Have you heard all about how GIMP is free and open-source, but you’ve struggled to embrace the program? Well, I was like that at first; that’s why I decided to make this guide on installing GIMP plugins from one non-techie to another.
My first few attempts to use GIMP were quite off-putting, and when I tried to install a plugin I ended up completely frustrated. But now I actually prefer GIMP to Photoshop for certain edits. Hopefully, this article can save you some time and turn you into an avid GIMP user, as well.
What is open-source software?
When a developer builds software, they write lines of text in a specific programming language. This forms the software’s source code.
In commercial software, this code is protected by copyright. You have to pay a license to use such a program, and you can’t change it in any way.
Instead, an open-source program can be used, modified, and distributed by anyone. Also, most of the time it is free. Sounds great, right?
Well, it is. That’s why everybody keeps telling you GIMP is amazing because it’s “open source.” On the other hand, GIMP is not as user-friendly as other programs. So you might need some time to get used to it. Here’s an introductory guide to get you started.
What are plugins?
A plugin is an add-on that gives more functions to a program. It can be a filter, a tool, or a library that isn’t included in the original source code. As a result, the software gets more powerful and gains more capabilities.
Commercial software has plugins, too (Photoshop, for example).
Since we are already talking about expanding the capabilities of software, scripts are another essential add-on to be aware of. You’ve probably heard of Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets, both of which are scripts.
Well, GIMP has scripts to automate processes and save you time and effort. So while you might find GIMP to be somewhat basic at first, once you start adding plugins and scripts you’ll see that it really has a lot to offer.
Where can you find GIMP plugins?
This is where it starts to get more tricky. Because neither GIMP nor the plugins are made by one developer, there isn’t a website that you can go to find a list with links.
There used to be one registry that held all the plugins, scripts, images, and files, but it’s not active anymore. Fortunately, in this day and age, you can find anything just by Googling.
As you know, search engines like Google will show you a lot of results; some of it can be outdated, other results can even be a virus, so be careful with what you download.
Here are some tips to make your search more efficient:
Look for tutorials
Start by searching for guides or tutorials on what you want to do, for example: “How to do Content Aware Resizing in GIMP?”
These results will give you suggestions for different plugins that have this functionality, and often they’ll even share the link so you can download it. Since you know that the recommendation comes from a plugin user, you know it’s safe and you can also see if it’s what you’re looking for.
Always look at the date the recommendation was published and click on the most recent suggestions. If you find an article that’s too old, you might not find the plugin anymore, or the plugin may not be compatible with your GIMP version.
Look for reviews on blogs
There are tons of websites that make lists and reviews about these kinds of things. You can search for “The best plugins of this year for GIMP.”
This way, you’ll also find safe downloads and you don’t have to worry about the plugins being useful. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be on such a list, right?
Installing GIMP plugins
Download your file
Once you find the plugin you want, download it to your computer. I’ll use the Resynthesizer plugin as an example, which you can download here. Please keep in mind that you need to find the right file for your operating system. Everything you see here is done on a Mac.
Resynthesizer downloads in a zip file, so double-click on it to extract the files. Leave this Finder window open. You’ll need it again in a moment.
Find GIMP’s plugin folder
Now open GIMP. Click on the GIMP menu and choose Preferences. This will open a pop-up window.
In the left column, find the Folders menu and click on it. This will display all the folders that hold GIMP’s information, so just look in there for the one called Plugins.
Find the folder with the plugin resources. It should be called something like this: GIMP-2.10.app/Contents/Resources/lib/gimp/2.0/plug-ins.
Of course, the GIMP version may be different for you; mine is 2.10.
Now click on the square button in the top right of the window. If you hover on top of the button, it should say Show file location in the file manager. This will open the folder that contains the plugin files.
Copy the plugin to GIMP
Now you should have the two folders open:
On one side, the Finder window with the folder of the plugin you downloaded.
On the other side, the window you just opened from GIMP with the folder that contains the plugins.
Select the files from the new plugin and drag them into GIMP’s plugin folder.
That’s it. Now you only have to restart GIMP to find the new tools ready for use.
In the case of the Resynthesizer plugin, it adds the filters Enlarge & Sharpen, Heal Selection, Heal Transparency, Sharpen by Synthesis, and Uncrop.
That’s it. As you can see, installing GIMP plugins is basically a copy-paste operation, so it’s really not as complicated as you might think.
The only hassle is finding the right files and locations. With the tricks I showed you in this article, it will hopefully get easier.
In the end, it’s worth the effort.
Now over to you:
Share in the comments your experiences with GIMP plugins, as well as any plugins or scripts you recommend.