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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 @03:56PM (#42823551)

    I picked up Photoshop ver. 4 when I was 15 or so. It was very intuitive. I learned it in a few hours.
    However, PS is so bloated with features that I have a hard time learning what the new things are....or how they even "help" me. So no, it's not easy to learn PS these days. Too many icons and menus that's intimidating, imo. But because I've known PS, I can use it and know what tools are fundamental for my workflow.

    The problem (or benefit) of PS is that it's used across many industries and it's not limited to photographers. 3D artists use it. Medical imaging professionals use it. And everything in between. I think that's why PS is bloated to help those outsiders "in". I mean, you can configure it to have different workspaces depending on your work field.

    Anyways, it's no excuse to GIMP's lack of intuitiveness. Or rather, lack of focus. I see GIMP users as coders who want to do some web design on the side or fix something really quick to fit the website layout. Basically, web-related stuff. I wish GIMP would design the UI to cater to that demographic/ needs. Or maybe it already does, I'm just not the audience.

    -an actual professional photographer who actually makes a living taking photos & maintains a studio.

  • GIMP 2.8 SUCKS (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 07, 2013 @03:57PM (#42823569)

    GIMP 2.6 was very good, even on Windows. Then they decided to force GEGL through in preparation for adjustment layers and other functionality to mimick Photoshop features that had been missing for a long time. The trouble is the reimplementation of these features has made them MUCH slower and buggier. For instance where arbitrary rotation was no problem in 2.6 all of a sudden only discrete steps are allowed in 2.8 - if you pick something inbetween on rotation dialog it rounds it to the nearest discreet step it's willing to do, then it takes a lot longer to perform the operation than it did in 2.6.

    GIMP is going the way of Firefox. "We know better, and it's free so you'll take these changes and you'll like them". FUCK!

  • GIMP vs. Ps (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TemperedAlchemist ( 2045966 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @04:00PM (#42823605)

    I see this battle a lot, but it's inherently flawed. GIMP was never created to compete with photoshop, and photoshop used by industry professionals don't only use Ps. It's usually used in tandem with illustrator, lightroom, etc. Whatever tool is best needed for the job.

  • Worst title ever. (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 07, 2013 @04:00PM (#42823607)

    And after that last GIMP 2.7 BDSM image, this whole thing is a massive facepalm.

  • by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @04:22PM (#42823847) Journal

    I used to be a Gimp basher on here when I had PS and Dreamweaver installed via a pirated copy. I used to be agaisn't piracy but after not working for awhile I used it to justify it. I decided to kick the habbit after going through contstant hacks and other potentially trojaned KMS servers.

    Yeah PS is better, but those who say so pirate it 80% of the time! That is not really fair. If you had to actually pay $700 for it would it be worth your value then for its features?

    Now since my computer is pirated free and I have my integrity back I have to say no.

    In that economical sense NO, for 90% of users. Unless you are a professional marketer or photographer who makes thousands of dollars from it I have to say the GIMP is better. I do like the UI for paint.net better.

    It is a shame PaintShop Pro is gone or rather gimped (no pun intended) after Corel bought it. That $79 program could do much photo editing plus create cool textures for websites. Corel got rid of the secondary feature so I can spend more money buying other crappy products they make to duplicate its lost functionality.

    Value for dollar you can't beat the Gimp. The only difference is if you work for an advertising agency and get paid serious bucks for production material does PS provide better value.

  • by cristiroma ( 606375 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @04:51PM (#42824221)
    Amen! I would be happy to see more people being honest about it.

    I've been used Photoshop about 15 years and I would say Photoshop should be the first example to teach on the UIX classes. It's so great that even a 5 years old could get around in couple of hours.

    I don't want to troll about it, I'm a developer and I can appreciate the hard work of people behind GIMP. And their influence over Linux world with GTK. Still I hate to see people comparing saying "GIMP is waaaay better than PS".

    Guess what! It's NOT!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 07, 2013 @06:15PM (#42825627)

    Photosho = $600 dollars. Gimp = $0 dollars.

    Ipso facto gimp = winner.

    You can make arguments about ease of use and such, but unless your job requires something not available in GImp, then Photoshop isn't better.

    Is your time worthless? Are you one of the few who is not routinely infuriated by a program which has long been the poster child for user-hostile open source software? Is your budget too thin to pay $600 for a good tool, even if you need it? Or perhaps you don't use software of this type more than once in a blue moon and therefore can't justify $600? (or even $70 as Desler points out?)

    If any of these things apply to you, Gimp might be better. Otherwise... not so much. Price is not the sole determinant of whether one thing is better than another. Arguing otherwise marks you as a fool.

  • by QuasiSteve ( 2042606 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @06:20PM (#42825717)

    Don't you think you might be tainted by your 15 years of use with Photoshop?

    Don't get me wrong - I'm certainly not saying that GIMP is 'waaaay' better than Photoshop. Far from it. But a 5-year old (really? let's try 8, at least.) can probably find their way around either of them in the same amount of time.

    Just to counter your example, I've mostly been used to another graphics editor and GIMP, and only occasionally use Photoshop. Here's some of the things I encountered in the past that I thought "oh sweet jesus, wtf?"

    Panning around an image. Practically any application middle mouse 'button' and drag away. Photoshop? Hold the space bar, and drag with left mouse button. Huh?

    Adding a layer mask. Right-click layer, choose 'add layer mask'. Photoshop? I had to actually google this.. it's a funny looking icon of a rectangle with a circle in it at the bottom of the layers dialog. What?

    Zooming. Ctrl+scrollwheel - again, almost any application. Photoshop? Alt+scrollwheel. Eh?

    Pasting bitmap data on the clipboard as a new image. Edit, Paste as, New image. Photoshop? File, New, OK, Paste. Change to single layer or Photoshop will complain when you try to save the thing. Really?

    Yeah, when you get used to it and learn the keyboard shortcuts these really aren't big issues - I don't really think about them anymore. But I wouldn't exactly hold all of Photoshop up as an example in UIX classes.
    ( Fly-out tools don't help either. Long-press a tool to find other tools that may only be vaguely related to the tool you first saw? )

    Counter-counter example - GIMP's transform tools. Who do I bribe to bump those up to the top of the "let's fix this" list?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 07, 2013 @07:24PM (#42826681)

    I personally would place the GIMP somewhere between Elements and CS in functionality. That said, for the vast majority of tasks, Elements is quite adequate. If a little more power is needed, then the GIMP is good, and if you really need / want to have the latest wizz-bang image editing tools at your finger tips, then CS is the way to go... although, if you're patient, something similar often turns up in the GIMP later on anyway.

    As a professional photographer doing this for my bread and butter, I am actually now into my tenth year using the GIMP (and ImageMagick) for all my editing work, and I have been immensely satisfied with the functionality, ease of use and stability of that program... not to mention the price! Nonetheless, I am certainly not unfamiliar with working with the Photoshop products, mainly through working together with others (it's probably no surprise that some of my friends are also photographers!). The interfaces are quite different, but once you know them, I wouldn't say either is "better"; I find both equally easy to work with. However, it does seem to me that Photoshop probably does lend itself better to fitting readily into a good work flow.

    But ultimately, what I find matters most for effective editing is not so much the tool, but rather a good knowledge and understanding of the underlying principles. With that, it really is pretty easy to learn to use a new program and do wonders with it. Much like photography itself really, and many other things like computer programming.

  • by MusedFable ( 1640361 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @09:56PM (#42827979)
    As someone who embraces copyleft and is a strong supporter of free software GIMP isn't a replacement for photoshop yet. The roadmap for GIMP should make it possible after 2.10 or 3.0 Here's what I need to switch: Unified transform tool so I can scale, rotate, shear, etc all with one tool (currently available in 2.9 dev) On Canvas Preview so I can see what something looks like without having to commit and undo a change over and over again. 16/32 Color Bit Depth (CMYK would be good but not required). This is already in GIMP, but not supported by everything. After GEGL is fully integrated this will be great. Layer Masks and other nondestructive editing. Massively speeds up productivity and prototyping. I'd really like an improvement to layers in GIMP. Right now you can't select multiple layers and move them up and down. Layer groups makes it tolerable, but it's still slower than photoshop. On top of that the UI of GIMP is big and ugly. The menus are in akward places with way too much white space and padding taking up a good chunk of the screen. Some of this can be fixed with icon packs, customized panels, and a new theme, but it's always going to be a little oversized and awkward. Photoshop's menu organization is just about perfect; might as well copy it.
  • Re:definitions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TechyImmigrant ( 175943 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @04:58AM (#42830043) Homepage Journal

    >I agree Gimp sucks

    It's the layers. They are what makes GIMP suck.

    An average user, expects that when they select a rectangle, plant the mouse in the middle and drag it, the contents move. This happens in photoshop. It sometimes happens in GIMP, but usually not. This is something to do with layers, it is massively annoying and it is the barrier to entry that leaves most people saying GIMP sucks.

    If I encounter this non functionality, I can usually drill through some menus and find something to 'merge layers' so they behave like the bitmap they are supposed to behave like. But most people don't manage to do that and give up.

    It is inexcusable that when you import a jpeg picture it comes in as more than one layer and GIMPs tools then interact with a different invisible layer, frustrating the user trying to edit the image.

    That is why GIMP sucks. If they fixed the layer interface, GIMP would not suck. I'd do it myself, but I'm too busy designing chips to fork GIMP and fix it.'

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.