GIMP is one of the most popular free image editors available today, but it’s far from the only one. Photoscape hasn’t been around for nearly as long, only getting its first public release in 2008, but it’s often mentioned as one of the most popular alternatives to GIMP.
Despite that, they’re not exactly intended for the same market, so let’s take a closer look at the two programs so that you can get a sense of which program you should spend your time on.
GIMP (which stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program) is an open-source raster graphics editor. It’s sort of like a 75-in-1 multifunction tool – it can do just about anything, as long as you’re willing to take the time to figure out how to use it properly.
It’s got excellent brush-based editing tools that can be completely customized, layer-based compositing, a huge range of filters and effects, and the ability to expand its features with third-party brushes, plugins, and scripts.
GIMP is free for Windows, macOS, and Linux, which is quite unusual for an image editor.
Photoscape X is the latest version of Photoscape, and while it’s also a raster graphics editor, it packs in a number of guided editing features along with preset looks, brushes, and shape stamps.
Photoscape X is available in two versions: a Free version that limits your access to the more advanced tools and a fully unlocked Pro version that costs $39.99. Both versions are available for Windows and macOS, but not for Linux.
A Bit About Me
In case this is your first visit to TheGIMPTutorials.com, I should introduce myself quickly: my name is Thomas Boldt, and I’m the writer and image editing expert on the TGT team. I’ve worked in the graphic arts and related fields for well over a decade, and my love of digital photography stretches back nearly twice that long.
I’ve used almost every image editor available today, from open-source software like GIMP to industry-standard software suites like Adobe’s Creative Cloud programs.
If you’re tired of reading software comparison reviews that sound like the writer has never touched the programs they’re writing about, then this article should make for quite a refreshing change (and hopefully it’ll be useful, too).
GIMP vs Photoscape X: Which Should You Use?
Before we dive into the good stuff, I want to take a second to outline the various categories that I used to assess the capabilities of the two programs. Here are the areas that matter when comparing GIMP and Photoscape:
- Basic Editing Tools
- Automatic Adjustments
- Plugins & Extensions
- Ease of Use
- Learning Curve
I’ll explain a bit about each one at the start of the section, so let’s get started!
1. Basic Editing Tools
Basic editing tools are the core piece of any good image editor. They’re the manual adjustment tools that you use to do the vast majority of edits: clone brushes, selection tools, paintbrushes, and transform tools. If the developer doesn’t get this part right, all the fancy extras are made worthless.
During my testing of Photoscape X, I ran into a problem immediately, even before I started working with the tools. The high-resolution TIFF image I used to test responsiveness looked a bit off in the thumbnail, and the problem was even more apparent when viewed full size.
To me, this is a huge issue – you can see the dramatic difference between the distorted colors above, and the correct display below. This is caused by Photoscape’s failure to correctly interpret the color profile that’s associated with the image.
I have to admit that a lot of Photoscape’s potential users probably won’t be using TIFF files at all, let alone specialized color profiles, so it won’t affect their use of the program at all. Still, it doesn’t look good for Photoscape to make such a basic mistake.
After a rocky start, Photoscape’s basic editing tools are surprisingly good. However, I’m not a big fan of the monetization model they use, which restricts some of the most advanced tools to the paid version of the program – along with, for some inexplicable reason, the definitely-not-advanced-at-all Paint Bucket tool.
GIMP’s tools are completely unrestricted, of course, and offer far more customization options than Photoscape. GIMP also allows for pressure-sensitive brushes and other brush dynamics that take advantage of the extra data from a graphics tablet, while Photoscape doesn’t offer any dynamics support.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two programs is that GIMP offers layer-based editing, allowing you to combine images easily into anything from a basic photo collage to a photorealistic surrealist masterpiece.
Photoscape has no layer support at all, although it does have some specialized tools for creating collages and other one-off projects.
Winner: GIMP, but it was a lot closer than I expected. GIMP offers much more flexibility and customizability, but Photoscape’s tools are very capable. Photoscape also doesn’t offer support for layer-based editing, which I consider to be a basic feature for modern image editors.
2. Automatic Adjustments
Editing photos can be a lot of fun, but doing the same basic edits over and over again can quickly become tiresome. Automatic adjustments can simplify the editing process dramatically by quickly providing a baseline edit to work from which you can then polish and tweak until you’re satisfied.
Unfortunately, GIMP only offers a very few extremely basic automatic adjustments, such as Auto Levels and Auto Tone. These aren’t always very effective, either.
Photoscape offers an impressive range of automatic adjustments, and even though they don’t always work exactly intended, they can be a huge help to an image editor who’s in a rush to meet a deadline and isn’t overly concerned about polishing every last pixel into place by hand.
Winner: Photoscape. Photoscape’s primary focus is automatic adjustments instead of manual ones, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that it excels here.
3. Plugins & Extensions
Software developers do their best to make sure that their programs are meeting the needs of their user base, but they can’t always predict or include every single feature. It’s nice to have the ability to extend an image editor’s functionality by adding new features and preset asset packs.
Photoscape doesn’t offer plugin support for adding new features. Purchasing the Pro version does unlock the full range of its tools and abilities, but since they are already technically a part of the program, I don’t consider them a plugin or extension.
It does offer support for new color treatments, brushes, shapes, and stickers, although these have to be purchased from their parent company’s store within the app rather than created and shared freely by the community.
Thanks to its open-source nature, GIMP allows for an almost unlimited degree of improvement. You can entirely change the user interface, add new features such as panorama stitching or RAW support, and add new brushes, patterns, and all sorts of presets – usually for free (though this is at the discretion of the creator).
Winner: GIMP. Although both programs can add preset assets like brushes, GIMP has a much wider following, and its open-source nature means that any software developer can develop extensions for it.
This category is a bit of a catch-all because GIMP and Photoscape aren’t in direct competition. There are some features that don’t directly compare between the two, so this section gives a chance to point out the merits (and missing features) in each program.
Photoscape includes a huge number of separate features, such as RAW photo support, a decent file browser, batch processing, and a bunch of one-off tools such as a collage creator and print preparation screen.
None of them are particularly well-executed, but they might be useful for casual users who know what they want to do but not how to do it.
GIMP can technically do all of those things, but you’ll have to handle everything manually or using a third-party plugin. This has the obvious trade-off: more control and better results, but also much more time required.
Winner: Photoscape. Photoscape has a ton of features jammed into it, and while I think that most users won’t need or want all of them, they’re certainly covering a lot of bases.
5. Ease of Use
If you’re familiar with any other image editor, GIMP’s user interface is likely to be immediately familiar – at least, since GIMP 2.8 when the developers finally consulted with a user experience design expert.
It still has some rough edges, but it’s a lot easier to use now thanks to the combination of good default interface configuration combined with the ability to customize just about every aspect of the layout.
Photoscape chooses a slightly more fragmented way to present its features, although the Editor interface is generally effective.
The developers have made some odd design decisions that I really don’t understand, such as placing the standard menu bar options such as the File menu at the bottom right instead of the upper left. What’s the purpose of that other than to confuse your users?
Winner: GIMP. Photoscape’s separated modules should be a good way to organize features, but their use of the idea seems almost random.
6. Learning Curve
As a consequence of being a very powerful editor, GIMP is famously difficult to learn for many new users. There’s so much to discover, and the naming conventions and organizational strategies often feel more like they’re designed to be easy for the developers, rather than the users.
By contrast, Photoscape has a helpful introductory screen that lists popular tools and projects to help guide new users, complete with a link to a Youtube tutorial video for every entry. However, there are far fewer third-party tutorial resources available, since Photoscape has a much smaller userbase than GIMP.
Winner: Photoscape. Photoscape’s intro screen lists a selection of features and guided edits, each with its own corresponding Youtube video tutorial link.
In this review, the price category isn’t a total runaway for GIMP the way it usually is, because Photoscape also offers a free version.
However, because Photoscape forces you to purchase the Pro version to unlock the full range of its tools and features, GIMP provides a more complete image editor at the free level.
That being said, since both GIMP and Photoscape can be tested for free, you may as well download them both to see which one works best for you.
Winner: GIMP. Photoscape does offer a free version, but some of the most useful editing tools are restricted to the paid version while GIMP is entirely free.
So Which Program Wins?
Like so many things, it really depends on what you’re looking for. If you only want to edit the occasional holiday snapshot, then Photoscape is probably enough for what you want to do. It’s intended for casual home users who prefer fast and easy results over accuracy. I don’t mean that to sound critical – I’ve felt that way before myself.
But if you’re serious about developing your image editing skills, you’ll want to focus on learning GIMP instead of Photoscape. It will take you longer to learn, but you’ll become a much better editor as a result – and after all, there’s only so far you can go without layers!
For those of you familiar with the Adobe ecosystem, this analogy may help. GIMP is most similar in capability to Photoshop, while Photoscape X is much more like Photoshop Elements. GIMP is powerful and precise, while Photoscape is quick and easy.About Thomas Boldt