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Open-Source Photo

Editing Alternatives:
GIMP vs. Adobe Photoshop

An Analytical Report from


The GIMP Group

APRIL 28, 2010


Table of Contents

Abstract...............................................................................................2
Introduction........................................................................................3
Methodology.......................................................................................4
Results.................................................................................................5
Toolbox.....................................................................................................6
Tools..........................................................................................................7
Layers.......................................................................................................7
Help Menus..............................................................................................7
Conclusion..........................................................................................8
Recommendations..............................................................................8

Abstract

There are both commercial products and open-source software


available to be used for digital photography editing. Adobe Photoshop is a well-
known and established commercial product, while GIMP is an open-source
program available for users to download from the Internet at no cost to the user.
The question was posed as to whether or not GIMP could be used as an adequate
alternative to Photoshop for recreational photo editing. A focus group consisting
of people with various levels of photo-editing experience were asked to complete
similar tasks in both Photoshop and GIMP and then comment on the usability of
the two programs. Results from the research have shown that GIMP can be used
as a suitable alternative to Photoshop for recreational digital photo
editing.

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Introduction

Since its launch in 1990, Adobe Photoshop has been an innovator in the photo-
editing community. GIMP launched in 1998 as an open-source program and has
made a name for itself as well. Adobe Photoshop and GIMP are two excellent
programs that can be used to edit digital photographs. The purpose of this
report is to present the conclusions of our research as to whether or not GIMP
can be used as a viable alternative to Photoshop for recreational photo editing.
After comparing the two products based on several different criteria, our
conclusion is that GIMP can be used as an adequate alternative to Photoshop.
Photoshop, an Adobe product, is a very powerful tool for photo editing. However,
it is also a very expensive product. The newest version, Photoshop CS5, costs $700
for one license as of May 2010. GIMP, however, is an open-source software
program and can be downloaded from the internet at no cost to the user.
Therefore, for the recreational photo editor, GIMP may be a much more
economically feasible option as long as its features and usability are comparable
to those of Photoshop. This report includes four sections: (1) our methodology
for gathering information, (2) the results of our research, (3) a discussion of those
results, and (4) our conclusions and recommendations.

(Photo courtesy of www.adobe.com) (Photo courtesy of gimp.org)

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Methodology

The methodology employed in analyzing the uses of GIMP and Photoshop is based
on user-testing and economic availability. The users possessed different levels of
photo-editing expertise. Collecting information from these sources helped compare
and contrast the entire range of the photo editing software functionality and
highlight the major pitfalls of each product. It was important to use a form of
usability testing to illuminate the differences between the open-source software
and comparable commercial versions of the software since the former is
completely based on user-end customization. This methodology is similar to the
testing used by major software manufacturers, such as Microsoft®, known as
beta-testing.

There were two different sections of our study. The first included a survey of users
who have previous experience using Photoshop and are comfortable utilizing its
basic functions. These participants have some familiarity with digital photo editing
software. These users were then introduced to GIMP so that they would be able to
compare the two programs.

The second part of the study was focused


Users were asked to do the on first-time users of photo editing
following: software. They were unfamiliar with the
functionality of both Photoshop and GIMP.
• Compare the functionality and These users, much like the first group,
usability of both GIMP and were asked to complete several different
Photoshop. tasks: Edit a similar photo in both GIMP
• Enhance or transform two and Photoshop and comment on the
similar photos using each of the ease-of-use and learning curve for the two
programs programs based on their experiences.
• Comment on the final results
and the overall editing process

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In addition to exploring the user interaction with the software, the scope and depth
of help and online support was also dissected. These two aspects of the editing
software were rated in a complimentary survey given to the users as they explored
the two programs’ ease-of-use.

At the conclusion of the user-testing the surveys were analyzed and contrasted to
develop an overview of the results of the study. This study was meant to represent
the views of casual photo editors and those with no prior knowledge of these
programs. The testers used in the study were all computer-literate students of
Purdue University who are familiar with the same operating system. This included
both group members and other students not affiliated with the project. This study
may not represent the opinions of the community as a whole considering the rela-
tively small volunteer pool. In addition, since the study does not cover the entire
scope of usable features of the editing software, the survey will not represent the
ease-of-use of the entire program. The overall conclusions will be presented and
discussed in the subsequent sections of this study.

Results

The GIMP and Photoshop photo-editing programs were used concurrently with each
other in a user-testing study to ascertain if GIMP is an adequate replacement for
Photoshop for casual use. The trials consisted of transforming a common picture on
GIMP to enhance the coloring and attractiveness of the photo and trying to
reproduce the edited picture on Photoshop. The first trial dealt with users that have
prior experience with Photoshop and other digital photo retouching and
transforming software. In comparing GIMP to Photoshop, the consensus was that,
regarding casual use, GIMP turned out to be an adequate replacement for
Photoshop. Experienced users immediately noticed a very similar user interface that
resembles the setup of Photoshop. Users mentioned that the use of “layers,” or a
system of image bookkeeping, makes image editing simple and easy to compare to
Photoshop. Using the layers tool in GIMP is slightly harder to follow than Photoshop
and requires more time to learn. In addition, the tools available in both programs are
very similar and effective. Users noticed a larger library of drawing tools on
Photoshop, but for novice-level editing GIMP is deemed satisfactory.

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One difference that experienced editors have mentioned is in the pixel-selection
process and the selection of pixel-selection tools. While both programs have what is
known as “fuzzy selection,” which means selecting pixels of similar color and
contrast, one image contour selection tool stands out. The GIMP selection tool does
a better job of selecting contours and determining the image boundaries. GIMP
also employs the use of perspective transformer tools that allow for easy depth
perspective transformation. Overall, the experienced users rated the GIMP
program as an adequate replacement for Photoshop for superficial use of
photo-retouching.

First time photo-editors were asked to explore the basic functions of each of the
programs and comment on the ease-of-use and learning curve. There were several
noticeable differences between the two programs.

Toolbox

To begin, GIMP has several more buttons in the toolbox menu. This is slightly
more overwhelming at first, but ends up being quite handy upon further
inspection. It makes several options more readily available than trying to search
through menus to find them. When the user hovers over buttons in GIMP, the
name of the tool appears. A short description of what the tool is used for is also
given, which is a convenient feature when trying to learn the program. In addition,
the shortcut key is shown at the end of the description in bold. This allows a novice
user to more easily learn the functionality of the tools and the shortcuts for faster
transitions. In Photoshop, the name of the tool and the shortcut key are also given,
but only when the user right-clicks on the tool.

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Tools

Once the programs were explored a little bit more than merely looking at the
surface features, it becomes apparent that there are actually more tools available
in Photoshop than in GIMP. For a first-time photo editor, this is probably not a
setback. For the novice user, GIMP also provides a convenient user interface with
tool shortcuts and individual options for those tools. For example, when using the
fuzzy select tool, the user can hold down shift to add to the current selection or
hold down control to subtract from the current selection. GIMP makes this very
apparent. This functionality is also available in Photoshop, but it is not nearly as
obvious. There is nothing on the menus that would suggest this functionality exists.
In this respect, GIMP is actually a little bit more user-friendly for the novice user
than Photoshop. Not all of the tools are realistically going to be used regardless.
The basic functions are well established in both programs and relatively easy to
navigate.

Layers

Aside from the basic effects and picture manipulation tools, layering is another
important feature. Both GIMP and Photoshop have the layering tools set up in
much the same fashion. There were not any noticeable differences in these
features.

Help Menus

As with any new endeavor, help menus can be an invaluable resource. For
programs with functionality as complicated as GIMP and Photoshop, this is no
exception. Both programs are supported with an online help menu. As was mostly
expected, the help menu for Photoshop is more robust. Photoshop is commercially
produced software and is more completely developed as an entire package. Since
GIMP is an open-source program, the help menus are written by the individual
designers. It is still quite extensive and explains the functionality, but it is not
nearly as easy to navigate. A user manual is provided, but the Table of Contents
is searchable only through the internet browser by key words. Therefore, it might
take users a bit longer to find what they are looking for. All of the basic functions,
however, are explained in enough detail that gives novice users further insight into
the functionality of the program.
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Overall, GIMP can be used as a substitute for Photoshop, and in some respects is
slightly more appealing to the beginner photo-editors.

Conclusion
The novice photo editor may be overwhelmed when it comes to choosing and
operating photo editing software. Through the implementation of user testing,
user testimonials, and economic comparisons, Adobe Photoshop and the open
source software GIMP were compared and contrasted to determine if either
program was better than the other. After compiling the data collected during
testing, it was determined that GIMP is the better choice for the novice user. The
tools available in each program are very similar and there are ample tutorials
available for each. User testing showed that GIMP was preferred in a lot of
cases. The economic advantage of GIMP was the major factor for most novice
users. Most anticipated using the program sparingly and stated that a free
software package was much more appealing since both performed very similarly
in testing.

Recommendations

In order to further support the conclusions drawn, it is recommended that more


extensive user testing be conducted. More tools should be compared on each
software package in order to ensure a more accurate and well supported
conclusion. It is also recommended that an expert be found that uses GIMP
exclusively in order to compare and contrast their opinions with the opinions of the
expert Photoshop users.
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