GIMP vs Photoshop Elements

The GIMP Tutorials presents

GIMP

VS

Photoshop Elements

GIMP is one of the most popular free image editors available today, but many of you still aren’t sure if it’s right for your needs. If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge with the full version of Adobe Photoshop, then Photoshop Elements might be just what you’re looking for. 

Missed the GIMP vs Photoshop comparison? Take a closer look.

My name is Thomas Boldt, and I’m the writer and image editor behind The GIMP Tutorials. I’ve worked with all the major image editing programs available today, from industry-standard editing suites to the latest releases from new developers. Time for a close look at Photoshop Elements!

GIMP and Photoshop Elements are very similar in terms of basic editing capability, but Photoshop Elements has the advantage of being far more user-friendly. For most casual home users, Photoshop Elements is the better choice. It costs a bit, but it saves time and frustration.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 2021

Photoshop Elements has built-in tutorials and guided edits to help new users get up to speed, while GIMP forces you to fend for yourself – it’s a good thing you’ve got help from me! A lifetime license for Photoshop Elements is available for $74.99 (usually priced at $99) from Adobe here.

GNU Image Manipulation Program 2.10

GIMP offers some technical options such as scripting support for advanced users, but it doesn’t provide any kind of help for new users just learning the ropes. If you’re on a tight budget and you don’t mind investing the time in learning GIMP, you sure can’t beat the low, low price of $0. 

GIMP vs Photoshop Elements: Which Wins Where?

To give GIMP and Photoshop Elements a fair comparison, let’s take a closer look at some of the most important features of these two popular image editors:

  • Editing Tools
  • Automatic Adjustments
  • Plugins
  • Ease of Use
  • The Learning Curve
  • Price
  • Compatibility

1. Editing Tools

Your basic image editing tools are obviously the most important feature of your image editor since they’re the whole reason we’re here at all! Fortunately, this is a pretty easy one to compare, since they’re more or less equal in terms of capability and ease of use.

There are small trade-offs when it comes to each tool, but the final result comes out more or less balanced. The Crop tool handles use a better design in GIMP than in Photoshop Elements, but PE’s Clone tool has a few tricks up its sleeve that GIMP’s Clone tool doesn’t, and so on.

Personally, I find editing tools in Photoshop Elements easier to use than GIMP, but that’s just because of my familiarity with Adobe software development. If you spend as much time with GIMP as I have with Photoshop, you’d feel right at home too – especially with keyboard shortcuts. 

Winner: Tie. Brush-based tools from painting to cloning work smoothly and reliably in both GIMP and Photoshop Elements, even when working on large high-resolution images. 

2. Automatic Adjustments

Artificial intelligence is one of the most exciting areas of software development right now, and the effects have reached the world of image editing. Automatic tone and contrast adjustments to quickly polish up a photograph are nothing new, but new adjustments have changed the game.

Guided mode in Photoshop Elements is full of powerful automatic adjustments

GIMP doesn’t really have any features remotely similar to these, although you might be able to find the odd plugin that offers a basic version of similar functionality. GIMP’s developers are always hard at work, but it’s impossible to keep up with a multinational corporation like Adobe. 

Winner: Photoshop Elements, by a large margin. GIMP’s automatic adjustments are limited to fairly rudimentary tone and contrast adjustments that often disappoint, while Photoshop Elements has a huge range of automatic adjustments that you have to see to believe. 

3. Plugins

Plugins are additional software tools that expand the functionality of another program, such as the popular Nik Efex and Topaz Labs plugin packs. Both GIMP and Photoshop Elements provide support for plugins, but most companies are focusing on plugins for the Adobe ecosystem.

GIMP does have a powerful answer to Photoshop Elements’ bountiful plugin options thanks to both its open-source nature and built-in extensibility through the Python scripting language. These might not matter much to the average home user, but they’re essential for technical work.

Winner: Tie. GIMP’s extensibility through scripting languages might not be for everyone, but if you need it, you won’t find it anywhere else. Photoshop Elements provides decent support for a wide library of plugins from professional developers, but no scripting options. 

4. Ease of Use

I’m a big believer in the value of a positive user experience in all areas of life, and complex software is a prime example of how much it matters. Thanks to a recent redesign, GIMP now has a more or less acceptable interface, but it’s still not exactly easy to use for beginners.

Quick mode in Photoshop Elements, perfect for learning basic image editing

By contrast, Photoshop Elements offers several different interfaces that are matched to your skill level. Guided edits walk you through complex processes step by step, and the Quick interface is perfect for beginners. Once you’re used to editing, the Expert mode offers more advanced tools.

Just a few of the guided edits available in Photoshop Elements

If you don’t mind being dropped in at the deep end, GIMP’s ease of use issues probably won’t bother you either. You can download different themes for GIMP that might improve usability, and the interface can be customized, but it’s not nearly as polished as the Photoshop Elements UI. 

Winner: Photoshop Elements. The user interface has different modes designed for different users, from experienced photo editors to absolute beginners. 

5. The Learning Curve

Even if a program is well-designed and easy to use, you’ll probably still need a bit of guidance for the first few projects that you work on. There are tons of new menus filled with confusing new terminology to learn, and unfamiliar icons to get used to – but practice makes perfect!

Photoshop Elements has a huge library of tutorials available from Adobe, as well as a lot of online instruction sites like Lynda and Khan Academy. GIMP also has an impressive number of online tutorials available, thanks to tutorial websites like this one 😉 

Of course, online tutorials are one thing, but having some guidance built right into the app makes learning the basics much easier. Photoshop Elements has interactive tutorials that you can work through entirely within the app, while GIMP doesn’t even natively install its own help files. 

I suppose there is a logic behind this choice, somewhere, probably, possibly

Winner: Photoshop Elements. Photoshop Elements has guided instructions throughout the entire installation and launch process, as well as built-in tutorials and guided edits to provide hands-on learning. GIMP provides none of these features, unfortunately. 

6. Price 

Price is one of the areas that GIMP is indisputably better than Photoshop Elements since GIMP is completely open-source free software and never costs any money. No subscriptions, no licenses, just free software from dedicated developers who love donating their time to GIMP.

Photoshop Elements costs $99 USD, though it’s currently on sale for $74.99, which is a pretty decent 25% discount. However, even at $74.99, it’s infinitely more expensive than GIMP will ever be. I think it’s worth every penny, but you might have to spend some time with GIMP to agree. 

Winner: GIMP. No matter how much better Photoshop Elements is in the other comparison categories, it’s hard to beat the value that you get from excellent free software like GIMP. 

7. Compatibility

GIMP also wins easily in the area of operating system compatibility, thanks to its support for Windows, macOS, and various flavors of Linux. If you’re a Linux user, you might even already have GIMP installed as a default part of your operating system. 

Photoshop Elements is available for Windows and macOS but has no support for any type of Linux. You might be able to run it using a virtual machine or emulation program, but you might also find that Photoshop Elements experiences strange errors and unable to find any support.

Winner: GIMP, which is available for all major operating systems available today. 

The Final Winner

For most casual home users who want to edit a few photos, Photoshop Elements is the better choice compared to GIMP. You get an impressive set of editing tools in a user-friendly interface with advanced automatic adjustments and plenty of tutorials and support material for $75 USD.

If you’re on an extremely tight budget and you don’t mind spending a lot of time learning GIMP under your own direction (with a bit of help from yours truly), then GIMP might be enough for your image editing needs. 

About Thomas Boldt
I’ve been working with digital images since the year 2000 or so, when I got my first digital camera. I've tried many image editing programs. GIMP is a free and powerful software, but not exactly user-friendly until you get comfortable with it, and I wanted to make the learning process easier for you here.

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