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The Book of GIMP 197

Michael Ross writes "Web designers, graphics artists, and others who create and edit digital images, have a number of commercial image-manipulation packages from which they can choose — such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Fireworks (originally developed by Macromedia). Yet there are also many alternatives in the open-source world, the most well-known being GNU Image Manipulation Program. GIMP is available for all major operating systems, and supports all commonly-used image formats. This powerful application is loaded with features, including plug-ins and scripting. Yet detractors criticize it as being complicated (as if Photoshop is intuitively obvious). Admittedly, anyone hoping to learn it could benefit from a comprehensive guide, such as The Book of GIMP." Keep reading for the rest of Michael's review.
The Book of GIMP: A Complete Guide to Nearly Everything
author Olivier Lecarme and Karine Delvare
pages 676 pages
publisher No Starch Press
rating 9/10
reviewer Michael J. Ross
ISBN 978-1593273835
summary A comprehensive tutorial and reference to GIMP 2.8.
Authored by Olivier Lecarme and Karine Delvare, The Book of GIMP: A Complete Guide to Nearly Everything was published by No Starch Press on 22 January 2013, with the ISBN 978-1593273835. The publisher's page offers minimal information on the book and its authors, as well as a skimpy table of contents, and a free sample chapter (the fifth one, on composite photography). Lecarme has a companion website where visitors will find additional resources, including bonus filters, a forum (albeit almost empty), and a selection of the example images used in the book.

This title's 676 pages are organized into 22 chapters and six appendices. The first eight chapters compose "Part I — Learning GIMP"; the remaining chapters compose "Part II — Reference"; and the appendices compose the third part. In a brief but pleasant introduction, the authors encourage readers to follow along by installing GIMP on a local machine. Installation instructions can be found in Appendix E (which arguably should be the first appendix, to get readers started with a local installation). The book is based upon the most recent stable version of GIMP, namely 2.8, which reportedly introduced significant improvements over earlier versions.

As one might expect, the first chapter introduces the basics of the GIMP user interface, explaining how to find and open images, use the menu system in the main image dock, and perform basic editing operations, such as resizing and cropping. It also presents some essential concepts in GIMP — filters, layers, and drawing tools — and then discusses the use of a tablet in conjunction with GIMP. The next six chapters each focus on a major category of image work: photo retouching, drawing and illustration, logos and textures, composite photography, animation, and image preprocessing. The last chapter in the group covers utilizing GIMP for crafting the visual design of a website. The only problem I found in the narrative is the inconsistency in terminology, primarily the references to something as a "dock" on some occasions, and other times as a "window"; also, the "multi-dialog window" (page 4) is later called the "multi-docks window" (page 18). Nonetheless, the prose is straightforward and concise; there is a lot of information contained in each section. Consequently, anyone reading these tutorial chapters should take them at a modest pace, and frequently compare the authors' narrative and one's understanding of it with the screenshots and/or one's own results if following along (a practice I strongly recommend for this particular book, so one will better internalize the broad ideas as well as the details).

Each chapter concludes with a set of exercises, whose questions tend to be much more open-ended and difficult than those normally found in technical books. In fact, readers may be frustrated how some of the exercises challenge one to perform task completely unmentioned in the corresponding chapter. For instance, the very first one in the book, Exercise 1.1 (page 24), asks the reader to build a new dock with dialogs, even though at no point in the chapter was the reader told how to do anything remotely like this. Appendix B contains tips for a minority of the exercises.

The bulk of the book, "Part II — Reference," offers almost 400 pages of details on every aspect of GIMP: the user interface, its displays, layers, colors, selections, masks, drawing tools, transformation tools, filters, animation tools, scanning and printing images, image formats, scripts and plug-ins, and other methods of customizing the application — with each chapter starting with the basics. All of the information is terrific, but the thoughtful reader may wonder why the book begins with advanced topics — such as photo retouching, composite photography, animation, and website design — and later presents the detailed explanations of all the aforementioned aspects of using GIMP. It seems to me that it would have been better to present the Part II chapters first, and then present the advanced topics currently in Part I, except for what is now Chapter 1 ("Getting Started"), which would still be a fine way to begin the explication.

The third and final part contains half a dozen appendices, the first of which is a fascinating exploration of the science of human vision and the three main models of digital color representation. As noted earlier, the second appendix contains tips and hints for some of the chapter exercises. The third appendix is brief, but contains a wealth of online resources for anyone who would like to learn more about GIMP and its community. The next appendix contains a list of frequently asked questions and their answers, and is well worth reading. The fifth chapter explains how to install GIMP on computers running GNU/Linux, Unix, various Linux distros, Windows, and Mac OS X. The final appendix addresses batch processing of images, including the use of ImageMagick.

The production quality of this book is excellent (judging by the print copy kindly provided to me by No Starch Press for review). It was a smart choice on the part of the authors to request full-color images on every page, and the publisher's decision to do so, given the book's visual subject — even though it resulted in a heavier product (3.4 pounds).

Naturally, as a book discussing an image editor, this one makes extensive use of example photos and other images, which are extremely helpful to the reader. Only a few problems were evident; for instance, Figures 1.24 and 1.25 are so small that the cropping pointers are almost invisible. In some cases the descriptions or screenshots do not match what I saw when following along; for instance, on page 3, the author states that the three startup windows (Toolbox, Image, and multi-dialog) by default occupy the full width of the screen, which contradicts the screenshot in Figure 1.1, which shows the Image window at partial width.

The writing is generally clear and easy to follow, even though some of the phrasing is odd (e.g., "source text" to mean "source code"), perhaps because both authors are French. That could also account for the errata — for instance, "on [the] left" (page 15) and "its there" (page 22) — of which there were remarkably few for a book of this length.

If any reader is looking for a free and full-featured image-editing program, then by all means consider GIMP, as well as this outstanding tutorial and reference book.

Michael J. Ross is a freelance web developer and writer.

You can purchase The Book of GIMP: A Complete Guide to Nearly Everything from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.


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The Book of GIMP

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 07, 2013 @03:53PM (#42823505)

    I don't really have much to say about this review or the article, but I'd like to say, as someone who has been using GIMP extensively for the past six months, it's a really fantastic program and probably one of the best, most reliable, and most useful free/open source software packages I've used. I wish there were something like the GIMP, but for music production.

  • by StrayEddy ( 2650271 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @04:26PM (#42823895)
    Check the single-window-mode please: http://www.gimp.org/release-notes/gimp-2.8.html [gimp.org]
  • by Desler ( 1608317 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @04:43PM (#42824129)

    If you had to actually pay $700 for it would it be worth your value then for its features?

    No, that's why they made Photoshop Elements that you can get for around $70 on Amazon for version 11.

  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @05:04PM (#42824381)

    "The Book of Gimp should probably have been released as 4 or 5 books, which you have to open all at once, with all the page numbers in one book, the example images in another and the text, in no particular order, heaped in yet another book."

    The new version of Gimp has a more-standard single-window mode. That was the single biggest complaint before. So now the other large objections are coming to the fore.

    For example: among the multiple "select" tools, why is there not a simple "point and click" select tool for drawing objects? Every other major image manipulation program of which I am aware has one.

  • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @05:47PM (#42825113)

    The new version of Gimp has a more-standard single-window mode. That was the single biggest complaint before. So now the other large user annoyances have been added

    ... ...would be a better way to put it.

    The biggest one is the ridiculous and recently added "export" functionality for everything but the native file format. This is completely unlike every other editing application of any kind for anything anywhere. If I open a Word or RTF or plain text file in LibreOffice, for example, I can save it to that format with a keystroke.

    GIMP is a great program--I even got used to the floating windows after a few years--but its developers consistently treat their users with complete contempt, and in the case of the new export functionality they are actually doing more work to make the program harder to use.

  • Re:Detractors... (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuasiSteve ( 2042606 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @05:56PM (#42825259)

    There's nothing wrong with the name, per se. It just has unfortunate connotations.

    Let's say that after OpenOffice.org had to be split off, rather than than the already baffling 'LibreOffice', they had gone with Phree Open Office Program.

    Instead of Blender, it could have been Free Animation/Rendering Toolchain.

    Instead of Linux it could have been Free UNIX Command Kit.

    And really, nothing would have been wrong with those names per se. Until you try explaining to somebody that you're using FART and The GIMP to make some graphics for your POOP Impress presentation on your FUCK machine. That's when you're treated to raised eyebrows, at the least.

    That, in part, is why Film GIMP was quickly renamed to CinePaint; a paint app used primarily in the film industry, which tends to be pretty Linux-heavy as it is and is filled with geeks who would 'understand' GIMP just fine.
    http://www.cinepaint.org/more/press/cinepaint.pr.2003.3.1.html [cinepaint.org]
    ( The other part being that it started to be less and less GIMP-based and more cobbled together from various open source applications, so keeping 'GIMP' in there just stopped making sense anyway. But they still decided on something that "will present a more professional name". )

    The GIMP developers, however, brush off criticism with the FAQ entry: "GIMP is comfortable with its name and thinks that you should apologise for your rudeness".

    That said, sources are available. It would be exceedingly trivial - short of evil bits of code in the source - to search&replace all of the 'GIMP' strings used for presentation and complying with the remainder of the licenses and publish an alternative build. I don't think anybody does. So as much as people like to complain about the name, it seems it's not enough for an issue for people to do something about it. There's bigger dragons to slay in The GIMP. Single window mode was a big one. GEGL getting fully implemented is another. User friendliness of various tools is next. ( imho they made a misstep with the new 'save as' behavior, but that's more of a personal preference. )

  • Re:Perfect Timing (Score:5, Informative)

    by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @06:11PM (#42825525)

    Valentine's day is next week and my sex slave would love the book of gimps!

    The section on masks is on page 119.

    And the Cage Transform is explained in the advanced user appendix. Beginners should stick to crops, and everyone should be familiar with the Healing Tool before starting.

    Unconventionally, the safe work is "control-zed".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 07, 2013 @07:18PM (#42826597)

    Support for more than 8-bits per colour channel/plane:

    • Photoshop: Yes.
    • Gimp: No. (Gimp can import some 16-bit/channel images, but downsamples them to 8-bit/channel thus losing information.)

    Works with images in non-RGB/sRGB colourspaces:

    • Photoshop: Yes.
    • Gimp: No. (Gimp can import some non-RGB and non-sRGB images, but converts them all to RGB thus losing information.)

System checkpoint complete.