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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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


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:



  1. 1 http://www.gimp.org/
  2. 2 http://www.gimp.org/~tml/gimp/win32/pspi.html
  3. 3 http://registry.gimp.org/node/186
  4. 4 http://cue.yellowmagic.info/softwares/separate.html
  5. 5 http://liquidrescale.wikidot.com/
  6. 6 http://www.blendfu.com/
  7. 7 http://www.gap-system.org/Download/index.html
  8. 8 http://registry.gimp.org/
  9. 9 http://developer.gimp.org/writing-a-plug-in/1/index.html
  10. 10 http://www.noupe.com/gimp-brushes/1000-free-high-resolution-gimp-brushes.html
  11. 11 http://www.noupe.com/gimp/30-exceptional-gimp-tutorials-and-resources.html
  12. 12 http://www.gimp-tutorials.net/
  13. 13 http://www.techzilo.com/gimp-plugins/
  14. 14 http://www.techzilo.com/gimp-plugins/2/
  15. 15 http://manual.gimp.org/

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  1. 1

    Gimp is better than PS for a simple reason that it allow you to undo several times

    • 202

      You can undo in photoshop several times too, you just need to set in options how much undos you can have

  2. 403

    Other than the awful floating windows and the gigantic toolbox, the thing that causes me to uninstall Gimp almost immediately is performance. As soon as you start zooming and panning you get all this garbled mess on the screen and it’s really slow and clunky. It just needs oodles of refinement to even begin taking it seriously.

  3. 604

    Uh, no it’s not. That’s not all that much when you’re talking about professional software; it lasts forever.

    I don’t use photoshop, I use GIMP, as it isn’t worth the money to me, however, if I had the money to spare I would definitely buy photoshop. The layer effects plugin here for example is not the same thing in photoshop. In photoshop you can automatically add drop shadow or such, here you’d have to go make a new one each time you change the layer.

  4. 805

    Photoshop is expensive. Period. It’s bloated, too.

    But the The Gimp is just .. well, gimpy.

    •No Adjustment Layers
    This is huge. In order to get the same functionality you must DUPLICATE the base layer, apply the filter or adjustment, and repeat until your comp is done, otherwise there is no going back. This is a big memory waster that is easy to make an irreparable mistake with.

    •No 16-bit support
    I suppose the lack of adjustment layers isn’t that big a deal without 16- and 32-bit support, at least it’s not going to be as inefficient. So I guess utilizing 1/256 the data is worth it? Oh well. Shadow and Hilight detail isn’t THAT important, right?

    •No CMY*K
    Separations? Really? Your prepress guy is going to LOVE that. No way to trap. No way to isolate K. No way to control black generation. No way to do much of anything of value until you load it back into Photoshop!

    I can 100% guarantee you, that if you fancy yourself a graphic artist and you deliver a .zip containing four greyscale images of a logo without trap or isolation you’ll do nothing but provide lots of laughs from the printer. In fact, submitting such a file is no better than an RGB. At least an RGB won’t need to be recomposed.

    So sure, I guess the GIMP is good for lightening the mood for your over stressed prepress department, I can hear the banter now, but you’re going to look very unprofessional. It will cost you more. And when they are asked who they would recommend for a graphic artist, it will not be you.

    •Awkward color management
    Color management is there… kind of.

    •Limited Hue/Sat adjustment
    This is the tool I use the most for making the hardest corrections happen. Noise reduction, chromatic aberration, selective color adjustment, vibrancy… but with gimp I’m stuck with only 6 colors to choose from with no feather, just a gimpy “overlap”. This makes hue/sat pretty useless. Sure, you could build a mask, duplicate the layer, apply the hue/sat adjustment, but I’d like to see Photoshop’s Hue/Sat tool improved! Using The Gimp’s hue/sat is just far too limiting.

    Why is the gimp so terrible, yet other (unrelated) GPL software so great? It might be in The GIMP users themselves. GIMP is hailed as such a perfect platform, there seems to be little room for improvement. However, the above features are not minor ones, and are used by photographers and/or graphic artists on a daily basis. GIMP users are so busy pointing out how great the GIMP is, that it can do so much that Photoshop can, that there is very little talk about the significant features that it’s lacking.

    You don’t see the Blender community saying that Blender can do everything XSI or Maya can do. Because it can’t, and they are not so delusional to think it can. Instead they focus on improving the package so that it can perform rather than inflating on what Blender is already good at.

    People who advocate the GIMP clearly are either in denial, or don’t understand the value of things like Adjustment Layers and 16- and 32-bit imaging or native CMYK and LAB.

    There certainly are many, many bells and whistles that are compared to Photoshop, and compared to Photoshop LOUDLY. But, it’s not the bloat that I’m interested in, it’s the functionality.

  5. 1006

    It’s not too bad if you’re a student. I’m going to get it soon, while I can still qualify as a student. CS5 Web Design Premium Student and Teacher is just under AU$400. Just have to wait till my birthday.

    I just wish I’d found this post earlier. I’ve been toiling away, trying to find workarounds for all the PS tutorials I’ve been following. Thanks a bunch.

  6. 1207

    Lasts forever? No software really lasts forever unless you get free upgrades forever.

  7. 1408

    That’s dumb. It’s just not what you are used to. I can do anything you can do in Photoshop.

  8. 1609

    Okay, not 16-bit color, but, honestly, you can’t see that many colors. And if you wind up with posterization, you’re the one who screwed up.

  9. 1810

    RTFA. All that stuff that you complain about not existing is the point of this article. It’s easily implemented by plugins, which is a brilliant design decision. You find a feature that is lacking? Get a plugin.

  10. 2011

    Have you ever used photoshop for a day in your life? There is *no* way to implement adjustment layers in gimp. I shoot 22MP pictures in fashion. I need to do 30+ adjustments for every finished pictured. I’ve been told time and time again to just “create new layers” whenever I need a tweak. What sort of computer would I need for that? 64 gigs for 10 pictures open at a time? 128 gigs for 20? An average shoot has 100+ all in raw.

    On top of that every step is irreversible. There is no way to put into words just how broken this makes gimp.

    I’m writing an cython based program that can do the things photographers need because no one in gimp seems remotely interested in making it useful for anything but a fancy icon maker.

    Until then paying for photoshop every two years is *cheaper* than paying for the sort of machine that could let gimp do a bad job of what I need it to do. Think about that before saying gimp is *free* (as in beer).

    P.S. It’s been 4 years since I heard people on the gimp team say that adjustment layers were planned for a future resale. I’m not holding my breath.


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