January 2008
Vol. 24, No. 1

A Technology Newsletter for Extension Specialists

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Two, (count 'em) Two Image Editors
by Steve Giesel

We wanted to find an image editing program that would be easy to use and available to any of our users, so we began searching for some alternatives to the default applications used in the past, like Microsoft Picture Viewer, PhotoShop or other similar applications.

The first image editor we settled on is called “GIMP.” That sounds like a strange name, but it’s actually an acronym for the full name which is,
GNU Image Manipulation Program.” No, this is not a Wildebeest running wild on the African Savannah, but rather a reference to the GNU open-source software initiative. Simply put, GIMP is a piece of open source software with a reference to that initiative in its formal name.

When GIMP launches for the first time it may seem to stall, or run slowly when loading its resources, such as Fonts, or script extensions, this is normal.



You’ll probably be greeted with 3 initial screens once GIMP is open; the main Toolbox panel titled “GIMP” (right),

the “Layers, Channels, Paths, Undo” panel (left), and the “GIMP tip of the day” (below). You can turn that tip window off so it doesn’t come up each time you launch GIMP. When you use the File command to open an image, it too will appear in a separate panel with its own complete menu system at the top. Most of these menu items are not available on the main control panel, so you will have to open an image for full access to all controls.

The three panels shown here are free-floating, and are not contained within any overall interface like most programs you’re used to. This can be disorienting at first, but if you minimize or close all other applications, you shouldn’t have a problem. The main advantage is you have the ability to place individual panels anywhere on your desktop without cluttering your main work space. And if you have two monitors, that’s even better.

The other image editor is called Paint.Net. It too is open source software. Not that you really care about that, but it does mean that like other open source software, it’s free, and there’s no centralized support or development. Read a little bit about Paint.Net here. Paint.Net is easier to learn and use than GIMP. It uses a dedicated single window interface like Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Word, Excel, etc., just like you are used to seeing in most software applications.  Click here for a full sized view.  The window opens with a main working canvas, and four control palettes; Tools, Layers, History (Undo), and Colors. These four palettes are moveable within the frame and can even be dragged outside the main window area to leave the main canvas uncluttered.

One of the drawbacks of Paint.Net is it offers far fewer controls, and the four palettes are the only ones available, unlike the many others available in GIMP. In reality most users will use these four most frequently, so either editor should be sufficient for most tasks. Both offer control of color, contrast and lighting, along with tools for adjusting the curves or levels in your image. Both work with layers, both have undo histories, and both support most major photo imaging formats.

Paint.Net will save layered images in its native format only, and does not support the PhotoShop file format. GIMP will save layered images in PhotoShop format as well as its own native format. Both will edit and save in the three major Web formats; jpeg, gif, and png. But again not in layers (which png is capable of). Both will work with text layers, but only GIMP can work with text on a vector path if you have such a need.

If you are working on images primarily for the Web and find you need tools in both applications, I suggest working in the png format as it uses a lossless compression scheme. That means repeated save operations do not degrade image quality like jpeg’s—and unlike gif’s are not limited to 256 colors. If you are working on images that must have layers that are available outside of either, you must use GIMP and save in the Photoshop format (psd).

There's lots more to show and tell, and I’ll try to cover both applications more extensively later this year with articles and Quick Tips.



Last Revised: 08/04/08



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