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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 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 Ichijo ( 607641 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @04:11PM (#42823721) Journal

    I used to use the Gimp, because it was free. I mainly used it for restoring old photos and for some postprocessing on my own digital photos. But then I discovered Lightroom. In the Gimp, fixing the white balance is a manual process using curves, but in Lightroom, you just point at a neutral color in the photo and it's all done for you.

    In the Gimp, applying a graduated neutral density filter involves working with layers, but in Lightroom, you just click and drag to create two regions, then set the exposure individually for each.

    Lightroom's cataloging and batch features make it easy to work with large numbers of images.

    I still occasionally use the Gimp for things I can't do in Lightroom (most recently, to blur out a license plate using a mosaic effect), but for most of what I do, Lightroom is much easier and faster.

  • by jones_supa ( 887896 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @04:18PM (#42823799)
    This. I like to rant about OSS brokenness, but GIMP is one of the programs I really do not have much to complain about.
  • by Phase Shifter ( 70817 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @05:09PM (#42824451) Homepage
    Well, it would be nice if they would pick a UI and stick with it.
    It seems like whenever someone publishes a good book on how to use GIMP, the GIMP team immediately overhauls the UI, changing all the menus to make most of the text utterly useless.
    Alternatively, the blame can be placed on the authors and publishers for releasing a book when they know a new UI is forthcoming. It's not like they don't have access to the prerelease versions of the new UI.
  • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Thursday February 07, 2013 @05:54PM (#42825243) Journal

    In which way?

    I always read comments like "PS is better" or "Gimp is better", but those are usually just claims without giving any substance.

    So please elaborate: What is better in Photoshop Elements than in Gimp?

  • CMYK is still used. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 07, 2013 @10:50PM (#42828353)

    If you're serious about color reproduction on magazines, packaging, and corporate brochures with trademarked colors (i.e. Coca Cola #pantone_red), then you will convert it to CMYK to ensure things don't get lost in translation. True, magazines will mainly accept jpg, but if you're anal about colors, you can talk to the art director about color fidelity and they'll accept images with CMYK profile - but only if you're willing to do some color processing for free in order to fit the layout's colors, and more importantly their schedule. Digital techs for commercial photographers proof their work in CMYK if they know it'll be printed, and adjust accordingly and hand over a custom profile for the print dept. to use.

    Color fidelity doesn't stop at just getting a colorimeter for your monitor. But then again, it depends on your field. CMYK is very much alive. Just go to the cereal aisle and look at the packaging. Or any industry which takes their time and money to trademark their branding. I know fashion and some garments such as a basic towel from Bath Bed & Beyond will want the color on the towel from the catalog to *exactly* match the real towel's color.

    The local printing business just assume you won't care about the color shift or that you'll probably have a greater tolerance. Your jpg will still be converted to CMYK because large scale printers still use them (plus spot colors like Pantone). If you want professional quality with high fidelity, you'll convert your file to CMYK yourself and do color adjustments under this workspace to ensure no sudden shifts or replacements for out-of-gamut colors, and again, hand over your profile.

    Hell, go visit a professional graphic designer. I bet he has a Pantone color swatch. Guess what's written on them? CMYK approximate colors. He won't care about it when he shows the swatch or give the code to the printer, but a printer worth his/ her salt will follow the recipe printed on the swatch to the tee and ensure the printed color will match the swatch.

    Your "industry" is just a different one with higher tolerances. It's not better or worse. There are still food and architecture photographers using large format cameras with tilt & shift controls on the lens & back, but there are those who are just fine with a 35mm with a very limited tilt& shift on the lens only and the clients are still fine with them. One will command a $10k gross fee and the other $2k. Guess which is what. Or heck, there's the photographer who uses a lens baby on a Canon rebel - he'll probably charge $100 or worse, work for free for a portfolio piece. Honestly, it depends on the client and their budget. Just because you don't care or use CMYK, doesn't mean others don't, but it's possible that those who care about CMYK will be marginalized if the client's audience doesn't care. But personally, if I can justify my fees with just a lens baby I'd love to do it. Much less work in post too, if I don't have to worry about color correction/ compensation.

    On the other hand, I appreciate what GIMP is doing. Good luck on their efforts. I see it working for the back-end coders for a web design firm, but not in the other industries where files are widely shared across different departments and techs.

  • by QuasiSteve ( 2042606 ) on Friday February 08, 2013 @09:16AM (#42831103)

    Unified transform tool

    Couldn't possibly agree more. For the curious, it's not just about being able to scale/rotate/shear/etc. with one tool - it's about those operations happening concurrently when finalized. Right now, a scale followed by a rotate is lower in quality than a rorate followed by a scale. So if you ever scale something down to roughly the size you need it to be, then realize it needs to be rotated a bit - you'll have to perform the rotation, jot down how much you needed to rotate it, undo both the rotate and the scale, rotate it by the amount you jotted down, and scale again.
    And no, the cage deformation tool is not an appropriate alternative - it doesn't do a point-to-point deformation. The perspective tool is also not an appropriate alternative, as you can't retain aspect ratio (why this is still called the 'perspective' tool is anyone's guess).

    On Canvas Preview

    Preferable using the on-screen pixels for performance sake. This would need quite a few changes under the hood, but GEGL does allow for this.

    16/32 Color Bit Depth

    Yep - and, with it, appropriate support for RAW files.

    Layer Masks and other nondestructive editing.

    I don't know if this will come to GIMP in the foreseeable future.
    For the curious, think of this as the old (might still be in there, haven't used it in forever) Adobe Premiere workflow of adding effects in realtime, and then having to 'render' to the final output.
    So in the above example of scale/rotate - right now if I scale that back up, I get a bunch of blocky pixels (or fuzzy, depending on extrapolator). In a non-destructive workflow, it would reference the original pixels. The down side to this is that you need to keep references to everything and, of course, have to 'render' the final result.

    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.

    Honestly, I'd keep layers for simplicity sake (for most purposes, it's just fine), but add an additional node-based workflow. I'm guessing you're familiar with node-based workflows, but those who aren't.. google it.. it makes you wonder why we're still using such a simplistic concept of layers in the first place.

    Photoshop's menu organization is just about perfect; might as well copy it.

    Going to have to disagree with you there. I find no logic in Image, Adjust... to adjust something on what happens to be the active layer, considering the effect it has is on the layer, not on the overall image. That's just one of many little bits that confound me.
    I'm not saying GIMP's menu and tool layout is better, mind you - just that when looking for ways to improve it, as I said in another comment, not all of Photoshop is gold.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!