Tonight, on PIMP My GIMP: Tuxy McGnu, the infamous explorer of all things free and open, goes about testing the latest edition of GIMP, the cross-platform raster graphics editor. Rather pleased with the available capabilities, options, filters, and plugins he’s discovered in earlier episodes, and the single-windows view mode in Episode 8, Tuxy is keen on learning about new things and features in the program.
Tuxy’s journey has been eventful. Not that long ago, he contested with Krita, another specimen of the OSS Race, and found it interesting and useful if somewhat less practical when it comes to pure image editing. Will GIMP deliver more of the same, or will GIMP be a surprise? And if so, will it be a good surprise?
This … and more, in tonight’s episode, on PIMP My GIMP!
Grab GIMP 2.10
So yeah, you might be thinking, Dedo be tripping. Maybe just a little. Anyway, GIMP 2.10 has been released, so I decided to go about testing it. I actually decided to conduct two separate experiments. One, with a Flatpak package in CentOS 7.4, which makes for an interesting test of its own. Two, in Kubuntu 18.04 with the program installed from an (official) PPA. The new version, at the time of this writing, is still not available in the standard repo channels.
The Flatpak setup was … somewhat complicated. Nothing to do with GIMP itself. I downloaded the GIMP package reference file from FlatHub, and then tried to run it. This did not work through Gnome Software, and I had to use the command line, with a somewhat less-than-intuitive syntax, to get the job done.
flatpak install flathub org.gimp.GIMP
The Kubuntu setup was somewhat easier. It was just the matter of adding the PPA, refreshing the repos, and installing the program. We can now begin the testing in earnest.
Look & feel
One major difference between GIMP 2.10 and older versions is that it comes with a new, somewhat flat-ified UI, with a dark theme and symbolic icons. This is a drastic visual change for people used to GIMP being of light color and using happy if outdated color icons. True, most image manipulation programs nowadays incline toward darker or dark themes (supposedly to minimize visual distractions, although I do not see that), and it seems that GIMP follows suit. Moreover, the use of symbolic icons is also controversial, because for people somewhat less savvy in the game (i.e. they don’t know all the keyboard shortcuts), it is more difficult to visually distinguish among different tools.
Luckily, it is possible to change this relatively easily. The program preferences menu is rich and detailed, and it allows you to change both the theme and the icons, separately, so you can have the program use its legacy skin, or go with the new modern layout.
Usin’ & cruisin’
If you’ve used GIMP before, this version retains the familiar workflow. I found it easier to manipulate images than with Krita. We’re talking layers and layer masks, filters, various effects, the G’MIC toolbox. In general, it was relatively easy to figure out what and where, to work on the imported images and make relevant changes, like realistic grain and blur, cartoon feel, RGB noise with individual channel control, and more.
The actual changes are mostly under the hood, and they will appeal to people with serious image processing needs. Casual, occasional users will not see much difference. The documentation is still patchy. For instance, there’s this new thing called Goat Exercise. I mean I love goats as the next guy, but I sure have no idea what this function is and what it does. Well, it looks pretty, though.
GIMP 2.10 seems to efficiently use the system resources, spreading its workload over multiple cores. I observed the CPU utilization going anywhere between 30% and 350% while working. The downside of this is that you may feel other programs slightly starved for resources, because image manipulation is a greedy, intense procedure. Some older plugins are single-thread only, so they will max. individual cores but not use more than that.
You gain speed – but as I’ve mentioned, ’tis a double-edged sword. Running some of the filters brought the program to a standstill. It would literally freeze, and even the keyboard would not respond, as GIMP ate cycles and did its computations, but then things would go back to normal after a few seconds. For instance, tone mapping using Mantiuk 2006 did a wonderful job of testing my system resources to the max.
You can also use hardware acceleration. This is another big step in getting faster render times, especially if you have a powerful, discrete card. By default, the functionality is not enabled.
This is something that I’ve always struggled with in GIMP – automating repetitive tasks and batch processing. Indeed, you can use something like BIMP (which we will review separately), but this one failed to compile with GIMP 2.10 – works splendidly with the older GIMP 2.8. But then, plugins aside, the native functionality is quite limited. There’s no button for recording macros like in Krita, but you do have something called Python Console, where you can write GIMP commands using Python syntax, if I’m not mistaken. Either way, I cannot think of a less fun way to automate tasks, especially if you’re an ordinary user.
Problems and inconsistencies
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. There was also some of that TV drama suspense.
Now the choice of your package will also dictate your experience, unfortunately. I noticed that the Flatpak version takes a tad longer to open, but then given the differences between CentOS and Kubuntu, although both run with a new kernel (4.15 or higher), and the use of Gnome and Plasma desktops, respectively, we can expert some small performance difference in startup times. The actual usage is pretty much identical, and that’s what matters.
Another difference – availability of tools and plugins. GIMP allows you to install FX-Foundry, G’MIC and several other extras, which can help enrich your experience. In CentOS, version 2.8 from the repos (this would be RPM Fusion, an unofficial channel of its own), had all of these available. The Flatpak version did not, and it did not integrate with the extras. In Kubuntu, the PPA did offer various extras and G’MIC but not the FX-Foundry package. From a pure functionality perspective, among the two, the PPA offers you the most for version 2.10, but it is still the official repo that gives you 100% on all things GIMP, for the price of using an older edition of the program for the time being.
In Plasma, the UI does not render perfectly. I noticed that some buttons do not show. More precisely, they show but their borders are not clearly outlined. I don’t know the specific reasons for this, and I haven’t played with trying to adjust the viewability of Gnome apps under Plasma. Something to be aware of.
Niggles and issues aside, I was having a decent amount of fun and enjoyment working with GIMP 2.10. The workflow is consistent. There were no cardinal issues, none of the old, familiar stuff seems to have been removed or arbitrarily changed, and you can customize the UI back to the old scheme, if you like. The program, both versions, were quite stable, and there were no crashes. Nice.
GIMP 2.10 is a steady, incremental update to a very solid and mature baseline. GIMP works well, and it offers the familiar tools of the trade to its users. New features come in small chunks, and you don’t need to fight the program. It works with you. I am less keen on the dark-theme modernization, but that’s something you can easily change. Performance is good, you can use hardware acceleration, and you have the rich, colorful range of filters and plugins, although this – mind – depends on the specific version of the program. Different installation methods will lead to slightly different results, but this is an implementation-specific issue and not something inherent that we can blame on GIMP.
There are still problems, regardless. For instance, the macro functionality is virtually non-existent. And some things remain stubbornly difficult, whereas I’d expect them to be simple, trivial and accessible. Like creating paths. Very frustrating. Why not just offer pre-formatted SVG shapes, like speech balloons or traffic signs or whatever? Why do I need so many steps to make trivial objects? This is definitely an area that GIMP can improve. At the moment, it’s mostly intended for advanced users, and some options truly require a twist of mind that most people just do not possess. It would be nice to see GIMP offer more newb-friendly methods of image manipulation.
In general, if you’re looking for a free and powerful image manipulation program, with an intermediate level of learning curve difficulty, a wealth of options and extensible features, and a reasonable workflow, GIMP 2.10 is a good choice. You won’t become a pro overnight, but you just might make your photos a little prettier. Worth testing, especially since version 2.10 only makes the good better. Take care.