That’s what this article is all about. I’m going to take you through the pros and cons of each program – so by the time you’ve finished, you’ll know which option is right for you.
So, if you’re ready to determine the best editing software for your needs…
…then keep on reading!
GIMP vs Photoshop: Overview
In the old days, before 2013 when Adobe changed to its subscription model, price was enough to decide between Photoshop vs GIMP.
You could choose Gimp for free, Photoshop CS6 for $699, or Photoshop CS6 Extended for $999. For most photographers, GIMP would inevitably win out.
Nowadays, you can have Adobe Photoshop starting at $9.99 USD per month. That’s a very reasonable price, even for a hobbyist.
Of course, GIMP is still free, so don’t automatically pay for Photoshop without thinking.
Instead, I recommend you take a careful look at the key differences between these two programs:
- Light download
- Faster processing
- More tools
- Handles more color profiles
- Supports RAW and other file formats
- Non-destructive editing
- Good value for the money
Mobility and portability
If you only have one computer and do all your photo editing there, this isn’t an issue for you. However, most photographers don’t edit that way.
You see, here’s one of the most important differences between GIMP and Photoshop:
GIMP is more portable, while Photoshop is mobile.
GIMP doesn’t have a mobile version, which puts it at a huge disadvantage in today’s world where every smartphone has a camera.
Of course, you can still edit your photos on your phone for free. There are many options out there (including Photoshop, as I’ll explain in a moment). However, you can’t do mobile editing with GIMP.
What GIMP does have is portability. If you need to work on multiple computers, GIMP can be downloaded as many times as you want. You can even install GIMP on a USB drive so you can use it on any computer without having to download it.
This is an excellent choice if you want to edit your photos in a university library or in the business lounge at your hotel or airport, for example.
Photoshop, on the other hand, can only be installed on two computers. Also, the program needs to be fully installed, so you can’t place it on external hard drives.
However, Photoshop does have a mobile version: any paid Photoshop subscription comes with Photoshop for the iPad.
Plus, Photoshop for smartphones has three free versions (though you’ll need a free Adobe account to use them).
Photoshop wins if you need to edit on the go. GIMP wins if you need to use it on many computers, including public ones.
Size and speed
GIMP is a very light program (after all, you can install and use GIMP from a portable USB drive!).
Photoshop, on the other hand, occupies quite a lot of space on your hard drive. It also uses a lot of RAM. So if your computer has limited processing capacity, Photoshop won’t be your friend.
There are some ways to optimize your computer for Photoshop use, but all in all, Photoshop will always be more resource-intensive than GIMP.
For Photoshop, you need 4 GB of available hard disk space (and additional space is required for installation).
GIMP requires 200 MB for the official install. This can grow depending on how you enhance GIMP over time.
As far as memory goes, Adobe recommends a minimum of 8 GB and preferably 16 GB of RAM. I’ve used Photoshop with 4 GB of RAM, and it works – but it’s choppy. GIMP, however, only needs about 20 MB of memory.
Note that the memory required by both GIMP and Photoshop can significantly increase depending on the images you’re working on, so that’s always something to bear in mind.
Ultimately, thanks to its size and processing requirements, I have to give the win to GIMP.
System and tools
I mentioned at the beginning that GIMP is open source while Photoshop is proprietary software.
This means you can modify GIMP as much as you want, from adding tools to directly changing the source code.
Modifying a program is great, but if you don’t know the tech behind GIMP, you probably won’t be able to take advantage of the open-source design. Even installing GIMP plug-ins can be difficult, and without these enhancements, you’ll be left with a program that is too bare to be appealing.
On the other hand, if you can get the hang of it, this flexibility can be hugely helpful. Plus, there is a big community behind GIMP, and many members are constantly creating interesting program additions. That way, you don’t have to wait for the GIMP team to release the next update; you can use community members’ programming to enhance your own GIMP software.
Photoshop is delivered as a finished product. You can’t make many changes, but it also doesn’t require much in the way of enhancements. You can set up your own workspace and add plugins, but that’s about it. On the upside, you get continuous updates included as part of your Adobe subscription – and in every update, you get high-quality improvements and innovations, thanks to a huge team that has maintained Photoshop’s status as the industry standard for many decades.
Photoshop also gives you the tools to create graphics and 3D designs, which is a very big plus if you have use for it.
Otherwise, these features will take up a lot of space in your system, but you don’t have the option to remove them and keep only what you need.
When it comes to tools, I find it difficult to declare an overall winner. Photoshop is a more robust program, but GIMP is more flexible. I’ll call it a tie, depending on your needs and skills.
File formats and color profiles
As you know, digital images are files with information. The file format is the way in which this information is encoded and stored.
Photoshop has its own native format: the PSD, or Photoshop Document. In the same sense, GIMP has native XCF files.
While the PSD is native to Photoshop, it’s very compatible; it can be opened by the Adobe apps, CorelDRAW, and even GIMP.
On the other hand, the XCF file format is not supported by other image editing programs. This makes it difficult to share original XCF files.
As a workaround, you can export the file using one of the common file formats like JPEG or TIFF, but the lack of XCF support does present some problems if you want the file recipient to build on your own edits (assuming they don’t use GIMP).
Also, GIMP doesn’t open RAW files by default. If you want to work with RAW files in GIMP, you have to download and install a plugin called UFRaw, whereas Photoshop has a built-in companion program, Adobe Camera RAW, which handles RAW files with ease.
When it comes to file management, you also have to consider the color profile options.
Regarding file formats and color profiles, Photoshop offers more options and is more compatible with other programs – which is why I’d give the win to Photoshop.
Editing and layers
I already covered the tools in a previous section, so you know that, for advanced editing, Photoshop has the edge over GIMP.
Both programs support plugins, actions, and presets. You can find many great options for free. The only difference is that Photoshop has more variety to choose from because it’s more popular overall.
The same rules apply for tutorials:
You’ll find so many more educational materials for the Adobe products compared to GIMP.
Finally, there is one thing Gimp is sorely lacking: non-destructive editing. Photoshop offers both adjustment layers and smart objects, which are extremely important for serious editing and hand Photoshop a definite win.
Cost and value
Last, I want to talk about cost and value.
When you download GIMP, there is no cost or subscription involved in the process. You get a photo editing program for free.
That’s not bad at all, considering that you’re not paying any money or giving out any information that many other “free” programs require.
However, you’ll need to download GIMP enhancements separately.
A Photoshop subscription includes the editing program, plus cloud storage space, a free customizable website on Adobe Portfolio, and access to Adobe Fresco, Adobe Fonts, and Adobe Spark. You can also get Adobe Lightroom if you choose the Photography plan.
And you have access to all the perks that come with the size and experience of Adobe, such as thousands of high-quality, creative brushes designed by Kyle T. Webster, as well as the most innovative tools that a big team of experts can develop.
When it comes to value, I have to declare a Photoshop vs GIMP tie. GIMP is free in every sense of the word, and you get excellent software.
For Photoshop, you do have to pay, but considering the low cost, the high quality, and the number of extras that you get, the program offers great value for the money.
It all comes down to what you need and what you can afford.
GIMP vs Photoshop: Conclusion
In my opinion, Photoshop is worth having if you’re into photography post-production.
That is, of course, if you can afford it. If you can’t do that just yet, then GIMP is a magnificent choice.
I actually have and use both programs. There are some things I find easier to do in one software versus the other. So owning Photoshop and GIMP gives me the best of both worlds!
I hope this GIMP vs Photoshop comparison gave you enough information to decide on the right program for you, based on your needs and budget.
Remember that the most important thing is your passion and your skills, so keep on creating – no matter which program you choose!
Now over to you:
Which post-processing program do you prefer, GIMP or Photoshop? And why? Share your thoughts in the comments!