GIMP is often presented as a Photoshop alternative, but it’s far from the only program to get such a description. Serif’s Affinity Photo is a rising star in the world of affordable yet professional digital image editing programs, and it’s definitely worth testing to see if it fits your editing style.
So how do the two programs compare?
My name is Thomas, and I’m the writer and photographer on the TGT (The GIMP Tutorials) team. When I’m not writing these bios, I’m probably busy testing out a new editing feature in one of the many image editing programs I’ve used and reviewed over the course of my decades-long career in the digital arts.
Hopefully, I can help bring a bit of clarity to your questions about GIMP and Affinity Photo.
GIMP is a free, open-source raster image editing program with powerful editing tools and a huge range of free plugins to expand its functionality. It suffers from a difficult learning curve and a clunky user interface, though it can be improved with a little customization – and a lot of patience.
Affinity Photo offers even more powerful image editing tools in a much neater package. It’s much easier to use overall and takes the time to ensure a better user experience. There are a few odd interface design choices, but it’s still more feature-packed and user-friendly than GIMP.
TLDR: Affinity Photo Wins
Affinity Photo simply has a better design from the ground up. It features all the fancy tools you’ll want for professional image editings like dynamic adjustment layers, built-in RAW photo support, PSD format support, and full-color management support, along with some fun features like panorama stitching, focus stacking, and HDR image merging.
Affinity Photo isn’t free, but the low purchase price of $84.99 one-time purchase (or $23.99 on iPad) provides excellent value compared to a monthly subscription. It also works well with Serif’s other graphics programs, which are apparently known as the ‘Affinity trinity’: Affinity Designer for creating and editing vector graphics, and Affinity Publisher for page layout and document creation.
That’s the short version of the comparison, but you can read on for a more in-depth look at how GIMP and Affinity Photo stack up in terms of editing capabilities, workflow, and user experience.
A Closer Look at Affinity Photo and GIMP
For this comparison, I’m going to take a look at the following seven areas of each program and decide which of the two is most effective:
- Basic Editing Tools
- Layer Support
- Specialized Editing Features
- User Interface
- The Learning Curve
- Price and Value
Let’s dive right in!
1. Basic Editing Tools
Fortunately, this comparison is easy because both programs handle basic editing very well. Cloning and healing, Curves adjustments, and sharpening are a few examples of the kind of essential, everyday tools that fit in this category.
As a result of this even balance, there isn’t actually all that much to say about the basic editing tools. I personally prefer the way that Affinity Photo handles them in terms of settings and general layout, but GIMP’s tools are just as capable and customizable – though a bit less user-friendly.
Winner: Tie. Both GIMP and Affinity Photo have an excellent core of editing tools that are responsive and simple to use.
2. Layer Support
While both GIMP and Affinity Photo offer multi-layer editing for advanced compositing, GIMP’s layer support leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn’t allow editing multiple layers at once, and it doesn’t support any kind of non-destructive adjustments beyond basic layer masking.
Affinity Photo has a much more useful layer system that allows you to create and work with multiple layers at once using non-destructive editing techniques. Once you experience what layer-based editing is supposed to be like, you’ll never want to go back to GIMP’s layer system.
Winner: Affinity Photo. Affinity Photo’s system actually allows you to use layers effectively in complex compositions.
3. Specialized Editing Features
GIMP has a solid core of basic editing tools, but it is lacking when it comes to some of the modern specialized editing processes that many image editors love. GIMP’s developers prefer to rely on plugins to provide advanced features, which is an approach that offers maximum flexibility but isn’t very helpful for new GIMP users.
Affinity Photo includes a lot of great tools designed for advanced image editing tasks. It can edit your RAW photos without the need for a third-party plugin, and it can do a number of tricks with those photos as well, from 32-bit high-dynamic-range (HDR) photo merging to panorama stitching and focus stacking.
Winner: Affinity Photo. These kinds of tools should be included in every modern image editor without having to mess around with plugins – unless you want to, of course.
4. User Interface
In the past, I used to tease GIMP about its user interface, but the upgrade to version 2.10 has improved the default layout and made the entire program much more user-friendly. GIMP also offers an impressive degree of interface customization so that you can adapt your tools and info panels to your personal workflow.
Affinity Photo splits its interface into several different modules called Personas, which limits some of the customization options of the interface. Within each Persona, you can still move and adjust most sections of the interface, but not with the same flexibility that GIMP offers.
That being said, Affinity Photo’s emphasis on being user-friendly still pays off throughout the interface, and a handy introductory guide after the loading screen gives users a bit of instruction the first time they run the app (and in the future, if you want). GIMP offers no similar assistance.
Winner: Affinity Photo.
5. The Learning Curve
Image editing programs are large and complex, and it can be intimidating to start the learning process when there’s so much to cover. Both GIMP and Affinity Photo have extensive online documentation, but Affinity Photo actually goes out of its way to introduce you to them and show you where to find them (see below).
In stark contrast, GIMP doesn’t even install its own help documentation by default on your computer. I assume this is to save space, but I have a hard time seeing how it could possibly be worth it. GIMP does have a large online tutorial that helps the community, but it’s not as easy to find.
Winner: Affinity Photo. Affinity Photo’s on-screen and online tutorials are quite well done, but more importantly, they’re actually accessible from within the app, which gives it the edge in this category.
GIMP has extensive tutorials available online (like this one!), and just a little bit of guidance within the program for new users would level the playing field quite a bit.
6. Price and Value
GIMP is free, open-source software – it always has been, and it always will be. As a result, it provides virtually unlimited value for your non-existent dollar. You might spend a bit more time learning GIMP than a paid program, but even still, it’s hard to beat the low price of free.
Affinity Photo is still an amazing deal for a professional-level image editing program. You can get it for $84.99 for a lifetime license (no subscription required), and it’s one of the most affordable image editors available that still provides high-quality editing tools.
Winner: GIMP. This category is almost unfair whenever GIMP is involved since it wins by default over any paid program, but it’s easy to forget exactly how valuable it is to have GIMP available as a free option.
One of GIMP’s strengths is that it is available on all major operating systems: Windows, macOS, and various flavors of Linux. If you’re running Linux, you’re almost forced to use GIMP unless you’re willing to run a Windows or Mac app on a virtual machine, which can be a huge headache.
Affinity Photo is also available for three operating systems, but the three it supports are Windows, macOS, and iOS, Apple’s mobile device operating system for iPhones and iPads.
Winner: GIMP, but only barely. GIMP’s multi-platform compatibility gives it a very slight edge here, although I think that iPad support might be a more useful feature for most digital artists.
The Overall Winner: Affinity Photo
In case it wasn’t already clear, Affinity Photo is a far superior image editor in most respects. GIMP has a few areas where it can’t be beaten, but its primary value is its free, open-source, multi-platform nature rather than its editing capabilities.
GIMP shouldn’t be discounted forever, though. The development team is hard at work on the next upcoming version of GIMP, which is already leaps and bounds ahead of the current stable release version. It’s available for download now on the official GIMP website, although remember that it’s still not ready for use by the typical user.
Of course, the developers are Serif are sure to be hard at work on the next version of Affinity Photo too, so the future holds some very interesting things for the world of digital image editing!About Thomas Boldt