Which is better, Gimp or Photoshop? If you’re a graphic designer or just need to get the job done, you’ve asked a loaded question, and you will find yourself in the midst of the kind of zealotry not seen otherwise since the time of the Crusades. You’ll find the Macintosh nuts warring with Open Source purists and Adobe experts dueling with frustrated Linux users. It can get ugly. I have no dog in this fight, and while I’m by no means a power user of either one, I have a pretty in-depth understanding of their capabilities, and the comparison runs on a number of axes. I like and respect both products, but there are clear differences.
Photoshop wins the feature war hands down. It is an older, more mature project with a huge staff of very capable programmers. That said, most users need only a tiny fraction of what either program can do. If you want to create a great-looking logo or create some icons or dress up a web page, Gimp is more than up to the job. If you need to work in a production environment for print publications, forget Gimp. It doesn’t have the kind of CMYK+ support print people need, and its font handling is atrocious compared to Photoshop.
Both programs hard for a novice to learn. Even things that would seem simple, like drawing a rectangle, require way more insider’s knowledge than I would like. Gimp’s UI is quirky but plenty productive. Photoshop’s is much, much slicker and has loads more fit and finish. Winner: Photoshop
Adobe’s Photoshop documentation is well integrated, comprehensive, and feels like the work of a large, competent team that put hundreds of man-years into the job. Gimp’s documentation is actually a bit hard to find and is a separate download. It’s much lower rent-looking but I like it just as much as Adobe’s. It’s not pretty but it’s thorugh. Much better than that of most open-source products, once you can find it. Winner: Photoshop (but Gimp is more than creditable)
There are a couple of good books on Gimp. No bad ones that I’ve seen. There are literally hundreds of books on Photoshop, many of them of very high quality. If you think of websites as documentation there are thousands devoted to each one, but Photoshop still wins hands down. Gimp folk will tell you about Gimpshop, which makes Gimp look a lot like Photoshop. Winner: Photoshop, by a mile
Gimp is free. Photoshop is comparatively expensive, though given its feature set, Photoshop is amazingly cheap. Winner: Gimp
Gimp support is haphazard. They don’t have a central support team, like Adobe. But it’s free, and if you’re persistent you will most certainly find the answer on a forum somewhere without paying a cent. On the other hand, Adobe support is expensive but has higher availability. Third party support for Photoshop is a universe of its own, with everything from your local PC configurator guy’s girlfriend to straight off the Adobe Classroom certification. Winner: Photoshop
Photoshop isn’t copy protected, but you do have to register it. Adobe is generous about letting you run on both a desktop and a laptop, for example, and they haven’t balked even though I go through computers suspiciously fast (nothing sinister, they just deteriorate quickly in my house). Still… Gimp is free and certainly doesn’t require registration. Winner: Gimp
Photoshop is much nicer to use than Gimp. It reeks of polish and class. Gimp is full of rough edges, like its hideous text tool. Winner: Photoshop
Programming Gimp is not for the fainthearted. Photoshop has a much more comprehensive automation model. You can do lots of awesome stuff with Gimp nonetheless. Much of its default functionality is actually in the form of plugins built with Gimp’s, shall we say, unusual Script-Fu language. You can now hack Gimp in Python, but that means a less unified experience. Winner: Photoshop
All graphic artists know Photoshop.They have to. It pays the bills. Only a tiny fraction know Gimp. If you want to find good artists cheap, stick to Photoshop. Winner: Photoshop
Photoshop is better than Gimp in every significant way. To me the most persuasive reasons to go with Photoshop are the availability of good artists and the greatly increased likelihood that in case of emergency, you will do much better finding a solution with Photoshop due to the vast third party landscape.
All that said, I use Gimp way more often. Why? Because it does the job, it’s free, doesn’t use up much memory, and I don’t have to keep track of licensing information. Besides, though Photoshop does a lot more, Gimp does infinitely more than most graphic artists will ever need.