Okay, you’re probably wondering why would anyone want an alternative image editor to GIMP – the GNU Image Manipulation Program. After all, it appears in all the major distros already and is easily the most popular image/photo tool for Linux OSs.
I might be wrong about this but I reckon GIMP is not an easy-to-use option, especially if you’re coming from a Windows background, which, if we’re honest, is where most of us are coming from. GIMP also isn’t great for serious photography given its 8-bit-per-channel limitation (Photoshop can do 16- and even 32-bit-per-channel colour). It does do a lot of things right but given it gets such a rap from most people by default, it’s worth looking to see what else is out there.
While Adobe still hasn’t made up its mind if it’s going to release a Linux version of Photoshop, what else is there around that’s free, allows you to create or edit images and doesn’t require a post-grad degree in multimedia graphics to use?
This isn’t an exhaustive list so if you know of another, drop us a line below.
Inkscape is a Corel DRAW/Adobe Illustrator clone that is light and portable and even works well on netbooks. It’s requirements are surprisingly light and can be found in the Ubuntu archives if you’re an Ubuntu fan. It only requires GTK+ support so will work on most of the major distros (and a large truckload of the smaller ones too). Strictly speaking, Inkscape is a vector-graphics app so it’s not ideal for editing bitmap images (like your favourite photos) but for creating graphics and images, it’s one of the most well-featured tools you’ll find for your Linux desktop.
Digikam requires the KDE desktop environment (well, the run-time bits of it at least) but can be installed on GNOME or Xfce-based distros such as Ubuntu and Xubuntu. This is one of the best image editors “for the rest of us” who don’t need the complexity of a complete Photoshop app. The only problem you may find installing it on non-KDE based setups is that the help section doesn’t work correctly, due to its expectation of using KDE’s web browser rather than Firefox. Still, this is a simple yet highly featured tool that will help you knock your photo images into shape without needing to read a complete manual before you start.
Google’s Picasa comes in a version for Linux but is basically just the Windows version prebundled into a version of WINE, the Windows compatibility layer app. While it is free to download and use, it’s not open-source so you may want to think twice if you’re looking for something a little more “open”. Picasa can also be a bit sluggish although it’s not certain whether that’s Google’s programming of Picasa or whether its having to run through WINE as well. In functionality, it’s very similar to Digikam but with a more traditional Windows look (thanks to WINE). It can’t do everything GIMP can do but then again, it’s not meant to. Picasa also doubles as a photo manager.
F-spot is the GNOME equivalent to Digikam. On the surface, it doesn’t look quite as polished as Digikam but users of Ubuntu/Xubuntu are likely to get just as good results from this as from DigiKam without the need to load in the KDE runtime environment to make it work. F-Spot is more a photo manager with photo editing features rather than a fully featured image editor but it does have colour correction options as well as contrast/brightness adjustment. Its management features including being able to burn Photo CDs as well as upload your images direct to Flickr.
Nathive aims to be like Photoshop and Corel Photo-PAINT however at this early stage, it’s more like Windows Paint. It’s about to come out of Alpha phase. It’s written for the GTK+ graphics library so that means it should work on most distros without any worry. The developer is wanting to achieve computer-nirvana – a tool that’s easy to use and as complex as Photoshop. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets there but for now, it seems it might take a while. The latest Alpha version is available as a .deb download but remember, “alpha” comes before “beta” so don’t expect it to be bug-free.
Krita is about as close as you can get to an alternative to GIMP without coughing up some cash. It comes by default as part of Koffice, KDE’s office suite but like most of the tools here, you can install Krita separately provided you’re happy to load in the runtime environment of KDE as well. In Ubuntu 8.10, it’s a 106MB download so it’s not small but the results look to be well worth the effort. The impressive thing about Krita is its general desktop layout is far more similar to Photoshop/Photo-PAINT than GIMP so it feels easier to use.
ImageMagick is a set of command-line based image tools that are used as the backengine for a number of image tools for Linux. It’s available in both Windows and Linux but the complexity available here is impressive, provided you’re happy to work with a command-line or Terminal prompt. Most of the work is done in the Convert application but you’ll need to spend time understanding all of the command-line switches to work out all of its possible functions. If you’re a developer and looking for something to do, a nice front-end for this would be an interesting place to start.
If you’ve been playing around with any digital SLR camera for any length of time, you’ll know by now the minefield that is RAW image file formats. With every camera vendor having its own version of RAW, it’s not always easy to find an image editor that supports your camera’s version of RAW. UFRaw stands for Unidentified Flying RAW and it’s a great tool for being able to read many of the proprietary RAW formats and allowing you to convert those images into more generic formats such as TIF, PNG etc. It doesn’t have the major features of a GIMP but it still allows you to correct colour saturation as well as basic image editing features such as crop and rotate.
gPhoto2 is another command-line based image app but focussed more on the capture and retrieval side of things rather than image editing per se. It has some unique features such as the ability to set up supported cameras as remote webcams capturing frames at regular intervals. Combined the ImageMagick, you could create a complete capture-edit image application. It supports all the major consumer-brand cameras (1000 at last count) so if you’re looking for a way to get your photos off the camera via USB, this is one tool that should get the job done.
One of the things I’ve always found frustrating is when you have a bunch of photos you want to send to friends but you don’t want to send the 5MB original maxi-size images you captured but rather just 1024×768-pixel size images that fit on the screen and importantly, don’t require MBs to upload. This little plug-in for the Nautilus file manager is perfect for batch-resizing of images, allowing you to convert a bunch of photos to a smaller size, ready for emailing. You just right-click in Nautilus and click Resize Images. Sure, it’s not a full-on image editor but there are times when the simple things in life are often the best. You’ll need to have ImageMagick installed for this one.
Have we missed any? Tell us below.