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A Brief introduction to GIMP Software

Whether you are looking for a free program to start learning photo editing or you want a lighter alternative to Photoshop, GIMP may be the software for you. You can create graphics, text, and manipulate photos, but first, you need to understand how it works. Keep reading for a brief introduction to GIMP software and how to use it.

Introduction to GIMP

What is GIMP?

GIMP is a completely free image editor. You can even use it for commercial purposes without having to pay. It is also open-source, which means that a lot of third-party developers have created free plug-ins for use with GIMP. Furthermore, if you know how to code, you can also modify it as you see fit. Finally, it is also available for many different operating systems. You can download GIMP from its site, and it will suggest the one for you.

Introduction to GIMP Software Download

It’s even possible to take it with you for other devices. You can find an instruction manual in the article How to Install GIMP on a Portable Device. In any case, on the main page of GIMP’s website, you’ll see a very enticing description, beautifully illustrated and promising high-quality image manipulation, original artwork creation, and graphic design elements.

Introduction to GIMP. What can you do with it

It all sounds fantastic, right? But when you open the program, you may not know where to start. Well, let’s break it down for you to easily understand.

Multiple windows or just one?

Most programs open in one window that you can enlarge or squeeze, minimize or close, all in one go. Instead, GIMP, by default, opens in three windows. This is a bit puzzling, and I found it very off-putting the first time I used it.

Introduction to GIMP. Multiple Windows View

The good news is that from version 2.8 of GIMP, you can change into a one-window view. I’ll tell you how to switch in just a moment.

First, I want to tell you what makes the multiple window choice worth trying. As each image opens as a new window, you can work with two or more images side by side. Even better, the same image can open in two windows so you can work on it as a side-by-side comparison.

Introduction to GIMP. Side by side comparison using multiple windows.

Another perk of having separate windows is that you can gain more image space on your screen. You can individually minimize any window containing tools or labels that you’re not using. Now, if you’re not convinced with it, you can switch to the single-window mode by going to Menu -> Window -> Single-Window Mode. Whichever choice you make, it saves as a default for the next time you open GIMP.

Introduction to GIMP. How to change to single window view.

What’s What?

Now that you have set up your workspace, it’s time to learn what each window contains. In the center, you’ll have the image window. Here you can see the image or canvas you’re working on. If you are on multiple windows, each image opens separately (as shown before), and if you are on the single-window mode, they open as tabs.

Introduction to GIMP. Open images as tabs

On the left side, you’ll have a window that holds your toolbox. In there, you can have a shortcut button for the tools you use most often. It comes with a default setup that you can personalize. To do it, go to GIMP -> Preferences -> Toolbox and choose the tools you want to add or delete from there.

Introduction to GIMP. Set toolbox preferences

Underneath you have the options available for each tool. Therefore, it’s not static content; it changes every time you select a different tool. You can drag and drop this dock to a different position if you prefer, however, I keep it on the right.

Introduction to GIMP. Toolbox option panel

On the right side, you have a window that holds a series of tabs like History or Layers. This window behaves like a dock. If you want to open a tab that is not showing, you have to go to the menu Windows -> Dockable Dialogs, and chose it from the drop-down menu. It will automatically dock the tab. Then click on the arrow button on the right to open the settings and manage it from there.

Introduction to GIMP. Manage the dockable panels

If you are working with multiple-windows mode, you can still reach these tabs on the menu Windows -> Dockable Dialogs. In this case, you’ll find that some open as tabs and some open as separate windows that you can drag, minimize, or close individually.

A Brief introduction to GIMP Software

Save or export?

Whether you did a small modification or an original artwork, you need to save it. If you go to the menu File -> Save as you would normally do, you can only use the GIMP extension .xcf.

Introduction to GIMP. Save files

If you want to use a universal format like .jpg or .tiff or even change it into Photoshop’s .psd, you have to go to the menu File -> Export. From there, you have a huge variety of file formats to choose from. If you aren’t sure about which one is best, check this article for Understanding all the Different Image File Formats.

Introduction to GIMP. Export to save in different formats

I hope you found this article helpful overview to understand GIMP software and give it a try. If you are still not convinced with it, there are other free programs out there. For more information check out this article with Tips on choosing a Free Photo Editor for Post-Processing.

Have you used GIMP software? What are your thoughts? What are some other free post-processing software applications that you use? Please share with us in the comments section.


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Ana Mireles
Ana Mireles

is a photographer and artistic researcher. She has been awarded and exhibited in Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands. Through theory and practice, she explores the cultural aspect of photography, how it helps us relate to each other, the world, and ourselves. She has also a passion for teaching, communication, and social media. You can find more about her and her work at her website or acquire some of her works here.

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