GIMP 2.8 Finally Released with New FeaturesGIMP is a powerful image editor available on Windows, OS X, and Linux that closely resembles Adobe Photoshop in its features and functionality. For years now, it has stood as the go-to image editing application for users seeking a free alternative to the expensive flagship product from Adobe.

This week, a stable version of GIMP 2.8 has been made available for Linux users, with release candidates featuring the latest updates available for Windows and OS X. This latest version features a number of new UI and tool options that extend customization and answer some of the more common complaints about the application.

Perhaps the most obvious change is the ability for the user to operate within a single-window mode rather than having multiple windows open to edit a single image. This has always been my one big complaint about the application as a critical toolbar can easily become lost should you have other applications open within the same space. Where this may be a welcome feature for some, it always made the application seem a bit more scattered to me.

Additional changes in GIMP 2.8 (stable) include:

  • Multi-column Dock Windows
  • More Screen Real Estate For Dockable Dialogs
  • Save And Export
  • Layer Groups
  • Tools Drawn With Cairo
  • On-Canvas Text Editing
  • Simple Math In Size Entries

Keyboard shortcuts have also been adjusted a bit. These changes include:

  • Ctrl+J – Shrink Wrap
  • Ctrl+Shift+J – Fit in Window
  • Ctrl+E – Export to
  • Ctrl+Shift+E – Export…

Layer Groups may be the most welcome feature among Photoshop users seeking a cheaper alternative. Like Photoshop, layers can finally be grouped together and changed as such.

Text editing, which was a kluge of pop-up windows before can now be done directly on the canvas. To me, this is one of the more important changes as text editing was often confusing, especially when switching between GIMP and other image editors. I never understood why GIMP chose to go the route they had, but I’m grateful the project has finally adopted this approach.

Switching between open images is also somewhat improved, allowing you to do so without having to go through the menu.

Exporting your images is the new save, while saving an image allows you to save it in a native GIMP format. In order to save a file as a PNG, JPG, or otherwise, you’ll need to export it. I found this neither better nor worse, but it does fall in line with other professional media editors. Perhaps this will help ease the learning curve from Photoshop?

Brush management is also refined to be a little easier when switching between brush types. This is especially useful for a user with many added third-party brushes.

Speaking of brushes, you can actually rotate a brush now. Huzzah!

Where Can I Get it?

While a stable version of GIMP 2.8 isn’t currently available for Windows and OS X (these are expected very soon) Linux users can enjoy the stable release right now.

You can install the latest release candidate of GIMP version 2.8 for Windows here.

You can download the latest release candidate of GIMP version 2.8 for OS X here.

The source code for version 2.8 (most useful for Linux users) can be downloaded here.

Final Thoughts

It’s been a long time coming, but the latest version of GIMP shows a lot of promise. It isn’t quite there yet, but this is a promising step forward on an open source project that looked to be stuck in a cycle of non-improvements over the past few years.

Love it or leave it, GIMP is a good thing for the software market. It not only enables budget-minded professionals access to pro-level tools without the hundreds of dollars in investment costs, but it sets a bar that commercial image editors must overcome in order to be considered worthy of paying for.

Free programs such as GIMP also empower the impoverished to educate themselves on modern productivity software, making it possible for them to compete on a more even playing field. While you or I might consider GIMP to be a cheap substitute for the “real thing,” it could be the very conduit by which many learn the skills they need to achieve their goals of becoming professional photographers, artists, and designers.

Over all, this new version of GIMP is an improvement, and could have all the bells and whistles that some holdouts have been waiting for. GIMP is still far from a “Photoshop killer” and it would be equally difficult to say these changes are a breakthrough for the open source project. If I had to sum it up in two words, those words would likely be something along the lines of “less kludgy”.

GIMP has a long way to go before it will trigger the downfall of any professional option, but for those that depend on the advanced features and low entry fee, it’s nothing short of a dramatic improvement.