Microsoft Windows ships with free image editing software called Windows Paint. But Paint is just a toy compared to expensive professional-grade image editing software like Adobe Photoshop, which costs $650 or more. Photoshop is for professionals to use for cutting out images and editing and creating graphics. Yet most people don’t know there’s an absolutely free Photoshop alternative that works on Windows, Linux, Mac, FreeBSD, and Solaris.
Free Image Editing Using GIMP
The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) comes to you from the same people who made most of the software that powers Linux. It’s free open-source software, which has allowed millions of people to download it and thousands of them to add new features, which have made it into an incredibly powerful piece of free image editing software.
GIMP includes all of Photoshop’s key features, including layers, painting, channels, multiple undo and redo, animation, foreground extraction, transformation, gradients, and support for dozens of file formats (including Photoshop’s file format, PSD).
Get Free Image Editing By Installing GIMP
Windows users should go to gimp-win.sourceforge.net and click the Download link on the right toolbar. Download the GIMP base package (about 20 megabytes). I highly recommend you also download the help package for your language as it’s jam-packed with useful information about GIMP—in fact, at about 25 megabytes, the help packages are bigger than GIMP itself.
Both files are .EXE, so after they finish downloading them, double-click on them to start the installer. The installer will ask you to specify a directory to store GIMP’s cache—this is where GIMP will save parts of an image that are too big to fit in RAM memory, so it’s a good idea to specify a directory on a disk with at least a few gigabytes of free space. (In general, you should make sure you have twice the amount of free space as you have RAM memory in your computer.)
After installing GIMP, you can start it the usual way from your start menu.
Using GIMP For Free Image Editing
If you’re already an Adobe Photoshop expert, then the best way to familiarize yourself with GIMP is to start using it. Of course, the icons look different and may appear in slightly different places and the menus aren’t the same—but everything is clearly labeled. If you hover the mouse over a button, a tooltip will appear in a moment telling you what it does. If you want more information about a button, hold Shift, press F1, and then click on the button to show a short description.
But what if you’re not familiar with Photoshop? How are you supposed to learn what all of these buttons do? I give you the same answer: just start using it. But start simple. Let’s try a few quick examples.
Free Image Editing With Layers
The best feature of advanced image editors is the ability to use layers. Layers work a lot like the cutting and pasting you probably did as a kid: you cut pictures out of magazines and glued them on top of each other. The advantage here is that you can manipulate an unlimited number of layers and you can always undo a mistake—try undoing a mistake in cut and paste after the glue dries!
Let’s make a quick example. Go to File and select New. In the screen that appears, it doesn’t matter what size image you choose, but 800×600 is a good size. After the new empty image is created, follow these instructions:
- Go to the toolbox and choose the circle-shaped button. This creates a circle selection—use it to create a circle in your new image. It doesn’t need to be a perfect circle and it doesn’t matter how big you make it—any circle will do.
- Go back to the toolbox and select the bucket-shaped icon. This fills in the selection with a single color. Click anywhere within your circle to fill it in.
- To create a new layer, open the layers dialog by going to the Windows menu (from within GIMP), opening the Dockable Dialogs sub-menu, and clicking Layers. You can also bring up this dialog by typing Ctrl-L.
- In the layers dialog, click the icon that looks like a blank page to create a new layer. Leave all the defaults, but make sure the Transparency option is selected and click Ok. This creates your new layer.
- Choose the circle-shaped button again and draw another circle. Then use the bucket-shaped icon to fill in the new circle.
You now have drawings on two layers. So far, this seems pretty useless, but here’s a quick effect you can use that’s impossible with cut and paste and even impossible in Windows Paint: go to the layers dialog and drag the opacity slider near the top of the screen back to about 50%. Notice how the new circle gets more and more transparent.
Another Free Image Editing Example
Have you ever wondered how all those websites put shadows under their pictures so the image looks like its hovering over the page? Some of them use special images and some crafty CSS, but many of them use Photoshop—or GIMP. The technical name for this effect is Drop Shadow. Here’s how to add a drop shadow to the second circle you drew earlier:
- Restore your circle to full opacity (drag the opacity slider all the ways to the right).
- Change the color of your circle so you can see the black shadow beneath it: in the toolbox, click the black square (it’s on top of a white square). Choose a color like red from the color dialog that appears and click Ok.
- Click the bucket-icon and fill in your second circle with the new color.
- Click the Filters menu, open the Light and Shadow sub-menu, and chose Drop Shadow. Wait a moment for GIMP to do its magic and, presto, your circle will now have a nice drop shadow.
This article only scrapes the very tip of the iceberg of what you can do with GIMP—remember that 25 megabyte manual—so keep learning about your brand-new free image editing software. Please also visit our freeware section for more great software.
I have been using the GIMP for free image editing since I was a junior in High School almost 12 years ago.