to sacrifice their library. If an equivalent GIMP plug-in can’t be found, assembling a kit of Photoshop filters is an potential option.

GIMP screenshot

To start, download the PSPI plug-in from Gimp.org2

In the program folder, copy and paste the entire contents of the PSPI plug-in download into the Plug-ins folder. If you’re running Linux, make sure you copy both the PSPI plug-in and the PSPI.exe, or it will not work.

Restart GIMP and open the Filters menu. At the bottom, you will see a new entry: “Photopshop Filters Plug-In Settings.” Select that to open the Photoshop dialog box, and point it to the folder where your Photoshop plug-ins are located. Add all future Photoshop plug-ins to that folder.

2. Install Layer Styles Link

Layer Styles are a beloved feature of many Photoshop users, and living without them can be a difficult adjustment. Layer Styles are called Layer Effects in GIMP and include: Drop Shadow, Inner Glow, Outer Glow, Gradient Overlay, Stroke, Bevel and Emboss, etc. These can be used to quickly apply effects to your layer(s) without having to jump through hoops.

GIMP screenshot

Download the Layer Effects GIMP plug-in from Gimp.org3. There are two versions: Script-Fu and Python. The Python version allows for live previews of the effects; the Script-Fu version does not. No matter which version you choose, save the plug-in in GIMP’s Plug-in folder and restart the program.

If you download the Python version, Layer Effects will be added under Image > Layer > Layer Effects. The Script-Fu version will be listed under Script-Fu > Layer Effects.

3. Add CMYK Color Separation Link

CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, key (black). In the context of photo editors and graphics programs, it is a subtractive color model that is different from the commonly used, additive RGB color model. In simplified terms, RGB colors work by becoming lighter with the addition of white, while CMYK colors subtract the white by overlaying colors, eventually resulting in black; that black isn’t as deep as it should be for printing, so black is added to the CMYK mix.

Many users complain about GIMP’s lack of CMYK support. For many designers and photographers, images have to be converted to CMYK colors for high-quality prints. If you require CMYK separation, download the plug-in Separate+ from Yellowmagic4. Save the ZIP file, extract the plug-in to the GIMP plug-in folder, then restart the program.

GIMP screenshot

The new feature will be located in the Image menu.

4. Install Liquid Rescale Link

Liquid Rescale is a favorite of many users and created quite a buzz when first introduced into Photoshop. Liquid Rescale makes it possible to alter an image’s dimensions from, for example, 16:9 to 4:3 without distortion by eliminating unnecessary pixels in certain areas. This process, known most commonly as seam carving, allows you to resize a narrow photo to widescreen format without stretching the content into a morphed, twisted mess.

To add the Liquid Rescale feature to GIMP, download the plug-in from Wikidot5 and copy it into the GIMP Plug-In folder. Restart the program.

GIMP screenshot

5. Add Essential Brushes Link

GIMP comes with far too few brushes; and the ones that are there are small, basic and not all useful. If you’re planning to author graphics, you’ll need a new library of brushes to accomplish anything. Installing brushes in GIMP is as simple as copying the brush file into the Brush folder and restarting GIMP.

Brushes can be downloaded from numerous locations, depending on what you’re looking for. That said, an excellent repository of free brushes of all types — including grunge, fire, splatter, stone and more — is at Blendfu6.

GIMP screenshot

If you add the largest brushes available, you can scale the features in GIMP to reduce their size, allowing for high-resolution graphics.

6. Anchor Windows Link

If you were to ask Photoshop users their biggest dislike about GIMP, they would almost unanimously express a disdain for the loose docks and toolbars. The canvas, toolbar and layers, paths and brushes dock are all free-floating and scattered about the desktop. If you have a decent window manager, this is a benefit; for most users, it’s a hindrance.

If the loose docks in GIMP bother you, affix them to the main window by right-clicking on the dock or toolbar and selecting Always on Top. The toolbars will now stay above the main menu, and the application will work as if the docks were locked within the main window.

GIMP screenshot

If you still aren’t satisfied with the window system, two different versions of GIMP are available that have interfaces similar to Photoshop’s: GIMPshop and GimPhoto. GimPhoto has a slightly more appealing interface, but GIMPshop is based on a newer version of GIMP.

7. Install Animation Package Link

The GIMP Animation Package, known as GAP, allows users to create animations. The most common use of GAP is for animated GIFs and avatars; but it is sophisticated enough to make full-episode animations, surrealistic landscapes and realistic water motion.

GAP is not automatically included in GIMP. It can be downloaded from an ever-changing number of locations. Mac users can find a download and instructions at GAP-Systems.7 Windows users have dozens of mirrors to choose from, and a fresh Internet search will yield the best results. Finally, Linux users can download GAP by running a gimp-gap install in the terminal or, if you’re on Ubuntu, searching gimp-gap in the Synaptic packages.

GIMP screenshot

8. Enable GEGL Link

GEGL is a new feature found only in GIMP 2.6+. According to

“Many highly requested features of the GIMP will be easier to do using GEGL. Layer effects, layer groups, and adjustment layers are quite easily represented (and efficiently calculated) using the DAG organization of GEGL. CMYK and high bit depth support will be easier because GEGL does not make the same assumptions about color spaces and data types that the GIMP does.”

It is not enabled by default. To activate the feature, simply navigate to Colors > Use GEGL and check the box next to it. Once it is activated, you can use the presets available at Tools > GEGL Operations. Approximately a dozen different presets can be applied to layers and images.

GIMP screenshot

Conclusion Link

These tweaks, plug-ins and add-ons push GIMP closer to its full potential. While it still wouldn’t replace Photoshop as the top graphics program, it will stand a step higher and provide features that would otherwise be missing.

In addition to the add-ons above, a great deal more can be added to customize GIMP to your own personal needs, including HDR plug-ins, photo cleaners, scrapbook borders and animation effects for GAP. New features are added to the GIMP registry8 everyday. In addition, if you can’t find a plug-in to meet your needs, you can write your own plug-in script.9

For further resources, check out these links:


Footnotes Link

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  1. 1

    Julian Exner(jex)

    April 3, 2009 1:50 am

    Gimp rocks!
    Photoshop is unreasonable expensive, i mean over 1000€ for software….?!

  2. 2

    I shuddered when I read the title. Literally shuddered. Gimp’s back-end is amazing. Gimp’s front-end makes that fact entirely irrelevant, as it’s just so bad, IMHO. I’ll of course be trying all these tips, but I fear you’ve picked an impossible task in trying to make Gimp anything less than torture…

  3. 3


    April 3, 2009 2:26 am

    Perhaps not the first choice for print and press, but probably the best alternative for anything else.

  4. 4

    Photoshop is indeed very expensive, but also the most powerful.
    Most of the graphic/web designers and photographers use it.

  5. 5

    More GIMP, Inkscape and Blender articles, please. Thank you.

  6. 6

    If its free for all then you can’t say about any problems or blame it, until u contribute something in it.
    i have tried gimp for 2 months before i purchased ps. its good but not for professional purposes.
    you cant go back and forth easily. you have limits on file size, effects, vectors . layer styles are not actually layer connected .. but i think since its free for all, its worth always than having a pirated version .. for home use.. & for commercial usage . i will stick to photoshop !

  7. 7

    Not an employee of Adobe

    April 3, 2009 10:22 am

    GIMP sucks. Use Photoshop. It’s way better.

  8. 8

    this article is great. I would like to try it.

  9. 9

    Can’t find enough things about the gimp.

  10. 10

    You guys are too fast…. I just about to write a article on smiler motion… Anyway.. Nice article Blair… Nice writing.

    DKumar M.

  11. 11

    Ill just stick to photoshop.

  12. 15

    Makes wanna try GIMP. I haven’t used it but I think I’m curious and encouraged to try it… after reading this post :)

  13. 16

    Brave and great post!!

  14. 17

    Ill just stick to photoshop.

    Same here :P

    Btw, GIMP have a huge problem: slices! You simply can’t do slices as easy you do it in PS/FW. And this is bad…

  15. 19

    I wonder whether there is any design related product / company that uses only GIMP as their tool. it will be fantastic to show up the world what GIMP can do. I’ve ever try GIMP but it is too slow for me even compared with Photoshop 7.0 in my PC. Any suggestion?

    • 20

      Yeah, Hollywood :)
      Hollywood use GIMP a lot in both the production of films (with a specially modified version of GIMP called CinePaint) and also in the creation of the film posters, etc.

      • 21

        “a lot” is kind of an exaggeration. furthermore the cinepaint you and I download is likely not the same cinepaint that they customized.

      • 22

        dude, Hollywood does NOT use Gimp at all! they use Cinepaint.
        I use CinePaint as well. It supports all the higher formats; 16bit, color profiles, and higher format Tiff files, that make Gimp crash if you were to try and open them. the only problem with CinePaint is that it can be buggy, and even harder to integrate/compile. – that’s why so many CinePaint developers have ended up working for Big Film studios.

        CinePaint, although initially based on Gimp (back in like 1998 or something), is a much different beast – it’s ideal only for photo-retouching and editing film – frame by frame using it’s Flipbook feature.
        Other than that, it is very lite on features.

  16. 23

    Right… GIMP will never replace Photoshop… I prefer sticking to PS, thanks :)

    • 24

      you prolly also prefer to stick with windoze.
      bahh bahh little sheep.

      • 25

        you’re either 12, or the worst troll ever.

        • 26

          He’s not trolling. He’s pointing out that anyone who comes here just to say that Photoshop is the greatest is already trolling.

          And if you are going to respond to trolls, the best way is to treat them like the 12 year olds they are.

  17. 27

    Thanks for this. You have convinced me to try GIMP. While I’d love to get PS again after I lost my last disk I simply can’t afford it so this might do the trick in the meantime.

  18. 28

    I’ve found GIMP to be ok, but if you’re on a mac give Pixelmator a try. It’s beautiful to look at and very intuitive to use!

  19. 29

    I love GIMP and I don’t want to spend so much money for Paintshop as I use it for personal purposes only. That simple! Thanks for the article.

  20. 30

    I’m an open source fan, and I used for years GIMP under Windows, Linux and Mac OSX. Unfortunately GIMP is nowhere near Photoshop’s ease of use and abilities. I’d rather use a software for 60 – 80 bucks which you can find for the mac, which at least is usable, even though still far from Photoshop’s great workflow.

  21. 31

    Good Gimp

  22. 32

    Ahh, there some things in this post I’ve been dying to get in GIMP.
    What a great sum of stuff!

  23. 33

    Open source is good, but PS is worth the few extra $$. It also has very good integration with all other necessary Adobe products. I always recommend GIMP to my clients who want to mess around with graphics for fun, but for the professionals the Adobe suite is the way to go!

  24. 34

    If someone needs help with Gimp – then visit GimpTalk ( It’s a really good and friendly community. :)

    It also has very good tutorials, for example Beginning with GIMP — Starting Tutorial for new users.

  25. 35


    This is right and the reason why Adobe can dictate their price. There is no real competitor.

    You decide: Is this a good or a bad thing?

  26. 36

    A topic I did not dare dream of being published here! Great. many thx.

    I am thinking on starting a small webdesign businuess aside from my regular job. As Adobe (which I use dailiy on my job) is too expensive for me this article comes more than handy.

    Now I can do my graphic work on my beloved Ubuntu Linux…


  27. 37

    Nice tips and tricks but Gimp still can’t replace Photoshop, it’s too weak. Of course, Gimp is a wonderful tool for beginners and hobby designers but it’s not a professional tool an Gimp annoys me very often with bugs, missing features and inconsistent UI.
    Some time ago I tried out the layer effects but they’re not equal to Photoshop’s layer effects because they create lots of new layers to simulate these effects which are not assigned to the layer itself like in Photoshop and since Gimp does not support layer groups this really sucks.
    Another quite annoying issue are the bad transformation tools that are absolutely unusable. It’s horrible to ever select a new tool for each unique type of transformation which pops up an useless window exactly over the object to transform.
    Don’t misunderstand me: I wished Gimp could be an alternative to Photoshop and from time to time I also use it but there have been so many bugs and not implemented features for years and they are not fixed yet. Far too many in my humble opinion.

  28. 38

    Excellent article, thanks!!!!

    @Ionut Staic: to make slices: draw some guides and export as slices (no difficult, ah?)

  29. 39

    I have been aware of GIMP for years but found it difficult to work with. I did just boot-up GIMP on my NetBook and it hasn’t changed much.

    Saying that though, my love for Linux Mint and Fedora are making me enjoy learning new and open source software. I am downloading now for Mac and will give it another try.

    I am very open to a Photoshop replacement!

    The world is evolving, the music industry was the first notable business model to fall and now the mainstream media is crumbling. I can see OpenSource gaining more and more ground in the near future.

  30. 40

    Thanks! :D


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