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GIMP : Free Graphics and Photo Editor

by Oscar Sodani
April 16, 2003

Oscar Sodani is a founder of Help2Go and owner of Help2Go Networks, an IT consulting firm in the Washington D.C. area. Oscar holds the CISSP certification as well as industry certifications from Microsoft, Cisco and Novell.

If you have a digital camera, it can be great fun to load those images onto your PC and edit them. Maybe you want to remove a blemish from the photo, or some red-eye, or maybe even an old girlfriend... The biggest problem is that good, powerful photo editing programs are expensive. The most popular is Adobe Photoshop, which sells for US$650 at my local Best Buy. How can you edit your photos without taking out a loan???

For years, I've been using the GIMP. It's a silly name, but it is an extremely powerful program very similar to Photoshop. Best of all, it's free! We'll be publishing dozens of photo editing tutorials on Help2Go in the future, and all will be based on the GIMP, so first we'll show you how to download and install it!

The GIMP is an open-source program, similar to Linux in that programmers throughout the world donate their time and energy to create and improve this wonderful program. The GIMP was originally created to run on Linux computers, but an enterprising Slovenian has made it so that the GIMP can be used on your Windows computer as well.

The GIMP is extremely powerful -- many graphics professionals use it as their main editing tool. But don't be put off by the complexity - it's also very easy to use once you get used to the interface. And we'll have lots of tutorials to show you how to do common tasks in the GIMP. We'll be here every step of the way :)

The first step is to download the program. Below you'll see two files that you need to download. You'll need both files. If you want the latest Windows versions, they are always available from Jernej Simoncic's Homepage.

First, download the GTK installer.

Next, download the GIMP installer.

First, you'll need to run the GTK installer. Double-click on the file. This installs some common open-source files onto your computer that the GIMP needs to use in order to run. Accept all the defaults.

Now, run the GIMP installer that you downloaded. Double-click on the file and accept all of the default settings here as well.

You should now have an icon on your desktop that says GIMP -- it looks like a little ferret or something. Double-click on it to run it. The first time you run the program, it will ask you some questions. You can just accept all of the default values if you're not sure. Then the program will run, and you'll see several windows open up on your screen.

One of the windows holds the toolbar, with all of the tools you can use to edit images. To open up one of your photos, click on the File menu and choose Open. One of the differences you'll notice with the GIMP is that in order to run a command, you will right-click on the image. A menu will pop-up will all of the different things you can do.

One of the limitations the GIMP has is that you cannot save GIF files unless you download a plug-in. This is because a company called Unisys claims to have a copyright on the GIF standard. When you buy a program like Photoshop, some of the money you pay is passed on to Unisys for the privelege of using the GIF format. Since the GIMP is free, no money changes hands, so you can't save GIF images unless you live in a country where this copyright doesn't exist. You can, however, load GIF images just fine and save them into a different format (like PNG, which is free).

If you live in a country that doesn't have this copyright, or you just don't care, you can download the GIF plug-in file from our Slovenian friend. Then just run the installer and restart GIMP.

So now you're all set! To view the GIMP manual, or to find tutorials for the GIMP, check out the GIMP website. It's a wonderful program, and I hope you like it. But it takes years to master, so don't get frustrated.

Is there a particular photo editing tutorial that you'd like to see on Help2Go? Post a comment below and we'll start work on it ASAP!

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