Getting started with GIMP

4 tips for GIMP beginners

Getting started with GIMP
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Everybody is a beginner sometime. And for new users to GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, starting out with a new interface can be daunting, especially when you downloaded it just because you wanted to make a few simple modifications like cropping or resizing an image. Fortunately, there are lots of resources out there to help you get started.

As a GIMP user for over a decade, I still think of myself a largely being a beginner. I'm not a graphic designer, but I'm constantly finding myself in situations where I need to make small adjustments and modifications to files I have in hand to fit a specific need. Make this image fit a different space. Use this icon but make it fit with a different color palette. Make something that looks like another image but change the text, without having the original. Create a mockup that a real designer can use to turn into a completed layout.

In addition to folks like me who need to be able to do a passable job with print and web design, there are plenty of amateur photographers out there in the world just looking to retouch and enhance their collection of captured memories.

And while there are ton of lists out there of what various users think are the latest and greatest tricks for GIMP, whether it's adding beveled edges or glowing text or a motion blur or some other cool tip, knowing how to use a program isn't just a collection of one off recipes. It's about knowing some foundations, where to look for things, and how to learn more. So with that in mind, here are the top five things I wish I had known when I first started using GIMP.

How to make GIMP more like Photoshop

There's definitely some debate out there as to whether this is a good idea or not. If you're starting off as a fresh user, as opposed to a Photoshop convert, there's probably no need to take this approach. But if you're used to the particular look and feel of Photoshop, or a similar photo editing program, GIMP's interface may feel foreign. Photography Riley Brandt offers some tips for switching the GIMP interface up to be more Photoshop-like.

Beware, however, using GIMPshop.com, which installs adware along with your GIMP software packages. You're better off doing the configuration itself. GIMPshop itself was once a legitimate open source project, and though no longer actively maintained, the old files can still be found on SourceForge.

Where to find tutorials

There are literally countless tutorials out there for expanding your working knowledge of GIMP software. Rather than linking to individual tutorials, here are a few of my favorite places to find them:

  • The official tutorials section of GIMP.org;

  • GIMP Magazine, a free publication featuring articles on photography and digital art;

  • And finally, since GIMP is visually oriented, I can't recommend enough checking out video tutorials on YouTube. Nothing quite beats seeing something done.

How to automate things

For many users, photo editing isn't so much about getting one image perfect as it is making a lot of small changes to a bunch of different images. While there are certainly command line tools like ImageMagick that can help you out in this regard, GIMP itself is a very scriptable program. GIMP supports macros, written in Python, that makes it easy to perform the same series of operations over and over again without having to go through long tedious steps in the graphical interface. These can also be repeated, automatically, as appropriate for your workflow.

GIMP also comes with a batch mode, that allows edits to be run automatically from the command line, making it easy to integrated GIMP into scripts, and there are plugins out there that make batch processing easy for the command line-adverse.

Where to ask questions and get help

GIMP has a large user community. For those who are used to more traditional approaches to free and open source software community, GIMP hosts their own IRC server at irc.gimp.org which containers a number of channels where questions are welcome, and there is also a users' mailing list where you can find discussions.

In addition, there are communities for GIMP users in many other places across the Internet, including a healthy subreddit, many tagged questions in the Graphic Design section of StackExchange, many other unofficial places for discussion like GIMP Forums and GIMP Chat, as well as social media channels like the Google Plus GIMP users group.


Of course, thinking back, there are tons of other things I wish I knew as well. What do you wish someone had told you on day one?

About the author

Jason Baker - I use technology to make the world more open. Linux desktop enthusiast. Map/geospatial nerd. Raspberry Pi tinkerer. Data analysis and visualization geek. Occasional coder. Cloud nativist. Like most people, I've got a homepage.