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Best Free Photoshop Alternative

Updated on February 28, 2016

Gimp Overview

The GNU Image Manipulation Program (Gimp) was originally created by two students at the University of Berkley and released in its first version in the year 1996. Twenty years later Gimp is available for Windows, Linux, Macintosh and even for Android systems and has established itself as THE free alternative to Photoshop.

Gimps user interface is different to what a lot of people are used to. Pictures and tools are organized in floating windows which can become confusing when several windows are open. A little piece of advice to keep a good overview at all times. The shortcut Ctrl+B can help you to find the toolbox window quickly by bringing it to the foreground. The toolbox window offers various useful tools over which I want to give you a quick overview.

1) Rectangular Selection Tool
Select a rectangle within the picture
2) Fuzzy Selection Tool
Select parts of the picture based on color
3) Intelligent Scissor Tool
Select complex shapes by selecting points around its contour
4) Color Picker Tool
Set the foreground color by selecting a color from a pixel
5) Flip Tool
Mirror the picture horizontally or vertically
6) Foreground & Background Color
Select colors to work with. The foreground color determines the color for some tool operations, e.g. fill area with color or create text
7) Text Tool
Create or edit text

Goal of this Tutorial

As with many things in life, to learn means to try for yourself and to practice. Please join me in this article, use the following two pictures for our experiments, and download Gimp ( to get started.

You might already have an idea what we we want to do with these pictures. We will will copy the freerider into the picture of the dessert. To do so, we will perform the following steps:

- Mirror the dessert picture horizontally

- Enhance the contrast and brightness of the freerider

- Copy the freerider into the dessert picture

- Resize the freerider to about half its size

Mirroring a Picture

Let us start with a simple task. As a first step, let us mirror the dessert picture horizontally by using the "Flip Tool" of Gimp (Tool 7 of our Gimp overview). Double clicking on the Flip Tool icon in the Tool window is going to open a dialog where you can choose the flipping direction. We will need to select the flip horizontally option and click left on the dessert afterwards to mirror the picture.

Enhancing the Picture Quality

Enhancing the contrast or brightness of a picture can greatly improve its asthetics. And its fairly easy to do this with Gimp. Right-Click into the picture of our freerider, select the Color->Brightness Contrast option from the correct menu, and play around with the brightness and saturation until you are satisfied with the result. Make the picture a bit darker by selecting a negative brightness value and increase the contrast by a positive contrast value.

Selecting Objects of a Picture

Sometimes we are only interested in a single part of the picture while the rest is irrelevant. Gimp offers a function called "intelligent scissors" (Tool 3 of our Gimp overview section) which allows you to set points around a contour line of an object. The intelligent scissors algorithm uses these points to trace the objects contour line and thus select an area of the picture. If the tracing of the algorithm is not accurate enough, you can always drag a point to its correct location or set a new between two old points.

After you are finished with adding points on the contour line click left on the freerider. The selected points are going to vanish and instead a broken selection line will appear surrounding the freerider.

Copy and Pasting Pictures

Now let us copy the selected freerider into our main dessert picture. Simply press Ctrl+C, click left once on the dessert picture, and press Ctrl+V to paste the freerider. Alternatively, you will find these operations in the context menu under the "Edit" entry when you right-click on the pictures.

Resizing Pictures

Now that we pasted the freerider into our main picture, it is time to fit his size to the dessert picture. Please note that the freerider has to be still surrounded by the dashed line indicating that he is still selected. If you lost the selection for some reason, you can always hit Ctrl+Z to undo your last operation.

To resize the freerider, click right into the picture, select Layer->Scale Layer and a dialog window opens. In this window, you can either enter the new width or the new height of the picture. The value you didn't change will be automatically calculated to maintain the aspect ratio.

Adding Text

Another pretty common task is to add text to a picture. Gimp offers with the Text tool various fonts to choose from. Selecting this tool you have two options. You can either draw a box where Gimp will try to fit your text in or just click on the picture where you want the text to appear. In both cases you can still move the text around after closing the text tool dialog. To do so, use the move tool. Once you are happy with your text select the Layer-Merge Down entry from the context menu. This operation will merge your text with the picture.

Additional Resources

I have only shown you the tip of the iceberg in what I hope was a fun little project. To learn more about Gimp please refer to this excellent tutorial


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