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GIMP 2.8 Review

Has GIMP 2.8 been worth the wait?

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating
User Rating 2.5 Star Rating (52 Reviews)

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GIMP 2.8

GIMP 2.8

© GIMP.org
In this GIMP 2.8 review, I want to take a look at the updates that have been made to this popular and powerful open source image editor. This release of GIMP has been long awaited and has suffered extended delays from the original planned release date, but now that it's finally here, the main question is has it been worth the wait?

I'll share my opinion on that later, but firstly I want to look at the main improvements that have been made in the upgrade from version 2.6 to 2.8. This is an evolutionary upgrade, though some might consider the single window mode revolutionary. As such, the points covered in Sue's earlier review of GIMP still apply, though some have reported pressure sensitivity issues with Wacom tablets. If you're already familiar with GIMP, this release isn't going to feel too alien to you.

For the record, I'm running version 2.8.0 of GIMP on Windows 7 64 for this review.

Single Window Mode

Arguably the most contentious aspect of GIMP has been its user interface and system of multiple floating palettes on top of the work space. Personally, I've felt that many have made rather too much of this, though one side effect of the system on Windows Vista and Windows 7 has been highly unpredictable behavior when switching focus from GIMP to another application and then back again. It would often take multiple attempts before GIMP would regain focus and, for me, that was the single biggest issue affecting my usage of the application.

I'm pleased to report that by switching to Single Window Mode in the Windows menu, this problem has been completely eradicated from my experience of GIMP 2.8.

The addition of Single Window Mode alone is likely to win new converts, but existing GIMP users will still feel completely at home in this new interface. Some aspects have received a bit of a refresh, but the simple workmanlike design remains, which may perhaps feel a little dated to Adobe Photoshop users. Such users, though, may find the new tabbed file windows familiar.

Multiple File Tabs

GIMP 2.8 User Interface

One of the new features of GIMP 2.8 is on-screen text editing. (Click image for full-size.)

Screen shot © Ian Pullen, UI © GIMP.org
In Single Window Mode, when you open more than one file, you will now find that tabs with an image thumbnail appear in a bar above the canvas space. This makes it extremely easy to manage multiple files, particularly with the thumbnails making it much more intuitive to select the correct tab rather than just text labels.

Users on smaller displays, especially laptops, may find they're sacrificing more screen real estate than they'd like, but if space isn't an issue, this is a nice touch that may bring genuine improvements to work flow.

Layer Groups

GIMP users can now take advantage of Layer Groups and this is another feature that promises to drastically improve work flow for users that regularly work on composite images. This makes it much easier to keep control of large image files and is further enhanced by the ability to nest groups within groups. Anyone who has worked on files containing tens of or even hundreds of layers will know that this feature is absolutely invaluable.

Introduction to Layer Groups in GIMP 2.8

On Canvas Text Editing

This latest release of GIMP now offers the ability to edit text directly on the canvas, rather than a separate floating dialog box. This is a significant improvement, though the implementation isn't perfect and there remains room for development to maximize its usability. For example the baseline, kerning and color selection controls have no visual indication as to their purpose, other than a tool tip on mouse over. I appreciate that space is limited, but I believe small icons could have been employed here. Also, in order to get a list of fonts to choose from, you have to type the first letter of the font that you want to use and then all fonts that begin with that letter are listed for you to select from. Not the slickest user interface element that I've ever encountered.

Cage Transform Tool

This is the one new addition to GIMP's toolbox released with version 2.8 and it may not be useful to everyone. It is, however, quite a powerful addition that allows you to make advanced transformations to specific areas of an image, though you should be aware that on larger images, less powerful machines may slow down a bit while this is doing its stuff. You could use this to produce dramatic and exaggerated results, but photographers may find this to be a powerful tool for correcting perspective distortion in their images.

How to Use the Cage Transform Tool in GIMP

Conclusion

Overall, I think this has been a solid upgrade that has genuinely moved the user experience forward. There are some small niggles, such as the fact that when you drag a guide onto the canvas, it is represented by two lines separated by a white filled space, which I find hinders placing a guide accurately. For some reason, the bounding box of selections is also represented by a double line, which is a move I completely fail to understand.

Also, existing GIMP users may find themselves thrown for a while by the requirement to export files to formats other than XCF. Previously you could use the Save As option and specify the file extension, though I can see the new approach does feel more correct.

So has GIMP 2.8 been worth the wait? In my humble opinion, it is a qualified yes.

The Single Window Mode and Layer Groups alone make this version of GIMP much more usable. However, the application still lacks non-destructive editing options and these aren't due till GIMP 3 is released. Print designers are also still missing native CMYK support, though this won't be an issue for most photographers or those designing for the web.

Sue previously rated GIMP as three stars out of five and when seen in context with Adobe Photoshop, I also consider this to be a fair assessment of the application. If, however, you consider it in the context of a free image editor and in comparison to the other options available, then it scores more highly and on that basis I'd personally rate it at four and a half stars out of five. It is a strong, but not yet fully-rounded product, and the latest version is a worthy upgrade.

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