Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Does GIMP Cut the Mustard for Indies?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 11, 2011

Here’s an explanation as to why professional artists prefer Photoshop to Gimp , I guess:

Why GIMP is Inadequate

I’m not a professional artist, so I doubt I’m qualified to comment on the author’s specific points.  But the arguments seem reasonable – and GIMP (I guess it’s just GIMP now, and no longer “The Gimp”) development being down to just two main people does sound a little distressing.

The 8-bits per channel per layer thing does surprise me a little bit, I confess, but that’s really all that most consumer-level video cards can display anyway. As I understand it (and folks can TOTALLY correct me if I’m wrong, here, thanks), green is the only color that the average human eye can distinguish greater than 8 bits of depth with, anyway. However, the author’s point is that it’s the potential degradation over multiple operations that’s more of the issue here, potentially causing posterization (or, as we in the games biz tend to call it, “banding”). I imagine that it might get noticeable.

Potentially, it could even get ugly… but nothing like what we saw when we were playing games with 16-bit colors (5 bits per channel). Oh, yeah, the late 90’s…

But I’m not even sure that’s a problem anymore. The latest version of GIMP supports the GEGL framework, using 32-bit floating point values for linear light RGB, though it still uses 8-bit channels by default. Does that resolve two of the author’s issues? It sounds like it might…

But bottom line: as an indie, should you hold off on licensing those new sound effects or whatever for a bit so you can save your pennies to buy a copy of Photoshop?

I can’t speak for all of the indies out there, and there are a lot of whistles and bells that Photoshop offers that Gimp simply doesn’t. At least not without third-party plug-ins. But seriously… for me, making textures which scale down to 256 x 256, or icons? Gimp pretty much offers everything I need.

I mean, how much do you need for something like Terry Cavenaugh’s best selling VVVVVV? Or Minecraft?

Not all indie games embrace the 8-bit aesthetic, of course, or voxel-based pixel art. And honestly, as far as I know, the art for both games was done in Photoshop.

I’d hate to relegate indies to some kind of visual gutter and say, “Bah, indies don’t need high-end graphics.” That’s BS. But I’d still say in general that the concerns listed above are pretty much of an overkill for most indies. I’d argue it’s at least “adequate.” I’d be more concerned with making sure Gimp works really, really well with all of the remotely popular tablets out there. And has more of the cool filters and so forth incorporated into Photoshop.

But that’s not entirely the end of the story. Blender has become one of the big success stories of Open Source development, and part of the reason for that is that it has catered to the needs of the high-end artists. I’d say at this point that I’m not using 95% of Blender’s capabilities, while I’m probably using 60% – 70% of Gimp’s.  The high-end and professional artists have made some marquee, showpiece examples of their work done with Blender, and Blender has not been shy about showing these off. The adoption of Blender has been due in no small part to these examples.  They prove the potential of the software for those who have been on the fence. They have become opinion leaders.

I don’t think the same could be said for Gimp. Yet. But I think it’s certainly got the potential to get there.

But in the meantime… I’m still using it, and I don’t pretend my meager artistic skills come anywhere close to pushing its limits.

Filed Under: Art - Comments: 16 Comments to Read

  • Tesh said,

    I don’t like GIMP or Blender for the same reason; the UI on both is abysmal. They are worth far more than what you pay for them in sheer dollar cost, but the time sunk in muddling through the UI and workflow have a cost, too.

  • Joe Larson said,

    Notch uses paint.NET, so… that kinda rules that out as an example.

    Gimp is great for opensourceaphiles. But photoshop it ain’t. In fact paint.NET it ain’t. It’s hard to use. When you figure it out it’s limited. Gimp sucks. Sorry to say it.

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    In doing a texture pack for MineCraft (Ultima themed, if you were wondering!), I’ve come to appreciate GIMP.

    I didn’t like it at first, because a long time ago I got very used to Paintshop Pro, and the interface is quite different.

    However, it is more than capable for my (rather basic) needs, and I would imagine for indie developers who are on a tight budget and not looking to push things graphically it is more than adequate.

    Professional tools like Photoshop are quite often going to be better in certain respects though, but often the price is enough to put folks off.

    Is there perhaps a mid-priced Photoshop equivalent that people could use? No doubt a little investigating would yield results, and if you are serious in producing higher quality artworks then a little research into finding the best tool for the job is probably worth it.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I’ve heard other people praising Paint.net – I may have to check that one out. Though I have gotten pretty used to Gimp by now. 🙂

  • Craig Stern said,

    I recommend Paint Shop Pro–it’s quite inexpensive, it has a wide variety of really useful features, and (at least, in my experience) it’s much more intuitive and easier to use than Photoshop.

    If nothing else, it’s really good for cropping together pictures of Hulk Hogan being attacked by a 5-year-old girl. 😀

  • Troy James Sobotka said,

    I just wanted to drop by and thank you personally for seriously engaging the issue here. Sadly, as suggested in the article, most discussions around the GIMP dissolve quickly into tangential topics.

    In short, I could wish no greater thing to happen than for you to smash a home run video game out of the park using the GIMP. Bring it some attention. Let’s see it succeed and make progress.

    The GIMP works. The point of the piece was to encourage those outstanding issues so that _more_ people might be able to embrace GIMP and output even higher grade work.

    You hit the nail on the head here, and I think it is a fitting closing quote:

    “The high-end and professional artists have made some marquee, showpiece examples of their work done with Blender, and Blender has not been shy about showing these off. The adoption of Blender has been due in no small part to these examples. They prove the potential of the software for those who have been on the fence. They have become opinion leaders.”

    Thanks for a great read…

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    I guess I might qualify as a professional artist. Art is just about all I do now for income, and I am less than 4 months from a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art, with a focus on video game art and concepts. I’ve also been taking art lessons since I was 5. My mother, bless her soul, saw how I loved to spend all my free time laboriously copying illustrations by hand and arranged to have a local artist tutor me in the afternoons. My mother once suggested it would be easier to trace the picture to reproduce it, and I remember becoming highly offended and shouting that was ‘cheating’! Kids . . .

    I agree with the article – GIMP really isn’t adequate for professional artists. Or I should say, it is ONLY adequate. You could (and some do) produce professional grade quality art with it, but it would take longer and be harder than doing the same job in Photoshop. Just like I could draw a picture using Crayola colored pencils as opposed to professional grade Prismacolor pencils – only the result won’t look as good and will be harder to arrive at.

    A good comparison for non-artists is to think back to when you were a kid and drew with crayons. Remember how much better and easier to use Crayola brand was compared to those cheap off-brand crayons? Both were crayons and could color that picture, but Crayolas laid down color easier and brighter, as opposed to the “more wax than color” store brand.

    (NOTE: I realize it is kind of weird to talk about Crayola being an inferior brand in one paragraph and bring it up as the superior brand in another, but being the best in one art medium doesn’t make a brand the best in all art mediums.)

    Photoshop has filters and capabilities far beyond GIMP. Though, in all fairness, I have not tried out GIMP for some three years now. And the performance difference the article brings up is no small potatoes.

    I may be wrong, but I don’t think GIMP offers a 64-bit version, meaning it isn’t going to use all my 10 GB of RAM – only 2 GBs at most. I often work at 300DPI up to 600DPI, sometimes at poster size. This means that some raw images I work on in Photoshop are more than 150 MB in size, and grow as layers are added. And using a tablet to draw and paint, I need the brush to be quick and responsive at all times, otherwise the quality of my strokes or lines diminishes.

    I’m not familiar with GIMP enough to know whether or not it has detailed and customizable color and print profiles, and the ability to calibrate ink amounts in colors, but that is important stuff for professionals like me that must print their work (again, professionally, i.e. not from a home printer) and have the colors look the same on the page as on the screen.

    And I know Photoshop is kind of expensive, but if you are student, you can buy the entire Adobe collection of software for 300 dollars. I think Photoshop by itself is $100 for students.

    All that said, if you are only making art as a hobby, or are an amateur and won’t notice the difference in art created in one package or another, GIMP is fine. If you are only interested in making LOLcat pictures or making 8-bit or 16-bit graphics, you don’t need to go out and buy software, and I think that is a good thing. Additionally, GIMP is a nice first step for artists starting out, and lets them learn some basics and build up their skills for free. Then, when they are ready to go professional and take their art to the next level, they can buy Photoshop and be ready to use its advanced features right off the bat.

    I think GIMP should focus on the amateur art community and really push itself in that direction. Photoshop is not going to be displaced among professionals, and it is, frankly, kind of foolish for 2 developers to take on multi-million dollar corporation whose software name has become a verb for digital photo manipulation. But there is room for a free alternative that doesn’t try to compete with Photoshop toe-to-toe, and instead focuses on making a tool that shines for amateurs.

    As it stands, Adobe has hundreds of software engineers constantly adding new features and improving old ones in Photoshop, and numerous third party developers making plug-ins. GIMP can’t hope to catch up with only two developers. So they shouldn’t. They should find their niche (which they already have with amateurs and the open source community) and ruthlessly pursue that direction instead of trying to sway professionals away from Photoshop. In short, Adobe already has my money and I have their software – what could GIMP offer me? Nothing.

    That’s my piece. Hope I didn’t come off as pretentious, and sorry if I did.

  • Tesh said,

    Speaking of midrange products, I’ve worked with Photoshop Elements 2.0 for years now. I’m still happy with it, a $25 purchase. It doesn’t have the tools I use with CS2 at work, but it’s enough for me to do the illustrations for my mom’s book, for example.

    The version of Painter that comes with Wacom tablets is pretty good, too.

    …and tangentially, as an artist rather than a photo manipulator, I’d say that a good tablet and a program that responds well to it is crucial. Other than that, I’ll second LateWhiteRabbit.

    Oh, and while we’re talking cheap adequate programs, I’ll just throw in a plug for DrawPlus, Inkscape and ArtRage. Maybe even Wings while 3D is on the table. All adquate, all free (the older DrawPlus anyway). At some point production artists need more, but those are great to start with and even stay with if you’re just dinking around.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I look at the potential niche for Gimp being the same as Blender. (Yes, lotsa folks hate Blender with a passion, I know 😉 ) Blender is highly unlikely to unseat 3ds Max or Lightwave. However, it does occupy a nice middle tier between what’s on the lowest end, and the premium (expensive) tools. It’s a little too cumbersome for a pure hobbyist tinkerer, but it’s more than capable of handling the needs of serious developers.

    Though I personally wish they’d focus more on real-time game developers instead of the movie-makers… but that’s my own grousing.

    Additionally, it is my belief that Blender as low-end competition has driven the premium 3D modeling packages to up their game. Their competition isn’t just with each other – they need to be worth a couple thousand dollars more than a free tool. And they are. If you are a professional, and making 3D models (and renders) are how you bring home the bacon, then shelling out a two or three grand for your tools isn’t gonna be a big deal, particularly if it returns your investment in terms of time and quality.

    Anyway – yeah, I won’t pretend Gimp would ever unseat Photoshop. But I think it COULD do the same thing, and provide a real push from below on Adobe. It’s their game to lose.

  • Bad Sector said,

    The adoption of Blender has been due in no small part to these examples.

    And also because of the Blender developers. Here is my comment on the article at Reddit:

    How is it that the flagship imaging application struggles along with only two principal developers working on it and an alternate project such as Blender is absolutely thriving in Libre software?

    Easy. Because GIMP developers are major dicks.

    I visited the IRC channel a few times some years ago and i was basically driven off. In one instance is i was plainly insulted. In another instance indexed formats were mentioned and i said i use them very often. From the discussion (which included snarky comments about me being doing crap art based solely on my use of indexed formats) that followed, it was mentioned that indexed support will be removed in future versions. However, one mentioned, that there is a bug in the indexed format support which needs attention but no one is willing to work on it. So he proposed to me to work on this bug so that the next version of GIMP will be the best GIMP when it comes to indexed support. Of course he also implied that all my work would be for nothing since they were going to remove all of it. Well, thanks but not thanks.

    There are other minor cases too but i don’t remember as clearly as the two above (being insulted and being proposed – after being made fun of – to work on something that will be removed). Also i’ve heard similar comments from other people i know who went in the IRC channel.

    Now, i don’t know if the two remaining developers are those or like those i mentioned above. The “bad apples” might have been throwed out and i hope this is the case because i like GIMP. However when you’re being dicks to people or you’re letting others be dicks to people how can you wonder later about why there are no new people willing to help in the project?

    You might think that the IRC channel might not be representative, but i disagree. I believe that the IRC channels show what the community is and if the community stinks the whole project stinks – as it is apparent by the GIMP situation.

    I have worked with other open source projects, including FIrefox, SeaMonkey and Lazarus. I didn’t do anything big, i just fixed small stuff here and there i thought they needed fixing. I visited the IRC channels of those projects and in all cases people were much more friendly and willing to listen than the GIMP developers.

    I also visited the Blender IRC channel. While i had never showed my face (or, well, nickname :-P) around, Ton Roosendaal was very friendly and assisted me in learning my way around the codebase. And as i saw while i was there (i visited the channel often for a period) everyone got the same good behavior. Actually, as i felt it, Blender’s IRC channel was the complete opposite of what i saw in GIMP’s IRC channel.

    Unfortunately for GIMP, people do not change behavior. Dicks will be dicks forever no matter what i or anyone else write or do.

  • Greg Tedder said,

    I’ve used Photoshop Professional on OS 8, 9, and X and it is pretty nice. I use Photoshop Elements for most of my game needs mainly because it plugs directly into Unity. And I have noticed image quality differences between Photoshop and GIMP, but it’s really a matter of what you are using it for.

    I can honestly say I prefer the GIMP for many tasks, especially when it comes to color “ACCURACY” and the web. Photoshop does odd things with the color and even with their web export tools I find it difficult at times to get colors to matching from element to element.

    In my opinion yes there is a big difference between the two tools and I honestly couldn’t live without either one.

  • JTippetts said,

    I’m an indie who does isometric games(screenshot), and from where I sit GIMP is fine for 90% of indies. Its suitability for professionals might be in question, given the complaints in that article, but the common thread among the indie projects I am at least marginally familiar with is one of lessened emphasis on graphical quality. In such an environment, the lack of deeper bit-depths than 8 really isn’t felt that much.

  • BenD said,

    I think it’s very possible that Photoshop is needed for people who make graphics for modern mid-to-top-end games professionally. For someone who programs games professionally, and needs to get some acceptable graphics onto them for the purpose of making progress, GIMP is plenty. But games that aren’t trying to look like modern mid-to-top-end games wouldn’t feel the difference. My concern would be in how much time you might waste learning GIMP when Photoshop’s simpler for most people to pick up.

  • Calibrator said,

    I agree with BenD – low-cost or freeware painters and image manipulation programs are enough for most indies.
    Sorry to say it and if I come across as a “hater” but most of the graphics I see from indies are no better than Nintendo 8-bit stuff from the mid-eighties. Most of the top-10 freeware CRPGs of 2011 posted recently here definitely needed no Photoshop…

    Yes, it’s done on purpose.
    Yes, it’s perhaps done because the average single developer is no graphics artists and fully well knows his limitations.
    And yes, Photoshop is too expensive for many people anyway. It’s meant for companies that earn money and are able to pay for their tools. If you aren’t stick to the cheaper or free ones.
    Leave the big guns to the people that actually need them.

  • Kevin Brubeck Unhammer said,

    LateWhiteRabbit said “I may be wrong, but I don’t think GIMP offers a 64-bit version, meaning it isn’t going to use all my 10 GB of RAM”

    Wrong, there is support for 64-bit operating systems, where do you get this b/s?

    Anyway, the RAM limitation in MS Windows is an arbitrary one set by Microsoft, you can just edit your registry to overcome it. See http://www.geoffchappell.com/viewer.htm?doc=notes/windows/license/memory.htm

  • Verious said,

    I have tried both and found that the Photoshop interface is much more refined and runs much smoother, especially with large images.