GIMP is a free, open-source, image editor, the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) has been a go-to tool for Linux users for years, but has a reputation for being hard to use and lacking many of Photoshop’s features. The reality has changed dramatically over the last couple years. GIMP now has a very competent user interface, as well as an extensive and powerful set of features. Its openly extensible nature means that in some areas, like running well-known image processing algorithms on your photos, it actually outshines Adobe Photoshop.

GIMP comes with impressive selection and montage features, various ways to retouch your images, cropping, noise reduction and color adjustment tools, customizable brushes, gradients and so much more. There’s plenty for the more advanced user, too, including layer masks, Bézier curves, filters and even an animation package.

When you first load GIMP 2.8, you might be forgiven for thinking that you’d fired up an alternate UI for Photoshop. Familiar panels for Layers, Brushes, Tools, Paths, and plenty of others are available. Individual tabs can be torn off (although it requires using a command on the palette menu instead of Adobe’s more intuitive action), so you can tweak GIMP UI just about as much as you can Photoshop’s.

The photo editing toolkit is breathtaking, and features layers, masks, curves, and levels. You can eliminate flaws easily with the excellent clone stamp and healing tools, create custom brushes, apply perspective changes, and apply changes to isolated areas with smart selection tools.

Menus also closely parallel Photoshop’s, with File, Edit, Select, View, Image, Filters, and Help to serve the same functions — although in a slightly different order. The Colors and Tools menus are unique to GIMP, with Colors pulling together operations that affect image content, that are usually found under the Image > Adjustments menu in Photoshop. The Tools’ menu pulls together a mixed bag of the same tools that are found in the Toolbox, plus some tools Adobe puts in the Image menu, like Crop. It also provides a window into some of the very powerful and extensible scripted image transforms that GIMP allows. Unfortunately, some of the icons, like the one for the crop tool shown, are different from the ones used by Photoshop, so finding your favorite may take some hunting.

The interface is highly customizable, and the GIMP community has produced a ton of excellent plugins that are all free to download. The program is loaded with tutorials and there’s plenty of assistance to be found in the active and helpful community, so don’t worry if you get stuck – help is always at hand.

We don’t have space to even begin to scratch the surface here, so head to our Installation Guide to install GIMP and find out exactly why it’s such a popular free alternative to Adobe Photoshop.