Photoshop vs The GIMP = my pencil

Apart from the completely unfortunate name, the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a great little application. It’s generally accepted that it’s got the power of Photoshop, with the exception of a few features (probably more, but I’m not going to get into that right now). The obvious advantage of this all being the fact that it’s under a GPL licesense and completely free to do with as you wish; which many people have and created GIMPShop, which basically does a pretty good job of emulating Photoshop in many respects.

So why is it that I can’t bring myself to use the damn program?

I think it’s a mixture of things; maybe it’s the clunky pointer, maybe it’s the overall feel of the program that doesn’t have that polished Photoshop look. Maybe it’s the huge icons that distract you. Honestly it’s a combination of all of these things, plus it doesn’t feel like my black pencil. I’ll explain.

When I started drawing properly (as opposed to for fun and without purpose since I was like 5 years old) I bought a range of equipment. A ruler, some erasers, paper, ink, and a mechanical pencil. The last item is very important as I’ve kept that pencil since I was 13 years old. It used to have writing on the side of it, now it’s just a cheap and old black plastic mechanical pencil with a 0.5 nib. Honestly nothing to write home about, and yet without it I couldn’t draw anything. For me it’s got the perfect shape and weight that I can’t be creative without it anymore. A while back I went out and bought an exceptionally expensive Rotring alternative, only to use it once, realise that it just wasn’t even close and went back to my old and tested pencil.

I guess the point is that Photoshop to me is like my pencil, it’s got the right shape and weight and I understand it, I enjoy using it. The GIMP still needs some serious work to get to that level of usability for me, which is unfortunate as I’d like to use and support good Open Source projects, it’s the future.


  1. I have the same problem with The GIMP, probably because I have been taught the ropes of really using such a program on it, and also work with it at my job. I’m way too used to it to be at ease with “alternatives”, although I’ve bought PSP for my own, freelance works (not going to work without a license!), waiting for the day I can afford PS. I’ve tried to use The GIMP, I’ve really tried, but… same feeling here. It just doesn’t feel right, and I’m not at ease, in spite of my efforts.

    1 Yzabel
  2. I agree with you both. I started out on Photoshop and have tried out Fireworks and the GIMP but I couldn’t get used to them. For now Photoshop is my preference.

    2 Glenn
  3. Comparing Photoshop to Fireworks is the cliche of apples and oranges.

    3 craig
  4. I got the same problem. Those little things like the cursor, the way to select layers… it’s the overall feeling. Although I really want to use this piece of software, I can’t for the reasons above.

    4 Dominik
  5. I jmust install the GIMP by some filters that photoshop does not have.

    5 Norke
  6. ditto. I have the same gripe about gimp. hopefully some day it will catch up with photoshop.

    6 kristin
  7. What a lot of people (*cough* the GIMP team cough) don’t understand about user interface design is that the details count so much. It’s every little thing in the GIMP that makes me think “clunky” - and it’s nothing I can put my finger on - it’s just all around got the wrong feel to it. You can tell they got some core philosophy wrong, and there’s nothing concrete you can say to them that would help.

    Basically, the people were UNIX programmers trying to design a UI. Sorry, but that just doesn’t work, unless they’ve been seriously trained in UI design, graphic design, AND programming. Such is how I plan to train myself :)

    7 Tristan
  8. Know what, Tristan, that’s right. As much as we may be tempted to brag about how “it’s the program that counts, GUI is for the sissies” and other “brave” opinions, it’s just not true. If I’m expected to spend 8 or 9 hours a day using the same software, being staring at a butt-ugly interface is terribly depressing, and doesn’t help performing a good job in the long run.

    As a matter of fact, the company I’m working for is (was) exactly what you describe, UNIX programmers trying to design a UI, and I’ve never had a harder time grasping the ropes of their software, because it was just… well, “counter-intuitive” is the best word I can find to describe it. (I had to write the whole documentation about it. Talk about a daunting task.) They may joke as much as they want and call PS “PhotoCrap” and other names, the truth is that I absolutely hate using their software for anything else than testing it to write the manuals afterwards.

    8 Yzabel
  9. Yzabel I think you raise a really good arguement. If you spend hours, literally hours, looking at a clunky design you’re not going to be happy if it’s depressing. The only thing that really makes me smile however and be hopefully for the future is the fact that Gimp 2 was a massive improvement over the original Gimp. It’s not as buggy, it’s got better cross network use and they actually tried to address the user interface. It’s definitely improving, it’s just not as mature as it could be yet.

    It’s the same story with a great deal of open source programs, until the design team decides to address that problem and get someone, or more particularly a group of people that know what they’re doing.

    9 Khaled