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Raster image editors: A comparative look at the GIMP and Krita

By Nathan Willis on November 01, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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With the release of Krita 1.6, it seems like a good time to compare the two big raster image editors for Linux. Coming as they do from the divergent GTK+ and KDE programming camps, it can be hard to assess the differences between the GIMP and Krita without being swayed by politics and emotion. Let's take a cold, hard look at the two, and compare the features side by side.

Both apps are strongly influenced by the interface and feature set of the 800-pound gorilla of proprietary raster graphics tools, Adobe Photoshop. The drawing, editing, and selection tools, the layers metaphor, the floating palettes, even the menu structure and terminology of the two free editors closely follow Adobe's lead. Consequently, the tools and operations that they have in common far outnumber the differences.

But there are some differences. Krita sports some features that the GIMP does not, and the GIMP sports some that Krita does not.

In Krita's corner

The most oft-cited check mark in Krita's column is that it supports more bit-depths (8, some 16, and some 32) and color modes (grayscale, RGB, CMYK, L*a*b, LSB, and YCbCr) than the GIMP (which supports grayscale, RGB, and indexed). The current stable version of Krita (1.6) also supports color management, which the current stable version of the GIMP (2.2) does not.

Krita also supports two kinds of layers not found in the GIMP: watercolor paint simulation and basic adjustment layers -- essentially "filter layers" that contain no image data but merely apply a color or tone adjustment to all visible layers stacked beneath.

On the tool front, Krita has geometric drawing tools with which you can paint rectangles, ellipses, stars, line segments, Bezier curves, and irregular polygons and polylines. Note that these are not resolution-independent vector shapes such as you might find in Inkscape or Illustrator, but painted pixels.

Krita also lets you select portions of an image with Bezier curves, irregular polygons, or using the paintbrush, and it recently added a "perspective grid" overlaying construction lines to assist in painting with one or more vanishing points.

Krita's rubber stamp or "clone" tool gained two new options in version 1.6: healing, which stamps with locally averaged color rather than exact pixels, and perspective correcting, which shifts and scales the stamped pixels to preserve lines of perspective.

The GIMP's edge

On the other hand, the GIMP scores for implementing paths (editable, resolution-independent vectors), video and animation tools, and allowing transformations (such as shear and perspective) on the active selection, not just on the layer or image as a whole.

The GIMP has several "darkroom" tools that Krita does not, including dodge, burn, sharpen, blur, and smudge tools. It also has an ink tool, a measure tool, and drag-and-drop horizontal and vertical guides.

The GIMP implements several more adjustment tools than Krita. Krita provides brightness/contrast control, curves, and a desaturate operation. The GIMP provides those first two and adds a complete hue/saturation control, color balance, levels, threshold, colorize, and posterize.

Krita can display a histogram of an image, while the GIMP can show you histogram, colormap, or colorcube data. Krita supports 14 layer compositing modes, while the GIMP supports 21. The GIMP provides far more filters -- I count 113 shipping with Ubuntu, as compared to 39 for Krita -- although what constitutes a filter is not standardized between the two applications.

Of course, some of the GIMP's filters are actually scripted macros rather than built-in operations. Due to the GIMP's longer history, more people have written filters and extensions for it than for Krita. The GIMP's longevity is also responsible for the greater range of options for each tool -- in general, the GIMP's tools have more customizable and tweakable settings than Krita's.

There are other differences, too, although once you depart from those listed here you are left with individual operations and it becomes tricky to assess their relative importance.

Shades of gray

Of course, the same could also be said for many of the features listed above. How do you assess the relative importance of the dodge/burn tool and the geometric drawing tools? Are the GIMP's guides more important than Krita's perspective grid? Is it better to have 16 bits per channel, or to have color balance and levels controls?

In all three situations, neither feature is inherently more useful; it depends wholly on the user and the task at hand. Moreover, where each program lacks a tool, there is often a way to accomplish the same task with a different tool.

Take Bezier curves, for example. Krita allows you to paint them directly into an image with a dedicated Bezier tool. The GIMP has no such tool, but its paths implementation can do the same thing -- you draw your Bezier curve with the path tool, then click the "stroke path" button.

Adding another wrinkle to the difficult task of a direct comparison are two readily available incarnations of the GIMP with additional features. CinePaint forked from the GIMP several stable releases ago, and supports high bit-depth images and color management. If you need to retouch high dynamic range photos, neither Krita 1.6 nor the GIMP 2.2 has the magic combo of 16-bit-per-channel color and dodge/burn tools, but CinePaint does.

The unstable branch of the GIMP is the 2.3 series, and it adds quite a few features missing in the 2.2 series. Obviously the unstable branch of Krita should contain new code as well, but the GIMP team makes public, fully packaged releases of GIMP 2.3.x available on You can compile the source yourself, or look for a contributed binary for your distribution. You distro may even provide it for you.

Krita does not make development releases available, at least presently. Maintainer Boudewijn Rempt says he has thought about it for the future, but the next revision of Krita (the 2.0 series) constitutes substantial changes to the core, and the code hasn't reached maturity yet.

So which should I use?

You are perhaps expecting me to give some kind of quantifiable scores and declare one program or the other the winner. Well, no dice -- "GIMP versus Krita" is strictly an imaginary contest.

Don't think that you have to choose one application or another. You don't. Both are quality and both are free. Both have strengths and weaknesses in differing and overlapping areas. After all, they're all free software, and that means that (a) you don't have to budget twice the money to acquire them, and (b) you have the freedom to pick the right tool for the right job.

If you do a lot of graphics work, you need to have both Krita and the GIMP; neither is the be-all and end-all of raster graphics editors.

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on Raster image editors: A comparative look at the GIMP and Krita

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Subject line goes here...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 02, 2006 10:14 AM
Development of GIMP seems rather slow, I've heard that it got few developers, and that it could need some more, so if anyone is interested, please contact the project and volunteer.

I hear there will be some GUI improvements in the upcoming version 2.4 of GIMP.

Krita seems to constantly be improving lately...

It would be nice if the Linux / free software community has some 800 pound gorilla raster graphics software too.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)


Re:Subject line goes here...

Posted by: Nathan Willis on November 02, 2006 09:45 PM
Well<nobr> <wbr></nobr>... I'm certain that new developers are quite welcome (there was even a talk about that very subject at Libre Graphics Meeting), but I *think* there are more active developers on the GIMP than on Krita. At least mailing list traffic makes it look that way.

What most people notice is that stable releases of the GIMP are made less frequently than, say, Krita. Krita has made two this year. But don't mistake stable release timing as being the same thing as development activity. GIMP development is active. And as I mentioned in the article, GIMP makes public, packaged releases on the "unstable" branch that (with occasional exception) are just as usable as any stable release. Different projects just have different release maps.

What constitutes enough change for a new "stable" release varies from project to project. Krita is subject to the KOffice release schedule because it is a component of that package, so new stable releases and new version numbers may come when it's Officially Time, even if only a few tools and operations are new to the Krita code.

Another thing to remember is that Krita is comparatively young -- this means that its codebase and its team are less<nobr> <wbr></nobr>... what is the right word<nobr> <wbr></nobr>... not "complex," but less convoluted (?). Easier to coordinate, essentially. And once an app reaches the "mature" stage, it is far more difficult to push changes through, since stability becomes a lynchpin. Krita is adding major new features right now, in its main trunk. GIMP has to maintain a "stable" branch, a "development" branch, and work on all the weird wild new stuff (like GEGL) where it can safely harm no one. There's a lot more to juggle.


third major raster editor

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 02, 2006 03:14 PM
The best is<nobr> <wbr></nobr>... Photoshop, as enabled for Linux by Wine/Crossover.


Re:third major raster editor

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 02, 2006 07:44 PM
My sister in law is a photographer, and swears at PhotoShop for the GIMP features it doesn't have.

Bigger ain't necessarily better.


Re:third major raster editor

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 04, 2006 03:16 AM
But Photoshop isn't a native Linux application and Photoshop isn't open source.


GIMP rules

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 03, 2006 05:00 AM
I have extensively used PS and GIMP. GIMP is better. It does not have the high-end refinment, but contains all the tools you need to Edit Photo's and images. The rest is mEnUshA....



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 04, 2006 10:59 AM
Usability is more important than the number of functions supporter. WHEN DO PROGRAMMERS FINALLY LEARN THIS.

1. GIMP: Absolutely SUCKS. Unusable. Windows all over the place. Are they drunk or whatever?
2. Krita. Ok, better. But how can I convert my greyscale picture to a simple black and white GIF? Can't find it in the menu. No manual. Conclusion: Sucks as well.

Usability, gentlemen. Spend your time on that.



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 04, 2006 10:29 PM
shutup lamer



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 05, 2006 12:50 AM
Now, how are you going to do that?



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 06, 2006 08:27 AM
It is a common misconception that the GIMP's use of multiple windows is a bad user interface decision. In fact, on a GNU/Linux system with multiple desktops (and edge-flipping and window shading) it is incredibly useful to seperate components out like this (and to make it even better, each toolbox can be given it's own window). It makes life easier on a large screen, where everything can be arranged accordingly, and on a small screen where individual toolboxes can be shaded out of the way, allowing access to windows behind (as in, other programs). Being different doesn't mean being worse than, just take a look at the entire article, the only conclusion it draws is that the GIMP and Krita are different, because making broad generalisations like you have just made is completely futile. I could easily say "What are Abode thinking, confusing users with a whole subsidiary windowing system? Are they drunk or whatever?"

By the way, this issue has been raised numerous times by people comparing Moho to Adobe Flash, but only ever by the Windows Moho users, who were quickly quelled by the GNU/Linux users' replies of "Try using it on a decent desktop system and you'll see that it works better"

Usability in the Free Software world is actually incredibly good, it's just that blog entries saying "OMG! I couldn't work out how to draw a stick man in a professional-level image manipulation program because I have never used it before!" are generally more interesting than ones saying "I used a piece of software and did something. Then I used another bit of software and did something else. etc.". In contrast, the popular myth that Microsoft Windows is easy to use probably comes from the opposite effect, since "OMG! My software didn't work properly!" is a boring, everyday occurance to a Windows user, and gets filed away with all of those critical security vulnerability stories that keep appearing. However, a story like "This software didn't screw up my work" instantly catches their eye and the overall effect is unrealistically positive.

When showing someone the notes I had made about the licenses for Microsoft Office 2000 and saying how evil the licenses are, and what a massive waste of time it is to have to read them all since each piece of proprietary software has at least one license which governs usage terms, whilst Free Software doesn't have any (Free Software licenses only apply to people redistributing the software) they just said: "I don't care, I use OpenOffice because it's just easier and it doesn't screw anything up."

I was so delighted that I wrote it down and asked them if I could quote them on it, so there you go.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:-)



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 21, 2006 03:08 AM
each toolbox can be given it's own window



Photoshop Compatibility?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on November 05, 2006 01:52 PM
OK, great, so neither one is Photoshop-complete. I'm not surprised by that, as such is quite hard. However, for my limited needs, my most important and critical feature requirement is this:

If someone sends me a<nobr> <wbr></nobr>.PSD file with some funky filters in it that I need to futz with or use as a template, which handles it better?

It's the exact same question as OOo vs. KWord: Which one handles my coworker's DOC files better?

I don't know what a dodge is even for, but I do know that I need to read someone else's PSD.


Re:Photoshop Compatibility?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 02, 2007 10:40 AM
also, krita doesn't seem to read gimp xcf files very well.



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 23, 2007 03:56 AM
I vote for Pixel at <a href="" title=""></a>


Raster image editors: A comparative look at the GIMP and Krita

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on February 08, 2008 04:28 PM
You are all gimps.


Usability Part II

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on February 25, 2008 11:25 PM
Back on the usability issue, I find that while great attempts are made to make open source applications usable, they're often hamstrung by their proprietary counterpart's illogical decisions.
Take MS Word and OpenOffice for example. To setup a page in MS Word is in File, Page Setup. To do the same in OOWriter is in format, page. The format option is probably the more logical but often leaves the user feeling a little lost the first time they encounter this.
Likewise for ideas for interfaces between the 4 (gimp, cinepaint, krita and photoshop) packages mentioned here. While each one has their reasons for setting things out the way that they have, they're always going to have people asking "why?".
So I've got to go with the author on this one. While they do a very similar job, they have different ways of getting there and a direct comparison is very hard to make.
One thing the author of this article didn't mention is that the introduction of Krita is actually an incredibly good thing for the open source world. For years the Gimp was your only real (paintbrush type apps don't really count. Using paintbrush rather than Photoshop when trying to get Photoshop type features is silly) option for a raster graphics editor. While they've released new versions and rewritten the base and made some progress, they haven't had to compete with anything. The Gimp does not compete in any real way with Photoshop in that those who use the Gimp probably wouldn't have brought Photoshop anyway.
This is great news to those of us looking for a more complete package as the gimp and krita will probably be looking at each other and using code from each other. Live on the GPL.


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