Since its inception nine years ago by Berkeley students Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, or GIMP, has become the de facto standard in Web graphics tools among the open-source community. Now, with the advent of OS X, Mac devotees can also make use of the GIMP, including the latest release, version 2.0.

Among the numerous ways to get the GIMP up and running on your Mac (including compiling it from source, and by using Fink), by far the easiest is to install the pre-packaged ( provides the GIMP and underlying libraries as a linked binary so all you need to do is unpack the .dmg file and copy the GIMP icon to your applications folder. The only prerequisite for is to have Apple’s X11 installed, which is included with Panther.

Tools and dialog boxes
While still sporting the same separate window look-&-feel – which makes it very Mac-like – GIMP 2.0 has a few interface enhancements that make accessing its tools and dialogs much easier. For starters, each dialog window (for example, colour selection) supports multiple tabs allowing consolidation of frequently used functions into one window.

By default, the function’s icon is displayed in the tab, but this can be changed to show the name in text, or both. Being able to drag-&-drop dialogs between windows is also handy, and the arrow keys make navigation a snap.

Each image now has the complete operations set available as a toolbar making the useful, but cumbersome on a Mac, 1-click combination optional.

GIMP 2.0 introduces a new dynamic text-editing tool, and a new path tool that supports multiple curve segments and Scalable Vector Graphics paths. Multiple-image network graphics (MNG) format images are also supported as a replacement for animated GIFs.

Regarding the much-anticipated CMYK support, GIMP 2.0 does include a CMYK colour chooser, but native exporting of images to CMYK is slated for the next major release.

One of the GIMP’s most powerful, and overlooked, features is its automation capabilities via backend scripting (see for an example of automated image manipulation). The C, Script-Fu, Perl and Python languages are all supported and the GIMP-Perl is now a separate package.

If the GIMP on OS X has drawback, it is the dependence on X11. This hinders some its functionality such as the screenshot and full-screen editing tools. However, dockable windows courtesy of Apple’s X11 go a long way to making it feel like a native Aqua application


Despite what a few within the open-source community would like to think, the GIMP is no Photoshop killer – but as with all free software, it won’t hurt to give it a try. Version 2.0 adds on its strengths with some great new interface, tool, and image features. And with a quick and easy way to get the GIMP up and running on OS X, there are no more excuses.

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