GIMP and Inkscape are probably the two most well-known free graphics programs available today, so it’s no surprise that you want to learn which is a better program. Learning new software can be a time-consuming process, so it’s important to spend your efforts wisely.
Without burying the lead any further, I’ve got a bit of a surprise for you – neither one of them is better!
While GIMP and Inkscape are both free graphics programs, they are intended for very different purposes, so they’re not in direct competition with each other. It’s sort of like asking which type of screwdriver is best; it all depends on what you need to do with it.
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a raster graphics program that creates and edits pixel images like photos, digital paintings, and website graphics.
Inkscape is a vector graphics program that is perfect for illustration, design, and layout tasks.
Both programs have a long development history. GIMP was started at the beginning of 1996, and Inkscape was launched at the end of 2003. They’re both open-source programs that have become popular examples of the power and value of the free software movement.
Most users regard them as free versions of industry-standard software packages. GIMP is often compared to Adobe Photoshop, while Inkscape is measured against Adobe Illustrator. It’s not really fair to these programs, which have their own unique approaches to image creation and editing, but it’s the popular narrative for many users.
Overall, I find Inkscape to be a much more user-friendly program. The interface is more clearly designed, makes better use of the available space, and generally feels more polished than GIMP. But considering the extensive interface customization available in each program, this advantage can be balanced out with a bit of tweaking.
So Which Program Should I Use?
As I mentioned before, it all depends on what you’re doing, of course! Here’s a quick overview of which program is best for which task.
Use GIMP for:
- Photo editing
- Creative photo compositing
- Digital painting
- Memes (I know why you’re here)
Use Inkscape for:
- Logo design
- Page layout
It’s possible to do some of these jobs in the “non-recommended” program, but you’ll find yourself taking ten times longer to do the same job – or just giving up out of sheer frustration. Ideally, I can help you avoid that and help you focus on the fun, creative parts of using GIMP and Inkscape!
If this is your first time here, let me say hi quickly: my name is Thomas Boldt, and I’m the writer and image editing expert on the TGT team. I’ve been passionate about the graphic arts for over 20 years and working in the digital art world for almost as long. After testing virtually every major graphics program available today, I’m here to help guide you through the world of image editing.
Since this isn’t a standard comparison article, I’m going to explain how the two programs differ and which one you should use for your project. Trying to use the wrong tool for the job is always frustrating, but I’ll make things as clear and simple as I can, no matter if you’re an old hand or just getting your start in digital graphics.
Raster vs. Vector
Let’s get a bit of technical terminology out of the way before we continue so that you’ll have a better sense of how these two programs differ. As I mentioned briefly in the introduction, there are two primary methods of constructing a computer image file: raster and vector.
GIMP creates and edits raster images.
Inkscape creates and edits vector images.
Raster graphic files contain an orderly grid of pixels, very similar to how images are displayed on modern computer monitors, televisions, and smartphone screens. Each pixel in the grid contains some information that tells the computer what color it is, how bright it is, and in some cases, its transparency level.
This is a very simple way of making an image, but it has some drawbacks. Whenever you enlarge a raster image, the computer can’t invent new image data (despite what TV crime dramas would have you believe), so you just wind up with a blurry version of your image where the original pixels are simply much larger than before.
There are some new AI-based tools that use machine learning to upscale images fairly well, but that’s a topic for another article since they don’t work with GIMP.
Typically, raster graphic files can be displayed on any computer or mobile device, as long as it supports the specific file format. The most common image format in the world, JPEG, is a raster graphics file format, but there are also PNG, GIF, TIFF, and many other popular raster formats.
Vector graphic files are very different. Instead of a pixel grid, vector graphics are divided into separate objects. Each object is defined by a series of mathematical expressions that describe its position, size, color, and any other feature that may be associated with it.
Because these individual vector objects are just math, you can scale them to any size you want without losing image quality. However, that mathematical nature also creates some compatibility issues. Most programs like web browsers and photo editors like GIMP can’t open or edit your vector graphic files, so you’ll have to convert them to a raster image.
You can scale and adjust your vectors to any size you want, and then once you’re happy with the final result, you can export your image and convert it into a typical raster image that you can share and upload on social media or any other platform.
The SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) format is the most widely supported vector graphics format, and it’s used as the native file format for Inkscape. It’s possible to open SVG files in GIMP, but you’ll only get access to wireframe outlines of your objects with very limited editing capabilities.
SVG is the only vector graphics format natively supported by web browsers, but adoption is still fairly slow compared to the current standard JPG images. Adobe’s PDF (Portable Document Format) is almost as popular as SVG, if not more, but web browsers are only beginning to support it without additional plugins or extensions due to its complexity.
Anyway, that’s enough about the technical side – let’s get on to the good stuff!
Projects for GIMP
You can find a quick list below of different projects that are better handled with GIMP rather than using Inkscape.
GIMP will always be the better choice when it comes to editing photos. It can do just about anything you want to a pixel, and with a bit of help from your choice of free plugins, it can even edit the RAW image files created by professional high-resolution DSLR cameras.
Inkscape can still open your photos, but usually, this is only used for layout purposes after the image itself has been edited and finalized in GIMP. Inkscape has some very basic editing options, but I wouldn’t use it for anything more complex than cropping an image slightly to tweak the way it fits into your design or page layout.
Creative Photo Compositing
GIMP doesn’t have to stick to the usual photo editing tasks like cropping, exposure adjustments, and color balances. Thanks to the layer system, you can create impressive photorealistic composite images that are indistinguishable from unaltered photographs. It takes a lot of time and skill, but practice makes perfect!
You could create some interesting artwork by combining Inkscape’s vectors with a series of images, but you won’t be able to get photorealistic results – at least, not without an absolutely staggering amount of work that would be much easier to do in GIMP.
GIMP offers a lot of excellent brush-based tools that can be customized to your heart’s content. The built-in preset brushes recreate a range of media and painting tools, and you can create custom brush shapes or even download custom brush packs that will keep you busy for years.
Check out my guide to the best GIMP brushes here!
Inkscape isn’t intended for digital painting at all, so you’ll probably drive yourself to frustration if you try. If GIMP isn’t fulfilling your digital painting needs, you should definitely check out Krita, the third program in the free art software trio. It’s built from the ground up for the digital painting, so it’s definitely worth a look!
Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about you 😉
Memes have become an unofficial currency in some corners of the web, and GIMP is the perfect choice for leveling up your OC game once you’re sick of using MSPaint. You can cut up and remix anything you want much more easily in GIMP than in other free programs thanks to the layer system, and even create your own templates.
Inkscape could be used for original content, but it’s not capable of quickly cutting and pasting pixels in the way that most meme-makers crave. If you want to create more polished social media graphics, combining Inkscape and GIMP would be the best choice (more on this later).
Projects for Inkscape
GIMP is great, but it’s not perfect for every project. Here’s a quick list of the tasks that are best suited to Inkscape’s talents.
Vector graphics are the perfect option for creating illustrated art pieces that rely on crisp, clean lines. Everything from kid-friendly anime to gritty graphic novels can benefit from the vector style, although, of course, it’s not the only way to illustrate and your personal taste should be your main guide.
GIMP is better for illustrated styles that have a hand-drawn textured look, while Inkscape excels at creating the cell-shaded style that’s quite popular at the moment. Inkscape’s object handling also makes duplicating, adjusting, and reusing image elements much simpler than it would be in GIMP.
Logo & Branding Design
Inkscape is perfect for this kind of project, so don’t even bother trying to use GIMP for this. When designing logos and branding elements, Inkscape lets you quickly iterate and test various color schemes, layouts, and typography options to ensure your design is as polished as possible.
Brand elements like logos are often used in new and novel ways, which means you’ll need your image elements to be scalable to any size. If you tried doing this in GIMP, you’ll either wind up with a file several gigabytes in size just to handle a billboard’s worth of pixels, or you’ll end up with a blurry and unprofessional result if you try upscaling your raster image too much.
Last, but certainly not least, we come to page layout. Inkscape has exceptional text handling, and moving vector objects around on the page is far simpler when every page element is an individual and distinct object. Trying to do the same in GIMP will take much longer since you’ll have to rely on a layering system that wasn’t intended for this kind of usage.
By comparison, GIMP’s text handling is a mess. It’s frustrating to use, and you can’t modify any part of your text or letterforms without converting it directly into pixels, which makes it uneditable. Save yourself the hassle, and use the right tool for the job.
Combine GIMP and Inkspace in a Design Workflow
A lot of editors try to use GIMP for every project, even when it’s not the best tool for the job. I understand the desire to keep things simple, but you’ll save yourself a lot of time and aggravation if you accept that GIMP can’t do everything – but it also isn’t supposed to do everything, so don’t hold that fact against it.
The best thing about free software is that even if you’re on a
very tight non-existent budget, you don’t have to make tough choices about what software you can afford to try – so you may as well go for both GIMP and Inkscape! It might take a bit longer to learn them both, but it’s worth it.
A lot of design projects require photographic assets, so you can use GIMP to tweak and format the photos so they’ve got the exact right mood for whatever you’re working on. Save the image edits and then import them into Inkscape to fit them into the perfect spot in your design layout.
Inkscape is infinitely better at text handling than GIMP, so any project that uses text is probably better started in Inkscape. If you’ve ever been frustrated by setting text in GIMP, try it out in Inkscape and you’ll instantly appreciate how easy it can be with the right program.
If you’re going to work on any print-based projects, however, you’ll probably want to add the GIMP plugin Cyan, which allows you to process images in the CMYK color space required by many printers. Inkscape supports CMYK natively, but GIMP needs a bit of help. Check out my list of the best GIMP plugins here, along with instructions on how to install them.
So while it’s not quite as smooth as the dance that Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator perform together using Creative Cloud asset sharing features, it’s essentially the same workflow with a few extra steps – and best of all, it’s entirely free and open source!
Hopefully, you’ve got a better understanding of the fact that GIMP and Inkscape aren’t really competing against one another. They’re more like a relay race team working together to accomplish different tasks, and now you know which program is best for any design task you have.
Remember – it’s not GIMP versus Inkscape, but actually GIMP & Inkscape BFFs!About Thomas Boldt