One of the most useful features of GIMP is its support for a wide range of plugins. Plugins are small pieces of software that work from within GIMP to add new tools, editing options, and even more capabilities like RAW image processing for high-end digital SLR cameras.
Having used almost all of the different image editing programs available on the market today, I often found myself reaching for a tool or filter in GIMP only to realize that there isn’t a comparable option available in a fresh GIMP install. Plugins to the rescue – but which ones?
My name is Thomas, and I’m the writer and image editor on the TGT(The GIMP Tutorials) team. I’ve written lots of these intro blurbs, but they all boil down to this: I’ve spent half my life working with digital images in one way or another, so I can save you time and effort by sharing my experiences with you.
If you’re going to be serious about using GIMP as your main image editor, it’s important that you get comfortable dealing with the GIMP plugins system. The list below contains all the plugins that a great image editor needs – and this time I mean you, not the software program!
Without further ado, here is my curated list of the best GIMP plugins for adding functionality and features that you’ll actually use. Scroll on through to browse your way through, or use the quick nav links below.
- RAW Image Processors
- Retouching Tools
- Technical Tools
- Plugin Suites
- Using Photoshop Plugins
- Installing Your New GIMP Plugins
- A Final Word About GIMP Plugins
A Quick Blurb About Plugin Safety
The plugins in this list are all fairly popular and safe to use, but that doesn’t mean you should just download and run every GIMP plugin you find online. Free software often attracts sneaky people looking to make a quick buck, so be sure you only download from official and trustworthy sites.
If you run into a problem with one of these plugins, drop a comment on this post and I’ll see if I can help (or maybe another visitor will be able to solve it). I can’t promise that I can fix it, but it doesn’t hurt to ask!
RAW Image Processors
GIMP is a great image editor, but it can’t natively process the high-quality RAW files that are produced by digital SLRs cameras. Camera manufacturers all use their own proprietary RAW file formats, and the GIMP developers don’t pay for the licensing costs.
While these two plugins are both standalone programs in their own right, many pro photography editing workflows use a combination of a non-destructive RAW image processor (like Adobe Lightroom or CaptureOne) and a layer-based pixel editor like Photoshop or GIMP.
Just when you think that GIMP is the champion of the ‘free software bad names’ competition [I don’t think that’s a real competition -Ed], RawTherapee comes along as a serious challenger. Silly name aside, it’s an excellent RAW image processor that works quite well alongside GIMP.
Once RT is installed, opening a RAW image file through GIMP will automatically launch the RT plugin. Make as many adjustments to the RAW file as you want, and then simply close the window. Your developed photo will then open automatically in GIMP, ready for the final touches.
Download free from the RawTherapee official website
darktable is a fairly similar plugin to RawTherapee – they both share an overall design sense, they’re both quite capable at editing RAW files produced by any manufacturer, and they both play nicely with GIMP. I find the darktable interface a bit harder to use, but some users swear by it.
Remember, these plugins are all free – so there’s nothing wrong with trying a few of them to see which you like best. If you’re using GIMP on a Mac, it’s worth noting that the official darktable install guide says ‘good luck’ in the Mac-specific instructions – but not in any of the others.
Visit the darktable official website to download the correct OS version.
When used correctly, retouching tools and filters can make a huge difference in your workflow. Because most of their features work automatically, they don’t always give you a useful result, but they’re always worth the effort. If nothing else, they can give you a great headstart on your edits
Resynthesizer is one of the most impressive GIMP plugins available, allowing you to easily remove objects from your image. Resynthesizer takes a guess at what should be in the new section of the image and fills the pixels based on the surrounding content, colors, and patterns.
I’ve always found this kind of content-aware tools to be incredibly powerful, although they’re also capable of making some hilarious errors if you ask them to recreate something too complex. If you’ve ever taken a smartphone panorama while someone walked past, you’ll know what I mean.
Resynthesizer is available directly from the official GitHub repository.
If Resynthesizer isn’t up to the task of recreating your image background, Liquid Rescale might be able to generate a better reconstruction for you. It’s actually been around longer than Resynthesizer, but then it also hasn’t been updated since 2013.
Given this lack of development, Resynthesizer is probably the better choice between the two, but it’s always nice to have multiple options available when you’re working on a tricky edit. Since they’re all free, see which you like best!
Visit the Liquid Rescale plugin official website.
I’ve never found correcting lens distortion particularly fun, but it’s definitely a lot easier if you’ve got this plugin. If you’re correcting RAW photos, you’re probably better off using one of the RAW plugins above, but for other image types like JPG, LensFun (and some patience) is all you need.
Perhaps the fun part kicks in when you start using it to warp your images into crazy shapes? Whether you use it as a technical tool or a distortion mirror, it’s a useful set of corrective tools for the precision-minded image editor.
The official support ended with GIMP 2.8, but you should be able to get it working with GIMP 2.10. Download the latest official release.
Some plugins fill more technical gaps in the GIMP’s feature set, opening up new image processing capabilities. If I had to choose a single plugin that makes GIMP more effective from a professional perspective, it would probably be the batch processing tools provided by BIMP.
One of the biggest issues holding GIMP back from being a serious contender in the world of professional image editing is its lack of support for images designed for print, which use the CMYK colorspace. Cyan is a standalone conversion program, but it also works as a plugin.
The process for using Cyan is a bit more complex than there’s space to discuss here, but it’s an important addition to the GIMP toolkit.
It’s possible that you might need to download some CMYK color profiles for conversion, but Adobe makes a number of their popular profiles available free.
The official Cyan website is here, but downloads are hosted on Sourceforge.
Who doesn’t love a good panorama? GIMP’s developers, maybe, since there’s no panorama stitching support built into GIMP. I’m sure you’ve spotted the theme by now:
ravens plugins to the rescue! Hugin is a great panorama stitching plugin, named after one of Odin’s all-seeing ravens.
Hugin had already passed the one million download mark in 2009, and it’s still being updated as of December 12, 2020. While it’s an excellent stitcher, the results you get will still depend a lot on how carefully you planned your panorama overlap, so keep that in mind when taking your shots!
BIMP (Batch Image Manipulation Plugin)
If you’ve ever had to process a lot of images, you’ve probably been frustrated that GIMP can’t handle batch image processing. But while it doesn’t have built-in support, BIMP can help speed things along and save you time, frustration, and mistakes.
It takes a bit of work to set up carefully, but a bit of extra time during setup can save you a huge amount of processing time. Just make sure that you keep a backup copy of your source images somewhere, so you don’t accidentally overwrite them with a misconfigured batch command!
BIMP is the work of Alessandro Francesconi, and you can download it from his website. There are a couple of other interesting tools there as well if you’re keen to explore.
If you want to skip the boring practical plugins and skip right into the wilder stuff, I don’t blame you. These plugin suites contain a huge range of filters and adjustments, and they’ve got something for just about everyone.
The Nik Collection of plugins has been around for a surprisingly long time, getting bought and sold by big developers until Google bought it and eventually released it for free in 2016. It’s now been sold to DxO, but those old free copies are still available and working – for now, at least.
So while it’s out of date, you still get an impressive suite of plugins that GIMP doesn’t normally provide, including HDR image processing, old-school film darkroom effects, and specialized black and white conversion processing.
DxO owns the current version and charges for it, but you can request a legal download link to the older free version, which DxO calls “Nik Collection 2012”. That date is accurate, but the plugins work! You’ll have to provide your real functioning email address to get it, though.
If the previous plugins didn’t give you enough toys to play with, you’ll be able to waste a virtually infinite amount experimenting with the 500+ filters included in the G’MIC plugin suite. With everything from image repair tools to wacky filters, you’ll never get tired of exploring.
G’MIC stands for GREYC’s Magic for Image Computing and I guess we have the GIMP devs to thank for reinforcing the complex naming trend. The official website is an absolute black hole of technical jargon, so you know it’s going to be good stuff. Here’s an example from the homepage:
“It provides several user interfaces to convert / process / visualize generic image datasets, ranging from 1D scalar signals to 3D+t sequences of multi-spectral volumetric images, hence including 2D color images.”
I know what all of those words mean – except maybe 3D+t – but when you put them in that order, my brain turns into mush.
Check out the official website for yourself. You want to download the G’MIC-Qt plug-in for GIMP 2.10 for your operating system, so don’t worry about decoding the rest of the jargon.
Using Photoshop Plugins
The latest version of GIMP can even run some Photoshop plugins, although there’s no guarantee that they’ll remain compatible with future versions.
GIMP, Photoshop, and plugin developers are constantly releasing new updates that might cause unforeseen issues, but it’s worth a try!
All you have to do is install the plugin into the GIMP plugins directory instead of the Photoshop plugins directory, and you should be good to go! If you’re not sure of the process, keep reading for a quick overview of how to install and access the best GIMP plugins.
Installing Your New GIMP Plugins
The best GIMP plugins in the world are useless if they’re not installed. If you’ve never done it before or you need a quick refresher, the install process for GIMP plugins is just as simple as copying any other type of file around your operating system – once you know where they belong.
In GIMP, open the Preferences window, and scroll down the left pane until you see the Folders option. Click the small + to expand it, and click Plug-ins. The right pane will update display all the folder locations that GIMP searches for plugin files during startup.
The paths vary a bit depending on which operating system you’re using, but there should always be two folder locations: a user folder and a system folder. The user folder is a better choice for storing customizations since there’s no chance of it being overwritten during an app update.
Select the proper folder, and click the ‘Show file location in file manager’ button in the upper right. It will then open the proper folder for you in File Explorer or Finder, and you can copy your plugin files there. Restart GIMP, and your new plugins should be loaded and ready to use!
If you can’t seem to find them, don’t worry – there are a couple of different places they may appear. Some GIMP plugins fit into the existing Filters menu, some appear in the Script-Fu submenu, and some create their own menu or dockable palettes, so take a good look around.
A Final Word About GIMP Plugins
Remember, the plugin game is powerful, but it’s possible to slow down GIMP by adding a huge number of plugins at once. You’re much better off sticking to this list of the best GIMP plugins, and keeping your editor nimble and responsive while still getting some great new features!
Did I leave your favorite GIMP plugin out of this list? Leave a comment below with the info and I’ll take a look.About Thomas Boldt