The new GIMP: Faster, better, still free

GIMP hits the fountain of youth and comes back stronger, with revamped old tools, cool new ones, an easier install process, and yeah, it's still free.

It's been nearly three years since the GIMP has seen a noticeable feature-set upgrade. The new version of the popular freeware image editor makes changes in all the right places, streamlining the installation process, fine-tuning and overhauling old features and introducing some really cool new ones.

One of the most powerful general-purpose image editors around, the upgrades make the GNU Image Manipulation Program eminently comparable to Photoshop. Older features include channels, layers and masks, filters and effects, tabbed palettes, editable text tools, and color operations such as levels.

The foreground selector works well and is brand-new to the GIMP.

New improvements include scalable brushes, revised selection tools, a new color menu, full-screen editing, a new crop tool, improved printing, red-eye removal, perspective clone, lens distortion, and more. There's built-in support for SVG files, to make communicating with vectorized image editors like Inkscape hassle-free. It even has regex-based pattern matching for power users.

Gutting and reconstructing many of the old tools has been a major improvement for the program. Now, after a selection is made it can be adjusted and moved without using the transform tool. Also, all brushes are dynamic and can be changed via hotkeys, so that you can keep one hand on the mouse and make on-the-fly adjustments. The red-eye plug-in is brand-new, too, with a simpler workflow and more accurate results.

GIMP\'s revamped red-eye removal tool.

Although the separated palette windows may disturb those users who are accustomed to more traditional layouts, your comfort level should grow exponentially as you discover how pain-free the program is. I suspect this free-floating format is one of the reasons why GIMP doesn't drag on resources in the way that other programs with similar features do. Simplifying the installation process by bundling the GTX Runtime Environment has helped immeasurably, basically excising most user-based installation errors.

It's hard to overstate how extremely powerful and easy to use GIMP is. It's ideal for both amateur and pro photographers, Web designers, or anyone who wants to create and edit professional-quality digital images on a budget.