GIMP has a lot of merits as an image editing program, but it’s far from the only choice. High-speed internet connections and high-powered servers have created an entirely new type of competition: the online photo editor. They both edit photos, but also have unique strengths.
Hello, It’s Thomas here again with another comparison. As the writer behind the GIMP tutorials, I’m often asked to compare GIMP against other software, and sometimes it feels unfair to recommend other software over GIMP – this *is* TheGIMPTutorials.com, after all.
But it would definitely be wrong for me to recommend that you use the wrong editing tool for the job, and GIMP and Pixlr are aimed at slightly different users with different goals in mind. So I’m going to break down the two programs for a plain comparison on a point-by-point system.
A Quick Overview
GIMP and Pixlr are both great at editing photos, but Pixlr is designed to be more user-friendly. GIMP is a free desktop application, while Pixlr has both free and paid tiers available with different tools – and the free version is supported by ads. Pixlr has desktop versions, but only paid ones.
Pixlr excels at graphic design layout tasks and quick edits to small photos designed for the screen. There are free versions available, and two paid tiers at $4.90 and $14.99 USD per month – but even the top tier version limits your maximum image resolution.
GIMP is more like a complex 56-in-1 multi-function tool: sharp and capable in almost any situation, but it works best if you know exactly what you’re doing. It can handle any raster edits you need, and its features can be expanded with a range of plugins. Best of all, it’s totally free!
To Be Fair to Pixlr
Pixlr has a slightly confusing system for its software, a leftover from its various stages of development. Pixlr X is a streamlined, simplified editor for quick image edits, but Pixlr E is a feature-packed edition for more advanced users with some extra graphic design tools thrown in.
In addition to this division, there’s a free account tier and two premium account tiers with extra tools and graphic assets. So when I mention Pixlr in this post, I’ll be comparing all the versions, free tiers, and paid tiers all at once, since the paid features count as part of what Pixlr can do.
GIMP vs Pixlr: Which Is The Best Editor?
The simple answer is actually a complex one: it depends on what you want to do. I’ll explain as we go along, but just so that we’re all on the same page from the start, these are the areas that I look at when I’m comparing another editor to GIMP:
- Basic Editing Tools
- Automatic Adjustments
- Ease of Use
- The Learning Curve
1. Basic Editing Tools
For serious high-resolution image editing, GIMP is easily the better choice thanks to its powerful editing tools and extensive options. The question is, how often are you doing precise edits on high-resolution images, and how often are you making quick edits and pics for online marketing?
Pixlr has a major edge if you’re using your image editor for graphic design tasks, as the paid tiers come with access to a large library of digital design assets and templates. GIMP’s graphic assets are a bit more limited to start with, but they can be expanded with custom creations.
One basic editing area where GIMP remains unchallenged is drawing tablet support. While Pixlr lets you use your stylus as a mouse the way every app does, GIMP can also interpret the pressure changes that really turn your drawing tablet into a must-have tool.
Winner: GIMP. For the vast majority of image editing projects, both of these applications are perfectly capable of getting the job done. Pixlr’s brush tools are more responsive than some desktop apps I’ve used, but GIMP easily has the edge in terms of the total number of tools.
2. Automatic Adjustments
Everyone loves automatic tools lately, although GIMP has been a bit slow to adopt some of the more impressive advances in the world of automatic editing. In fact, they’re still having a bit of trouble with automatic brightness and contrast adjustments, let alone content-aware scaling.
Pixlr isn’t too big on automatic adjustments either, but they’re starting to release some tools and promise to release more in the future. The first is Pixlr BG, also known as Remove Background, which does what it says on the tin, although I had mixed results during my testing. It’s still new 😉
Winner: Pixlr, but only barely. Pixlr has begun expanding into the world of AI-powered tools, while GIMP relies on third-party extensions to add this kind of automatic editing functionality. If you count features added with plugins (see below), GIMP would win by a huge margin instead.
This category is a bit of a giveaway for GIMP since it’s got a huge range of free plugins available for download (check out my list of the best GIMP plugins that you’ll actually use), while Pixlr lives in your web browser and so can’t support that kind of functionality.
Pixlr does offer connections to their library of digital design assets and templates, which is arguably a plugin, but it’s still controlled by Pixlr, not you. Even their new tool, Background Remove, isn’t accessible directly within the Pixlr interface, forcing you to split your workflow.
Winner: GIMP, by a long shot. GIMP has a huge number of plugins available for a huge range of feature upgrades, while Pixlr doesn’t really have any kind of plugin support at all. Pixlr does have connections to stock photos and digital asset collections, but they’re controlled by Pixlr.
4. Ease of Use
No matter how good of an editor it is, I think it’s extremely unlikely that GIMP will ever win in the ‘ease of use’ category. It’s possible, but it might require a bit of a redesign of the whole interface to really be enough of an improvement – and they just got finished doing a redesign.
Pixlr is a refreshingly simple program to use by comparison, with a neatly designed interface with accessible controls. This already makes it easier to use than GIMP, but it also has helpful guides and notes scattered throughout the interface.
GIMP’s user interface can be completely customized, which gives it an advantage, but the customization process is fiddly and takes a bit of work to adjust. It would be simpler to just redesign the default configuration to a more modern, user-friendly layout.
Winner: Pixlr. Pixlr has a streamlined user interface that’s very clearly and consistently laid out. GIMP’s customizable interface is great, but it’s definitely not easy to use at first.
5. The Learning Curve
Learning a new program is always a bit difficult, and good developers usually go out of their way to make sure that new users can learn their program as quickly as possible. Pixlr’s team definitely learned that lesson in the Youtube era, while GIMP is stuck with dry technical help.
As a result, they’ve created a huge, well-produced video library of official Pixlr tutorials available on their Youtube channel that answer the basic how-to questions. By comparison, GIMP users have to read through technical documentation that values extreme precision over helpfulness.
Of course, there are always great third-party tutorials (like you’ve found on this site!) that help new GIMP users learn the basics, but it would be nice if there was a bit more help within the program. GIMP has a lot to learn and it takes time, but even a few simple UI hints would be nice.
Winner: Pixlr. Pixlr has a more modern approach to user education than the GIMP project and has a large online tutorial repository and an active community. To be fair to GIMP, it has a lot more to learn in total, but it also doesn’t even try to help new users with the basics.
Despite never winning in the ‘ease of use’ category, GIMP almost always wins in the price category thanks to the fact that it’s free open-source software and always has been, ever since it was first released to the public in the late 1990s.
Pixlr has a free account tier available, but it comes with limited tools, digital assets, and even limits on the dimensions of the images you can edit. The paid tiers come with some new features, although I’m not sure that the top-level Creative Pack tier is really worth the extra cost.
Winner: GIMP. GIMP is free and always will be, while Pixlr contains ads in the free version and otherwise costs $4.90 or $14.99 per month, depending on which subscription plan you choose.
Most software is available for a limited range of operating systems, but in this comparison, both apps can run just about everywhere. GIMP runs on Windows, macOS, and Linux, while Pixlr runs on any web browser, and even on your smartphone – though I find that version a bit limiting.
That means that the deciding compatibility tie-breaker comes down to file handling, which GIMP wins on a single point. GIMP and Pixlr both handle every major image format and even a few uncommon ones, but Pixlr limits your maximum resolution to 3840 x 2160 (4K resolution).
Winner: GIMP. GIMP is available on all three major operating systems, but Pixlr can run anywhere that there’s a web browser (including your smartphone, thanks to Pixlr M). GIMP handles more file types and doesn’t limit your image size, which pushes it into the lead.
The Final Winner
As I said at the beginning, choosing the final winner really depends on the kind of image work you want to do. Pixlr is great for graphic design layouts and quick image edits, while GIMP is a better photo editor and more precise technical tool, but lacking in terms of layout tools and assets.
GIMP technically has the edge in terms of category wins with its 4-3 lead, but as you’ve learned as you read along, there’s more to it than simple numbers. It really depends on what type of image work you need to do.
So ultimately, you’re going to have to decide for yourself – but image editing of all types is really about making decisions, so you’ve probably already made up your mind about GIMP vs Pixlr. Whichever you choose, just be sure to make something cool with it!
Happy editing!About Thomas Boldt