By Ian Pullen, About.com Contributing Writer
GIMP is a popular and powerful open source pixel-based image editor that can be downloaded for free by anyone. It’s often referred to as a free alternative to Adobe Photoshop and one thing, among many, that it has in common with Photoshop is a potentially steep learning curve.
This is a result of the wide range of tools and features available to GIMP users. It isn’t unusual for GIMP users to quickly find the tools that they need regularly and then overlook many other exciting features. Here I’m going to take a run through GIMP’s user interface and take a brief look at the various groups of tools and features available and how they’re presented in GIMP’s interface.
GIMP doesn’t offer a universally popular user interface, with many finding it’s system of floating palettes counter intuitive, but the tools and features are easily accessible and there are many options for presenting tools in a personally preferred way. These tools and features are presented in three different ways, either through the Toolbox, rafts and dockable dialogs or the Menu bar.
The Toolbox is the primary way to select from the various main tools for working directly with images within GIMP. The toolbox isn’t the only way to select tools, but it is probably the most convenient, with the various tools’ options displayed below the Toolbox when a tool is selected. The same tools can also be accessed through the Tools menu item and also through the Tools dockable dialog, though the latter seems a little superfluous personally. Closing the Toolbox closes GIMP itself.
The various tools within the Toolbox can be grouped into several main groups.
The Toolbox is the only palette that sits within its own raft. A raft is basically a floating window which contains a minimum of one dockable dialog or palette, but can be configured to hold multiple palettes. There is a raft below the Toolbox which, by default, contains the Tool Options dialog. The options displayed here change depending on which tool is currently selected.
It is possible to have a dockable dialog open in more than one raft at any one time and, in fact, you can even have the same dialog open multiple times within the raft, though it’s hard to see any reason for this.
The Menu bar contains several default menus, with some further sub-menus within these. The menus comprise of:
Once you look beyond GIMP’s slightly awkward interface, the various tools and commands within GIMP are presented in a pretty logical way. The biggest problem is arguably the sheer number of tools and features on offer, which can take a significant time to get acquainted with, but it can be hugely rewarding to experiment with the many tools and discover new techniques for working with your images.
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