GIMP vs Photoshop

The GIMP Tutorials presents




Photoshop is the only image editor in history to have its name turned into a verb: “to Photoshop” a picture means to edit it. GIMP doesn’t exactly enjoy the same level of name recognition, but it’s still popular. So how do they compare in terms of capability?

My name is Thomas Boldt, and I’ve been digital image editing for fun and profit since before the turn of the millennium (yes, that millennium). I’ve used almost every editor available for PC and Mac, and I can help you cut through the noise to figure out which is best for you. 

The very short answer is that Photoshop is leaps and bounds ahead of GIMP. It has more powerful features, better support, and a huge community of users who can help if you run into trouble. If you need a professional-quality image editor, Photoshop is the perfect solution.

Photoshop costs $19.99 per month as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription and comes bundled with Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop for iPad, and 1TB of cloud storage space. You can sign up for a free trial, or read on to see more comparisons.

GIMP stands tall in one area: it’s entirely free and open-source, which means that anyone can examine the code and even develop their own improvements. It has a decent set of basic image editing tools but also has a few issues that mean it might not be the best choice for an editor. Read my full GIMP review for more.

GIMP vs. Photoshop: Head-to-Head Comparison

As you’d expect for image editors, the most important thing to compare is how well they can actually edit your image! But with so many different reasons for editing an image, we’ll have to zoom in a bit to do a proper comparison.

1. Selection Tools

One of the most common image editing tasks is editing just a small section of an image. In order to do that, you often have to use selection tools to define the area you want to edit. This makes them one of the most important tools to get right! 

When it comes to manual selection tools like rectangles and ovals, GIMP and Photoshop perform about the same. They both come with a good range of options, and they’re both responsive while you’re working with them.

The real differences show when you start looking at the automatic selection tools. Selecting a product box on a white background is easy to do by hand, but selecting individual strands of hair on your model by hand will drive you crazy almost instantly! Automatic tools to the rescue. 

The Fuzzy Select tool in GIMP took about 20 seconds to decide what I had clicked on and isolate it for me – so long that I actually thought I’d crashed the program. The same process in Photoshop with the Magic Wand tool was finished as soon as my finger finished clicking. 

Photoshop’s Select Sky option works surprisingly well, even on a forested horizon

Additional preset selection tools in Photoshop make it easy to select a specific color range, the area of your image that’s in focus, or the entire sky. You can even try to select your subject automatically, but this doesn’t always work well on images with complex backgrounds. 

Photoshop also has excellent tools for adjusting your current selection boundaries, allowing you to feather, expand/shrink, and automatically mask your selections. GIMP offers a few ways to customize selection behavior, but they don’t offer the same level of control as Photoshop.

Winner: Photoshop, thanks to its impressive automatic selection tools and refinement options that dramatically speed up your workflow. 

2. Healing and Cloning

Another extremely common editing job is hiding or duplicating elements of your image. When you need to fix a zit in a selfie or stop someone from photobombing your family reunion snapshots, healing, and cloning tools help you patch things up while still looking realistic. 

Winner: Tie. Both Photoshop and GIMP handle cloning and healing quite well, and the tools are responsive even during long strokes in both programs.

3. Automatic Adjustments

One of the biggest new trends in software development is that everyone wants to include tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI). A lot of the time these claims are just marketing buzz, but Adobe has just launched some incredible AI tools lately that you have to see to believe. 

Photoshop CC includes a new set of tools called “Neural Filters” which use machine learning to apply powerful adjustments to your images with just a few simple sliders. GIMP doesn’t offer anything even remotely similar.

Winner: Photoshop, no question about it. GIMP still struggles with automatically correcting brightness and contrast, while Photoshop can give you perfect skin instantly, change your facial features, or even create entirely new sections of background from your existing photo. 

4. Common Image Formats

Both GIMP and Photoshop handle all the common types of image files like JPG, PNG, GIF, and TIFF files. Photoshop uses the proprietary PSD format to save more complex files, but GIMP is one of few programs that can also open and save the PSD format.

Winner: Tie. Both GIMP and Photoshop can handle any common image file type. 

5. RAW Photo Editing

High-quality cameras save their photos using a special format type known as “RAW” because it contains the raw image data directly from the camera’s sensor. Each manufacturer has its own method of creating RAW files, so it’s important to check that your image editor is compatible. 

Photoshop uses a built-in processor called Camera RAW to open and process your RAW files. You can make non-destructive edits like white balance, contrast, and lens distortion corrections, then your image opens immediately in Photoshop for additional pixel editing.

GIMP uses a similar process to Photoshop, but instead of Camera RAW, it uses the free open-source program darktable – as long as you have it installed. Your image opens in darktable, you adjust it as desired, and then your image opens ready for editing in GIMP.

Winner: Photoshop. It’s an extremely close call, but Photoshop wins thanks to a streamlined process and regular updates supporting the newest cameras and RAW types. 

6. User Interface

Photoshop’s interface can be overwhelming at first, but GIMP can feel the same way to new users. Photoshop allows you to customize the location of every panel, popup, and tool window, plus you can save different configurations and switch between them easily. 

GIMP used to have a painfully bad interface by default, but the latest update has made a huge improvement. You can customize the location of some panel elements, but not everything, and there’s no way to set up multiple workspace styles. 

Winner: Photoshop. The ability to set up multiple custom preset workspaces for different types of image editing is extremely helpful. 

7. Learning the Software

Learning a new program is often challenging, especially when they’re complex and powerful. It’s extremely helpful to have on-screen hints and guides, as well as a lot of online resources like tutorials and support forums. 

Photoshop is famously difficult to learn, but recently Adobe has been working hard on integrating hands-on tutorials and guides available directly in Photoshop from the Help menu. These will open all the files you’ll need for the tutorial without having to download anything else. 

One of the guided tutorials in Photoshop’s Discover panel

One of the unfortunate problems with free software is that there is often very little support available to help guide new users. There are online tutorials for common tasks, but they’re definitely not as polished when it comes to teaching the software.

Winner: Photoshop. Having on-screen guides, tutorials, and a huge community of users makes it much easier to learn.

8. Price

Last but certainly not least is the question of price. This one is an easy win for GIMP since it is entirely free open-source software, and it always has been. The developers donate their time to the project because they love working on it, which is quite admirable and must be appreciated. 

Photoshop is only available from Adobe as part of a monthly Creative Cloud subscription which costs $20.99.

At first, this might sound like a bad deal compared to GIMP’s monthly price of zero, but there’s a bundle for $9.99 that comes with Adobe Lightroom CC, Adobe Lightroom Classic CC, Photoshop for iPad, and 1TB of cloud storage space. 

Most importantly, though, you get constant updates whenever there is a new feature release, and major updates are usually released at least once a year.

Winner: GIMP. In terms of value for your money, I’ve always thought that the $19.99 subscription bundle for Photoshop & Lightroom is worth it to get access to the best image editor in the world. But it’s arguably impossible to compete with the value that you get from free software!


Do Professionals Use GIMP?

The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is that there are probably some professional photographers out there who are committed to the open-source software movement, but they’re definitely few and far between. Photoshop is the industry standard for image editing. 

Is GIMP Good for Beginners?

It depends on your learning style, but it’s not the best choice. It doesn’t have any on-screen introduction guide or the same level of online tutorial support available as Photoshop. Sometimes it can be confusing for new users, as you’re forced to figure things out for yourself. 

It does have the advantage of being free, which makes it simple to test out for yourself. However, Photoshop does also offer a 30-day free trial with no obligation, so you can try them both out to see which one you find easier to work with.

A Final Word on the Winner

So now that you’ve had a rundown of the pros and cons of GIMP vs Photoshop, I hope things are a bit clearer – but you might still be wondering which is right for you. 

If you’re a beginner who’s never edited an image before, you might want to give GIMP a try to see if it’s something you’re interested in before you spend any money.

But considering that Photoshop has a free 30-day trial that includes all of its helpful free training and introductory tutorials, you can still experiment at no cost – and without all the hassles that come with learning GIMP from outdated manuals and tutorials. 

If you’re looking for an image editor but you don’t want to subscribe to Adobe and GIMP isn’t powerful enough for what you need, you might want to try Photoshop Elements or Affinity Photo.

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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  • Matt

    Feeling a definite bias towards Photoshop in this article, when even the price section ($20 a month vs absolutely nothing) is judged to be a tie!

    Whilst a professional editor might be able to justify the high price tag associated with Photoshop, and make use of all the more advanced features, this article is supposed to be a general comparison of the two. For a hobbyist who wants to do basic photo editing, Adobe’s price tag is an huge point against it.

    I would also suggest pairing Gimp with the free open-source software Darktable, giving you the lightroom esque experience, plus raw editing features.

    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Matt, you’re right that I’m a bit biased towards Photoshop, because it’s undeniably a more capable photo editor than GIMP. Now don’t get me wrong – I love GIMP, and I love the open source community as a whole, and they play an extremely important role in the larger world of software – but I’m not going to pretend that GIMP is as capable as Photoshop when it’s simply not true.

      Is GIMP an excellent free solution? Absolutely.
      Is GIMP the best photo editor in the world? Not even close.
      Is GIMP good for beginners? No.

      That being said, you do have a good point about the price category – I’ll have to revisit that with my editor to clear things up. The price should only be $9.99, not $19.99, and you can clearly see that I said it was a win for GIMP which somehow then became a ‘tie’.

  • shirley feldman

    Hi there! I read your article on the differences between GIMP and Photoshop, and I found it to be very informative. It’s great that you compared and contrasted the two programs, highlighting their similarities and differences.

    I appreciated how you explained that both GIMP and Photoshop are powerful image editing tools, but that they have different user interfaces and feature sets. Your explanation of the various tools and features available in each program was really helpful in understanding the strengths and limitations of each.

    It was also great to read your thoughts on the cost of each program, as well as their compatibility with different operating systems. These are important factors to consider when choosing an image editing software, especially for those on a tight budget or with specific hardware requirements.

    Overall, I think your article was well-written and provided a clear overview of the similarities and differences between GIMP and Photoshop. As someone who has used both programs in the past, I found your insights to be very accurate and helpful. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!

    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Shirley, thanks for your reply, I hope you found the comparison helpful!

  • SammyG

    This is so biased towards photoshop it’s unreal. I think Gimp is really REALLY good considering it’s a public effort and not for profit. I just made a book cover using Gimp and I did it in about a 10th of the time it takes in Photoshop and that’s with changing the background by erasing the background manually.

    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Sammy, I’m glad you’re having success with GIMP. You’re right – GIMP *is* really good, considering that it’s a free/open source effort and not for profit – but that doesn’t make it more capable than Photoshop.

      Also, if you want to do graphic design layouts, such as book cover design, I strongly recommend that you try using Inkscape instead of GIMP. Vector graphics apps like Inkscape are much better suited to working with page layouts.

  • BiscuitBobby

    gimp does have ml plugins like gimp-ml which you may not have known about, it would have been nice if you compared it to photoshops neural filters

    • Thomas Boldt

      Oh wow, those filters are very cool! I’ve definitely never heard of the project before, thanks for sharing with us!

      For any other visitors who are interested, the current GitHub repository for gimp-ml can be found here:

      However it’s worth pointing out that they are no longer working on the version of gimp-ml that is compatible with the current version of GIMP, and they are now focusing on getting ready for the unspecified release of GIMP 3.

  • Robert Spigle

    Has the price on Photoshop gone up? The price on their website is 19.99 a month making it basically 240 dollars a year for the Photoshop/Lightroom bundle. Over even as short as a 10 year span that’s 2500 dollars. I guess if you are a professional using it 10+ hours a week it might be worth it? As a hobbyist it’s pretty unreasonable.

    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Robert, you’re right that it’s a bit too expensive, but unfortunately, getting the best of the best usually is =\

      That being said, you can still get the $9.99 price! The first listed price of $19.99 is a bit misleading – and I bet that’s on purpose, to get people to pay more. If you click the ‘Compare Photography Plans’ link, then you’ll see that Adobe still does offer the $9.99 Lightroom/Photoshop bundle.

      The only difference between the $9.99 plan and the $19.99 plan is the amount of Creative Cloud storage space that you get. The $19.99 plan offers 1 terabyte of storage, while the $9.99 plan only offers 20 gigabytes of storage. Personally, I almost never use my Adobe cloud storage space since I already have Google Drive and OneDrive, and I don’t really want to store my photos in the cloud anyways!

      Hope that helps =)

  • lost in the graphic weeds

    Thank you for your guidance on Gimp and Inkscape. The reason I have tried Photoshop subscription and reverted
    to Gimp/Inkscape is privacy. Photoshop, since MacOs and WIN are basically owned by the same company, are
    insidiously getting a subscriber to drink the kool aid. I have been in the printing industry, for decades and used it
    it work. It’s refreshing to to use a Gimp/ Inkscape with no strings attached. Thank you for detailed info and
    your articles.

    • Thomas Boldt

      Glad you’re finding the site helpful! The GIMP/Inkscape combination is a great one.

      I also agree that the tendency for big companies to merge with other big companies into even bigger companies is certainly disturbing when you think about the massive amounts of data those mergers bring with them. Open source is an excellent alternative!

  • Bruno Maia

    “The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is that there are probably some professional photographers out there who are committed to the open-source software movement, but they’re definitely few and far between. Photoshop is the industry standard for image editing. ”

    I agree with your article. Partially. Gimp can be extended, missing this addendum. And there are many professionals using Gimp, especially in Brazil. I’ve walked into many studios and seen that “officially”, they use Photoshop, but in the workflow, they use Gimp to eliminate licensing bureaucracy. Especially for montage. We use it a lot. With 32-bit depth, we edit professional photos very well. So yes. We use professionally. Don’t even think about Affinity, which is another good app.

    • Thomas Boldt

      Hi Bruno, I’m surprised to hear that, but I am pleased as well! I love using Photoshop, but I think that Adobe has too much power in the digital editing world, so I’m glad to hear that professionals are also using GIMP around the world.

      I’ve also used Affinity Photo, and I like it, but I still find myself coming back to Photoshop.

      Thanks for the insights!

  • Alexander

    Thomas, thank you. It’s a quality article as all articles on Thay are very helpful!

    • Thomas Boldt

      Thanks, Alexander, I’m glad you’re finding the site useful!