The GIMP – which stands for the “GNU Image Manipulation Program” – is open source graphics editing software with a range of powerful features for image authoring, image composition, and photo retouching. Versions of the program are available for use on Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, and it provides a powerful but extremely affordable alternative to expensive commercial programs such as Adobe Photoshop.
In terms of painting and drawing images, the GIMP includes a full suite of drawing tools (all of which produce smooth drawing effects thanks to powerful anti-aliasing technology) such as pencils, brushes, airbrush, and cloning. The program of course supports custom brushes and patterns, as well as gradient and blending tools. For adjusting, manipulating and cleaning up images, there are many different tools, and most importantly the program supports multiple levels of undo and redo, so if you make a mistake, you can easily recover from it.
The GIMP has its own native file format for saving images, known as XCF, which retains layers and the other sophisticated editing features that you need to keep for work’s that are still in progress. However images in GIMP can also be loaded, saved, or converted to and from a wide variety of popular file formats including bmp, gif, jpeg, png, ps, psd, tiff and numerous others.
Another powerful aspect of the GIMP, is that like top-end commercial graphics programs, the software is both extensible and can be automated:
* Extensibility means that programmers can enhance the software with add-on modules (“extensions” or “plug-ins”) that provide extra features over and above the basic program. For example, typical extensions may add support for loading or saving images in different file formats, or provide extra effects and filters for manipulating images.
* The automation features of the GIMP allows scripts to be set up to perform common procedures that you might otherwise need to do again and again. For example, if you have a large number of images to convert from one file format to another, a script can be set up to do this in automated way, rather than you manually have to load and then re-save each individual image.
Obtaining the GIMP is easy. The GIMP is actually an open source program, which means you can download it (including the source code, which you can review or even edit if you have the programming skills) for free. That said, if you’re not a technically-orientated type of person, this may not be the best option for you. The other way to obtain the program is to purchase a commercial distribution of the program (these are mostly very reasonably priced) – the advantage of which is usually a straightforward and easy installation procedure, documentation, support, and in many cases, useful extras bundled with the basic program, such as tutorials or clip art libraries.