GIMP’s UI: An investigation


I love GIMP. I don’t hate it. But most days I dream of GIMP that has grown mature-r in fundamental UI and user experience (like other open software). So many stuff we use to do in other paid graphic software (PS, Painter, Open Canvas, Easy Paint Tool SAI) not in GIMP or not functioning as they should.


I believe in ZEN UI, where nothing stands out above the rest. Where all UI elements are treated the same yet arranged in meaningful ways.


In GIMP, tools are colored [1a], human eyes are better color grouper than shape. But with so much colors around, often confuse on which is SCALE, MOVE, ROTATE, SHEAR, PERSPECTIVE, FLIP, PERSPECTIVE CLONE or BLUR. They are all blue and out of context. Talking about group, the tools in GIMP don’t group together function wise and frankly too many tools displayed on screen. Tools like DESATURATE, COLOR BALANCE, HUE-SATURATION, COLORIZE, THRESHOLD and LEVELS should be in the menu or in a special menu in layer menu (like in PS [1b] [3b]). How often do you see artist use these tools more than 10 times in a session of painting or photo editing? Very rare, even for noobs.

Solution: Group similar function tools (selection, primitive, bitmap, colors, misc), hide icons if needed, greyscale icons, move filter functioning tools to menu or layer effects [3b].

Dynamic Tool Options Dialog

The dynamic tool options dialog [2a] is the most switched to dialog. When you edit text, change a brush, erase, even to see selection size of transform. In other software this is often called the tools properties [2b]. This should be in view at all times. So many information can be found here. It should be the one stop for all tools’ properties. In GIMP [2a], this is often hidden under other tabs, or you need to scroll to get to them just to tweak some parameters. With a more organized Properties menu/bar will totally rid of floating menu like text (More of this later)

Solution: make top/bottom bar to display all tools properties at all time, use drop down menu to shrink big sliders and dialog box.

Note: Making Tool Option visible at all time alone will clean up many UI of over cluttering.

Other open project UI example: Blender 2.5 [3e], Inkscape [3d]

Layer dialog

There are some weird things going on in the layer menu.
1. Blend mode never show full pop up, always need to scroll [3c]. Very hard to navigate if you use only graphic tablet.
2. Pixel lock and Alpha lock does nothing they say, and no real layer lock [3a]
3. Missing mask button, need to right click to find in menu [3a]
4. Layer up and down buttons: redundant when you can always drag the layers [3a]
5. Layer don’t auto expand to allow more area to be painted or work upon
6. Double clicks on layer doesn’t bring up layer option

Other software example: Photoshop [3b]


In GIMP the selection handles are big, often time too blocky to see selected item. They shoud be small enough not to obstruct view [4a]. PS has simpler UI for the same [4b].

Solution: I propose [4c] to have MOVE, SKEW, SCALE and DISTORT function in one simple interface. Add another toggle switch then WARP can also be inserted.


GIMP 2.6 has the worst text interface dialog to date [5a], not only it pop up a dialog box, it is a big, ugly and often times an obstructive dialog box. GIMP 2.7 [5b] has smaller less obstructive yet still a pop up. The best example that is close to PS is [5c]. Even humble has a properties bar on the menu and text can be entered like Adobe products style despite the destructive text after changing tools.

The almost useless photo preview (IMHO)

GIMP 2.7 now has photos preview [6a], much like [6b]. But Boooo… it took 60 vertical pixels from my screen. For a semi to pro software like GIMP this is a feature I don’t want to see, if can, a toggle button to disable it will be much welcomed. In, the software only does simple and limited photo manipulation, therefore that feature is forgivable. In GIMP we (mostly me in this article) need all the screen estate we have, I recommend that the photo preview tab be change to tools properties/tools options. I think that will be a better use of that location.

To end this somewhat “long rant” about GIMP’s UI (I hope no haters brew hate comments below) I would like to point out that with better UI, GIMP will get more fans than it used to be. This has been proven with the major UI overhaul of Blender. The keyword is ZEN UI. Let the UI fade away while awe-inspiring arts are produced.

PS: Love single-window mode, no hovering windows after minimize GIMP. <3<3<3

Update: This is a rant I copy from a user. No censorship thus it is very legit and harsh.

“I want single pane permanent…when I open photo or picture it seems the floating windows always different–I am like FFFFUUUUUUUU!!!!! And with multi-lizard- open a color or other floater—SAME FFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!! GIMP Y U NO Remember where I left last window??!!?!! GRR!!! and the new “on-canvas interaction”–looks like cheap playing card. GHETTO!!! I want some class and professionalism in my transform/manipulation widget!!!! Gimp with your flaws…I still love you but I am not IN LOVE with you…PS-you look more and more appetizing even tho you are massive $$$$.”


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