16 May 2012
On announcing the release of GIMP 2.8 the developers claimed that the update introduced ‘important changes to the user interface’. Is this the case or are there still issues to be found? 2.8 is available on Linux, Windows and Mac OS X, making it widely available and it is of course still completely free and open source. The new release has been in development for three years, meaning GIMP 2.8 boasts 36 notable improvements to it’s interface and a number of updates beneath the surface supporting these. At times I have avoided using GIMP because it was cumbersome and disorganised, so I am interested to find out if my opinion will change with the new release.
Single Window Mode
The first, and possibly most important change is the ability to use GIMP in single window mode. To use this simply go to Windows > Single Window Mode. This feature has been long requested by GIMP’s user base and it is great to see this feature finally implemented. I would have liked to have seen it as the default setting, but it is very easy to set up. Using GIMP is much better experience with single window mode enabled. No more disappearing menus or windows getting in the way of the canvas.
On canvas text editing
The new on canvas text editing feature is a huge improvement on the irritating pop up window that preceded it. For me the pop up was one of the biggest negative points of GIMP, it is great to see the back of it. As well as being more aesthetic, the new text editing mode is slicker and much easier to use than it’s predecessor. This improved feature is sure to speed up text based work. One negative that still remains is that even when the text box is selected you still have to highlight the text inside it in order to make changes take effect. It would be better if the whole contents of the text box changed by default with the option to modify sections of text with highlighting for when it is needed.
Photoshop users will be pleased to see the addition of layer groups. This will make layers much easier to deal with in GIMP and it will be far less confusing if you have a large number of them in one image. The new group layers feature means that users can show and hide sets of layers and move, duplicate and delete a whole group of layers at once, rather than having to spend time editing every layer individually.
New navigation system for multiple canvases open at once will allow users to switch between screens effortlessly without the need to search through multiple windows or constantly minimise/maximise them to find the right one on the taskbar. This new feature makes organising the workload much easier than it was before and is definitely a welcome addition to GIMP.
Every user has different needs and now GIMP 2.8 can be better organised to suit them. The various toolbars can be dragged and rearranged making it faster and easier to find what you are looking for. The new layout allows users to create their perfect workspace without the need for hunting through windows and accidentally closing toolbars.
Brushes can now be rotated, a feature that was never present in it’s predecessor but will be a useful addition for those who wish to paint in GIMP. The organisation of brushes has also improved in an attempt to make them easier and quicker to find. All of GIMPs Brushes, Gradients and Patterns can now be categorised by tagging them. Users can now filter brushes by typing a tag into the search bar. Brushes also now have an outline of the area a brush will cover, an invaluable feature that this will make drawing and painting in GIMP easier and much more precise.
GIMP 2.8’s design has a much more professional feel and now properly rivals it’s commercial alternatives. Many of the long-awaited features have been added and the result is a far more slick and user-friendly working environment. There are a wide range of improvements present in both the interface and the features included in GIMP, but after using 2.8 for just a few minutes I found that some of the old quirks and irritations were frustratingly still present.
GIMP has some excellent features and a wide range of tools, however, it is not as easy to grasp as some other graphics programs if you are a novice user. It can also take longer to do simple jobs in GIMP than in other image manipulation programs.
Overall, if you are serious about image manipulation and you want something free and open source, GIMP is by far the best option. GIMP is a hugely powerful tool for graphic design and image manipulation, and it is incredibly surprising that such a great program is available totally free, the developers deserve a big pat on the back!