Budget Web Design Tools - GIMP
One of the most expensive items in any web professional’s arsenal, apart from a computer and Dreamweaver – which we’re assuming you’ve got, else why would you be here? – is an image editor. Photoshop by Adobe comes at over $700, because it can do everything and more – but for many of us, that’s overkill, as Photoshop was really meant for print designers. PaintShop Pro by Jasc comes in at around $80 and is good enough for the simple tasks.
But there’s an option that’s claimed to be as powerful as Photoshop, designed specifically for web use, that costs nothing at all. It is The GIMP. DMXzone's Bruce Lawson puts on his deerstalker hat and rubber mask to investigate..
After reading Carrie Bickner's book "Web Design on a Shoestring" (reviewed here), I started to wonder, just what kind of tools are out there for the "budget conscious" (ahem) web designer.
One of the most expensive items in any web professional's arsenal, apart from a computer and Dreamweaver - which we're assuming you've got, else why would you be here? - is an image editor. Photoshop by Adobe comes at over $700, because it can do everything and more - but for many of us, that's overkill, as Photoshop was really meant for print designers. PaintShop Pro by Jasc comes in at around $80 and is good enough for the simple tasks. If you find yourself in the position of being given all the images by your client, and all you need to do is crop them or convert and optimise for web, Paintshop Pro is a good choice. It's allegedly the best-selling program in the world after Windows and MS Office. (I've seen free, full-featured editions of PSP5 on CDs cover-mounted on computer magazines when PSP7 was the newest edition. Might be worth keeping an eye open..._
But there's an option that's claimed to be as powerful as Photoshop, designed specifically for web use, that costs nothing at all. It is The GIMP.
What is the GIMP?
The GIMP stands for The GNU Image Manipulation Program, GNU being part of the open source movement of community development. The developers write "Many people do find GIMP very useful. But it is not a Photoshop killer (for professional Photoshop users, that is). Photoshop has lots of features that the GIMP lacks."
One Photoshop user, however, wrote
Compared to Photoshop, GIMP has it all (and even more if you don't buy third-party Photoshop plug-ins). Most of the features in GIMP are more flexible and powerful once you get to know them. The great thing is that GIMP supports the PSD file format and Filter Factory files, so you can easily switch from Photoshop to GIMP. Simply, it's a heck of a program and it comes loaded with a sack of plug-ins. So GO AND GET IT!! You will not be disappointed, and, well, it's not wrong that it is free.
There's a lot of GIMP art on the web if you google "GIMP art". I advise not doing so. Most of it is pretty primitive, and is mostly monsters that wouldn't be out of place on a t-shirt for a 14-year old dungeons or dragons freak, or are Star-Trekky spacescapes. I see this not as a reflection of the limited abilities of the program, but as reflecting the (ahem) limited artistic abilities of the majority of Linux wonks who've been posting their creations. Not that I'm Rembrandt, either, I hasten to add&
The Pros and Cons of the GIMP
I don't want to copy huge chunks out of the GIMP manual (http://manual.GIMP.org/) so won't go into detail here. Note that the program is designed for web graphics, so it can use 8 bit RGB, greyscale and indexed images, but not CMYK or spot colours such as PANTONE. If you need a program for prepress, use Photoshop. But if you don't the print-work functionality, the GIMP could be a good option.
The GIMP is faster with small, web-optimised images, while Photoshop is faster when it comes to big images with a lot of layers, but that's what you'd expect from a package for manipulating web-bound images.
If you are an experienced Photoshop user, you can use a file which will make the GIMP respond to the same keyboard shortcuts as Photoshop, and the GIMP can also open (but not save as) .PSD files, as long as they use the RGB colour types I've listed above.
How to install the GIMP:
There's a lot of misinformation out there that open-source software is difficult or complicated to install. Nonsense; if you can install and operate Dreamweaver you can install the GIMP. Go to the latest stable Windows download (currently GIMP 1.2.5):
Download the three zip files to a location (it's 8Meg in total), and then open them up. Each contains an executable that will install the programs. (You can manually delete those executables afterwards, if you choose). Simple double-click on these exes, and install the programs in the order they appear on the URL above. The third file on the download page is support for GIFs, which are still patented in some countries and therefore isn't included by default - but there's nothing to prevent you installing GIF support, so it's up to you whether you want to be honest or not. You'll be asked whether you want to install a bewildering array of translations from Azerbaijani to Yiddish via Walloon and Vietnamese! Uncheck the ones you don't want.