The Book of GIMP user manual review

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With Adobe, Inc. having migrated its category-defining Photoshop bitmap image editor software and the rest of its erstwhile Creative Suite applications to a subscription-only cloud service costing 50 bucks a month, an awful lot of soon-to-be-former Photoshop users are looking into alternatives.

For many, that will be the Dalide brothers’ very affordable $14.95 Pixelmator software, or Flying Meat Software’s only slightly more costly $19.95 Acorn image editor app, either of which sells for less than half of one month’s Photoshop Creative Cloud’s subscription cost. For most users, either Pixelmator or Acorn will be a perfectly adequate solution, as well as faster and less ponderous than Photoshop.

However, if you need industrial grade processing power and can’t stomach that Photoshop subscription tariff, there’s actually an even cheaper alternative.

Like, free.

That would be the oddly-named GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) open source, high-end image editing and creation software alternative to Adobe’s Photoshop and its now open-ended monthly wallet-siphoning distribution mode.

Happily, the GIMP is no longer as challenging to install, learn and use as it once was for Mac user; since version 2.8.2, the program no longer requires support of Apple’s somewhat geeky X11 environment with its distinct GUI for running Linux and UNIX applications. GIMP for OS X now demands only a simple drag and drop installation and you’re good to go. And with X11 finally out of the way, the GIMP gets a standard menu bar Aqua interface UI.


However, the GIMP does still require a fairly steep learning curve climb, especially if one wants to use its many advanced functions and get the most out of its deep feature set.

Enter Olivier Lecarme and Karine Delvare’s new The Book of GIMP from No Starch Press. The authors say the project of writing it began way back in 2006, with an original publishing target date of 2010. The goal was nearly achieved with the French language edition, but it’s taken until 2013 for the English edition to finally roll off the presses.

Subtitled “A Complete Guide To Nearly Everything,” the GIMP book is packed with 679 pages of tutorial and reference information for GIMP users.

The Book of Gimp

While some might question spending $50.00 (substantially cheaper than that from Amazon—see link below) on a user manual for a free software application, remember that sum represents just one month’s Adobe Creative Cloud subscription fee, so another way to look at it is that you’ve saved yourself hundreds of dollars a year by opting for the GIMP instead of Photoshop. Also, you get a book that’s yours to keep forever that will facilitate getting the most out of what is a very powerful graphics program, albeit one that has a reputation for being challenging to master.

The authors say their objective in writing The Book of GIMP was two-fold, and consequently the book’s content is decided into two distinct parts.

The Book of Gimp

In the first part are eight independent chapters that will walk you through the main tasks you can perform using the GIMP application. Each chapter begins with a hands–on tutorial, and ends with exercises that recapitulate concepts covered.

Part Two has 14 chapters, and comprises a thoroughgoing GIMP reference manual in which Lecarme and Delvare say they have tried to cover all aspects of GIMP usage in a logical order, using as many examples and illustrations as possible. They also say they endeavored to avoid explaining the same thing several times, although topics do overlap between the two parts of the book. It’s a formidable volume including a 22 page Index and the Appendices:

  1. Vision and Image Representation
  2. Tips and Hints for Selected Exercises
  3. Resources
  4. Frequently Asked Questions
  5. Installing GIMP
  6. Batch Processing

The Book of GIMP’s profusion of screenshots are of superb quality, and attractively presented. The book, which is printed in China, is on excellent quality paper, although the full four-color reproduction illustrations are not on glossy plates.

The Book of Gimp

It’s a treat for the eyes, as well as quite readable, especially for a technical book that was originally written in another language.

The authors say that the book is designed to be read in any order rather than cover to cover, although they’ve endeavoured to arrange things in logical progression. They also say they made sure to use a bleeding edge, developmental version of GIMP in order to ensure everything was as up-to-date as possible at the time the book went to press, and to cover every aspect of GIMP usage as thoroughly as possible. The exception are the tools in the second half of the Image: Create menu and those in the Image: Filters >Alpha to logo menu, which they chose not to cover because they’re self-explanatory and have only a few parameters.

They also deliberated extensively on whether to include information on the many plug-ins and scripts that users have added to Open Source GIMP, many of which they say would have required long chapters of their own. Consequently, they decided to cover only one such addition—the plug-in set called “jGIMP animation package (GAP)” because it adds powerful capability that GIMP alone lacks. In Chapter 21, they also mention a few additional plug-ins to give readers a taste of what’s possible.

The two-pronged approach makes the book suitable for readers and GIMP users of any skill level, from total newbies to veteran GIMP gurus to newly-converted Photoshop refugees. The tutorials will help new users get started working, and the extensive reference materials will answer the questions that pop up even for the most seasoned GIMP users.

The Book of Gimp

The tutorials and their full color, step–by-step instructions show readers how to:

  • Improve the lighting and composition of images
  • Remove distortions and noise to make old and damaged photos look like new
  • Create panoramas and digital collages using a series of photos
  • Make, edit, and export custom textures, logos, and animated gifts
  • Work with selections, channels, and masks to edit images like a professional
  • Create colorful digital art, layer by layer.

I could now dedicate several hundred words to just listing the functions and operations described in this book, and still only scratch the surface. Suffice to say that you can be reasonably confident that whatever you need to do with the GIMP, you’ll find it explained on the pages of The Book of GIMP.

The Book of Gimp

I’m finding it so. I’ve been working with Mac graphics software for 20 years, but have little or no experience with either the professional versions of Photoshop or with The GIMP. Photoshop CC will likely remain terra incognita to me, since for my purposes I could never justify the price (I remain a fan of Adobe’s $100.00 Photoshop Elements) for as long as it remains available as freestanding software at that price. The GIMP, on the other hand, has intrigued me for years, but was preciously deterred by the erstwhile X11 install complication, and the program’s reputation for being a challenge to learn. However, the recent developments of much simplified drag-and-drop installation (X11 no longer required) and the release of The Book of GIMP have finally tipped the scales, and I’ve finally downloaded and installed the current stable release: GIMP 2.8.4. With Lecarme and Delvare‘s help, I’m hoping to at long last discover first-hand what the GIMP can do, with their book making it an exciting, pleasurable, and hopefully rewarding project.

This is a powerful book, elegantly complimenting the powerful program it’s designed to help readers master. One reviewer called it a “masterpiece,” and I wouldn’t dispute that assessment in the slightest. I really can’t think of much of anything to criticize negatively, other than the publishers tacking an extra $3.00 onto the MSRP (Can$52.95), which seems a bit gratuitous given that the Canadian loonie averaged slightly higher than par with the greenback for 2012,mand so far in 2013 as well.

Nit-picking aside, I’m giving The Book of GIMP an enthusiastic five out of five rating.

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The Book of GIMP review

Buy The Book of GIMP: A Complete Guide to Nearly Everything

Authors: Olivier Lecarme and Karine Delvare
Publisher: No Starch Press
Publication Date: January 2013
ISBN 13: 978-1-59327-383-5
Pages: 676
Price: Print: $49.95  (Can. $52.95); Ebook: $39.95 Ebook (PDF, Mobi, and ePub)

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  • KC

    A single-application subscription to Photoshop is $19.99 a month, the same cost as Acorn. $50 a month gets you the entire Adobe Master Collection (Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects, Flash, Premiere, Dreamweaver, etc., etc., etc.)

    Pixelmator, Acorn, and GIMP may be fine alternatives for most casual users, but for professional use, none of these programs currently allow for CMYK-mode editing. Corel PHOTO-PAINT and PaintShop Pro, a (currently) Windows-only application, are closer viable replacements.