GIMP and Krita are two of the most popular free graphics programs available at the moment. They’re both open-source image editors that are in active development, but they each have their own unique areas of specialization within the world of digital imagery.
GIMP is a general-purpose raster image editor that excels at the most common editing tasks. It’s typically used for photo editing and image manipulation, but it also has some decent brush-based tools for creating complex artistic projects from scratch.
Krita is also a raster image editor, but it is designed from the ground up to focus exclusively on digital drawing. It’s typically used by artists working with precision input devices known as drawing tablets that offer much better control than a mouse, including tilt and pressure sensitivity.
Because GIMP and Krita are designed for different uses, it doesn’t really seem fair to compare them directly the way I usually do in these “versus” guides. Instead, I’ll break down the strengths and weaknesses of each program, and help you decide which program is best for your particular project!
I should say from the start that I’m not nearly as familiar with Krita as I am with GIMP, because my connection to the world of digital art comes through photography and photo editing rather than any skill with a pencil or paintbrush (either real or digital).
So if you’re a Krita expert and I’ve missed something important in this comparison, please let me know in the comments!
When to Choose GIMP
These are the areas of the digital arts where GIMP is the better choice instead of Krita.
This one might seem a bit obvious, but it’s an area where GIMP excels even though Krita offers some similar options in terms of color.
A couple of optional plugins provide RAW photo support, and GIMP’s healing and cloning tools are excellent for retouching work regardless of the format you’re using. These responsive and highly customizable brush-based tools make GIMP the perfect choice for photo editing.
Filters and Effects
If you want to apply complex stylizing filters and effects to your images, GIMP is a great choice. It has a huge library of distortions, artistic filters, and color effects built-in, and these functions can be expanded almost limitlessly by adding new plugins.
Krita has a few filters and effects built-in, but it relies on the GMIC plugin pack (which has to be installed separately by you) for most of its really fancy stuff. The GMIC plugin pack is also available for GIMP, but it might be worth exploring what both programs have to offer since there are too many to cover here properly.
Technical Image Editing
When working with technical diagrams and generated data, you need precise tools for image manipulation. GIMP’s selection and transform tools are excellent, and the ability to enter custom values for pixel-precise 3D transforms can be extremely useful.
While GIMP doesn’t handle batch processing natively, the handy BIMP (Batch Image Manipulation Plugin) add-on can make processing hundreds of images a breeze. Krita has much more limited plugin support and isn’t intended for this kind of operation in the first place.
When to Choose Krita
While GIMP has some advantages in terms of photography and general image editing, Krita has a distinct edge in the more artistic side of the creative world.
Digital Painting & Sketching
While GIMP does offer some excellent brush-based tools, it can’t compete with Krita’s absolute focus on them. Digital painting is the primary goal for Krita’s developers, and it shows in the care and attention they’ve put into everything from the interface design to high FPS rendering options.
Excellent digital sketching is sort of a bonus that comes along with the impressive brush system created for digital painting. A few tweaks to the brush parameters can recreate a range of sketching media from ink to charcoal, in addition to the wide variety of painting styles that Krita is more known for.
GIMP has excellent brush support, but the brushes that are pre-installed leave a lot to be desired. While you can expand them yourself (check out my list of the best GIMP brushes) and create new ones, Krita has over 100 high-quality – and actually useful – brushes pre-installed.
Krita’s UI was designed from the ground up for extended periods of heavy brush use. Rapid changes in brush type, size, and color are easy to manage with Krita’s awesome right-click popup menu, so you don’t have to break your flow just to switch tools.
The GIMP user interface is quite customizable, but it can’t compete with this level of dedication.
Isn’t Krita Free?
If you’re running Windows 10 and you download Krita from the official website, you might get a popup warning from the Microsoft store when you run the installer. It’s not a security warning, exactly, but it does recommend that you install the Microsoft Store version of the program.
The only trouble is that Krita actually costs money on the Microsoft Store! This isn’t a mistake, but rather a way for the Krita development team to recoup a bit of the cost of their work.
Purchasing the software from the Microsoft Store is entirely optional, and really acts more like a donation than an actual purchase since you can still get the program absolutely free from the official website.
Staying up to date with the latest version of Krita is easier if you go the Store route since it will automatically manage updates for you, but that’s the only real difference.
Working with Drawing Tablets
Drawing tablets are a must-have tool for serious digital artists, and both GIMP and Krita have support for basic cursor movements with the stylus through your operating system – but how do they compare in terms of advanced functionality like pressure sensitivity and tilt/angle support?
While there were issues in the past with tablet support in GIMP, they’re largely a thing of the past. In my (admittedly a bit limited) testing, I was able to get satisfactory results in both GIMP and Krita with my cheap Huion drawing tablet.
In fact, it was actually easier to use my tablet with both GIMP and Krita than it was to use it with Adobe Photoshop, which required some tedious research and an odd, unofficial workaround before it would accept my tablet’s pressure sensing input.
A Final Word
As you can see, comparing GIMP vs Krita isn’t exactly as simple as it might seem at first, since GIMP is a generalized image editor that can be customized with plugins, while Krita is extremely focused on the world of digital painting and sketching.
The two programs actually play quite well together, and since they’re both free, open-source software, why not use both of them together?About Thomas Boldt