RSS/Atom feed Twitter
Site is read-only, email is disabled

The future of GIMP's User Interface

By at 2009-05-25 16:20:17 UTC, last updated about 14 years ago. CC BY-NC License

One of the most questioned and discussed issues about GIMP is the Graphical User Interface. Many users (mostly new ones to GIMP) are confused by it so it is well worth to talk about this never ending discussion.

The Libre Graphics Meeting offers a chance for many developers to talk to other developers and of course to talk users of a certain program. This year Peter Sikking and Michael Terry had a talk mainly about the UI of GIMP.

Peter Sikking, also one of the maintainers of the GIMP UI Brainstorm Blog, talks about different possibilities for a future UI of GIMP. In the beginning of his talk he makes a short trip to CMYK and why RGB is a designers color workspace. He’s writing about his talk also on his website:

The second talk on LGM 2009 is from Michael Terry. He talks about Usability in general, visually arresting graphic design and of adaptive UIs which has also been a big topic in the past of the GIMP developement.

There’ve been some siginificant changes to the UI when GIMP went from 2.4 to 2.6. However always keep in mind that the current state is an in-between-state for future improvements of GIMP (I’m thinking of the empty window which was introduced first in 2.6).

How do like the current UI of GIMP 2.6? What do you like? What would help in the future?

Overview: All LGM 2009 Talks


Post your own comments, questions or hints here. The author and other users will see your posting and can reply to it.

Of course, you can also ask in the chat.

Subscription management

Please log in to manage your subscriptions.

User rating

This topic (The future of GIMP's User Interface) has been rated 5.0/5.0.

New comments are disabled because of spam.

bijutoha member for over 7 years bijutoha 1 comment rated this topic with 5/5
over 6 years ago

So, Gimp UI is composed of multiple windows.

xowu member for over 13 years xowu 2 comments
over 13 years ago

give people chance to easily edit and create their own themes, make, redesign better basic icons and give easier way to people to make their own themes.we will share them and gimp will have faster ui development.

xowu member for over 13 years xowu 2 comments rated this topic with 5/5
over 13 years ago

Hi everybody
L think we all here missing a point about Gimp Ui, future, direction of development. l love linux and its philosophy, software so much, and Gimp is one of the things am so proud on. Am graphic designer and these things and l would like to contribute to Gimp better look. First thing is ugly interface not bad one, ugly and complicated icons, also bad preview windows. l think first of all gimps interface should be changed with more modern and cleaner themes, and we all can contribute to that *light,dark,any colour themes with uniformed set on intuitive icons. This thing (new graphic, new look) will make designers life with Gimp easier.Better look or better, an easier chance for designers to make their own themes. of course l dont believe that gimp should be PS clone, it should gave people chance to create freely and individually their workspace...and also better filter previews. Thank You people for making this site, it gave me chance to read and write about gimp

about 14 years ago

Maybe people noticed Gimp BECAUSE it's not Photoshop. I switched to Gimp recently because Photoshop became too bloated, too much junk.. I don't really see any problems with Gimp's interface, it's a very fine layout. If you have too much clutter on the desktop get a second monitor, you can pickup a used one, 16" for $30, and a dual-head video card for $50! You don't need a $1000 monitor, all you do is store a bunch of tools, you don't work with color on it.

I don't get why people want Gimp to look more like Photoshop. I do graphics for many years and used everything from Photopaint, Picture Publisher, 3DS Max, Softimage, Maya, Combustion, and I find that Photoshop, adobe in general, has the least intuitive interface. (Blender too, but they addressed the problem in 2.5, awesome job!) I guess some folks either developed the whiny and bitchy "Photoshop Complex" or a just to lazy to learn the different workflow. (which in my opinion is better) :) If someone has issues with Gimp they should go back to using Photoshop, I'm sure Gimp user base is fed up with the "it's not Photoshop" crap..

about 14 years ago

Of course Gimp should try to do a whole lot of what photoshop can do. Are you kidding!!! Why do you think people noticed gimp in the first place.

Photoshop creates its product based on research it has for new features....quit acting like its photoshop that decides the's the customers. The customers are graphics app users.

As soon as gimp goes to far in a different will have lost its weight.

over 14 years ago

The new interface is awful to use on a lo-res screen (my laptop(s)). All menu's in one spot (a-la amiga or mac) would be better than every window like they do now (and have for some time). The new dockable toolbar is awful - the little triangle doesn't do what it looks like it should.

And having the whole toolbox vanish when you switch virtual desktops is laughable.

over 14 years ago

I hate MDI apps with a passion due to the amount of real estate they waste & the fact only one document is visible at a time unless you have the option to split the window (e.g. Visual Studio, not ideal) so GIMP's multiple windows is a breath of fresh air esp. on my dual monitor setup. For those moaning about lack of minimisation you can set the toolbar and main window to minimise in Edit -> Preferences -> Window Management - set both Window Manager Hints to 'Normal Window'. A 'minimise all' would be nice though.

over 14 years ago

To me it's not the interface itself that is the problem. Rather the lack of specific tools. Things like groups, layer effects, etc are the important thing for me. How they are implemented in the UI will be key. I think GIMP is on a good path now as far as it's interface. And those complaining about bringing back the old it's pretty much the same interface. The changes are minor and not a detriment to the workflow.

over 14 years ago

BringBring back old GIMP!! I hate this new interface! back old GIMP! I hate this stupid interface! Its bug in my 3d pipeline.

over 14 years ago

i liked the gui in 2.4 infact i have removed the new version of gimp to restore the old gui.

is there a way to get the new features of 2.6 without the gui mistake?

over 14 years ago

I don't think « Everyone wants the app to be contained in a single window, rather than a ton of floating windows. »

I'm happy with the UI as is.

If anything, I'd like the tab button to work both ways: when hitted from the main window, to bring the tools window up (this is how currently works, but I'd like to un-minimize the tools window if minimized); and then when hitted with the focus in the tool window, bring it behind the main window (the last used in case of editing several pics).

My 2 cents, being my appreciation that the Gimp is a wonderful piece of software; thanks for it to all developers and people involved.

dave W
almost 15 years ago

I'm inclined to agree with those like gimpster above, who say that focus should be more on additional features than on the UI.
16 bit editing and adjustment layers would get my vote.
Gimp does most of what is actually needed already. People who "Just don't like it" seem to often be expecting a free PS, or have been brainwashed into thinking that nothing else but PS will do for "serious" image editing.
It's the old thing. "I've paid a lot for product X because I thought it was the best. So it is the best."

David Marrs
almost 15 years ago

@26. Peter Sikking isn't anti-CMYK. He says that CMYK isn't adequate enough for what people targetting pre-press actually need. And he's saying that because that's what the professionals he's talking to are telling him.

Users always demand new features in terms of what they're used to. They say they need CMYK cos that's what they use in Photoshop to achieve their goal. As a UI designer (or even a software developer) you want to know what that goal is and design for that goal, not just copy what your neighbour is doing.

FWIW, the only prints I ever make are the kind that go in frames and hang on walls. These don't need anything other than RGB.

almost 15 years ago

I think the floating windows are cool, but they are overcrowded, since there are so many things that can be grouped. The GIMP mustn´t be like Photoshop because it is better than that. Keep the good work!!!

almost 15 years ago

For those of us who run windows, who don't like the new GIMP interface style and don't use the duo monitor setup, there's a fix and it dosn't involve changing gimp's code in any way.

First of all let me suggest docking all of your tools onto one tool dock. This way you don't have to mess with maltiple tool docks.
Secondly, download and install deskpins. You can pin the editing or tool dock forward so that it stays ontop of everything else.

I've been using GIMP for years and I LOVE it! I'd PAY for GIMP in a heart beat!

Arnold L. Johnson
almost 15 years ago

GIMP UI is fine if you aren't expecting something like Photoshop. Since it is not Photoshop, no need to expect something like Photoshop.

The floating panels are OK but you should be able to dock them on the edge and have them slide into and out of view similar to the panels on the XFCE GUI. They can be layered with tabs, pinned open or closed after function selection. The work area can then be a full screen.

almost 15 years ago

I like the current GUI, but I wish you would implement an option to choose between single/multiple window(s) mode. In single window mode, one could switch between the different projects one is working on from the 'windows' menu and/or with a specified key sequence. In fullscreen mode (F11) one would get the toolbox and docks in addition to the canvas. This would be very convenient for me as I use one screen. If you use several monitors, you'd stick to multiple windows mode and would only bring the canvas in fullscreen mode.

almost 15 years ago

I think that the beginner can use paint shop and other programs just fine.

GIMP should focus more on the development of the tools it has and future tools rather than interface at this moment. Though a cool, smooth new interface never goes down rough.

Bob K.
almost 15 years ago

Do you all realize how much more adoption Linux would get if Photoshop and the rest of the Creative Suites were ported over. Allot more adoption!. Gimp would then be compared to Paintshop Pro and not Photoshop.

Bob K.
almost 15 years ago

Both!. We need a "professional photo editor for Linux". Right now we have none!!. MacOSX and Windows have Photoshop. Linux users have nothing!. Adobe is not going to port Photoshop to Linux, so we need to make gimp our professional photo editor, and Krita 2 out Painter for Linux.

Gimpster member for over 15 years Gimpster 5 comments
almost 15 years ago

Who do we want GIMP to be aimed at? Beginners? Advanced amateurs? Professional "power-users"? The answer to that will affect how the development team allocates its resources.

I have been in the photographic-equipment-sales industry for decades. I observe professionals WANT the best equipment they can buy. I also see that any skilled photographer, pro or not, can produce professional quality photographs using mid-level cameras. Occasionally an assignment may require a feature only found in extremely expensive equipment, but that is the exceptional case. One can earn a good living with moderate equipment-- and common sense.

So it is with GIMP. Is is already suitable for beginner, amateur and MOST professional work. Should we put our resources toward improving the interface (the way the windows and tools work) or toward improving features (support for CMYK or 16bit images)? As Carusowi pointed out, the current interface is more than adequate once one gets familiar with it and adjusts the window options to suit ones work habits. So... work on the UI or on features like CMYK support? (CMYK is preferred for commercial offset printing, it is not needed for inkjet printers, and commercial photolab equipment is all RGB! Few people need CMYK.)

Perhaps we need a survey of GIMP users to give a ranking to proposed changes, and to find out which missing features are most desired.

almost 15 years ago

I kind of like the 2.6 interface, but sometimes the floating interface gets in the way of my projects (not to mention they don't minimize when the rest of the program does) so it might be interesting to see a docked toolbar to the top of the empty window, that has all the tools variables controlled in another window, kind of like you can to some extent now with the layers and such window.

Anyways, size will always be a problem for me with this small screen.

Goh Lu Feng
almost 15 years ago

I hope that Gimp can have allow users to choose different UIs for beginner and advanced users. For beginners, they will be people coming from MS Paint background

Carusoswi member for about 15 years Carusoswi 3 comments
almost 15 years ago

I must be defective. I used early versions of Gimp, and it was ok. When the most recent versions became available, I installed them as available, and used them, and . . . it was ok.

I remember thinking that things were a little different, but I could not describe those differences to you in detail. In all versions, present and past, I opened my image, performed those operations that I, drawing upon my infinite artistic wisdom, deemed appropriate, saved the image (usually as a tif), and moved on to the next.

I own and use (less frequently as time wears on) PS since version 7 and through CS4 Extended.

When I use PS, generally, I start up the program, open an image, perform those operations that I deem appropriate, save the image (usually as a tiff) and move on to the next or into GIMP if the next image requires nothing that PS offers that GIMP doesn't (this occurs less and less frequently as time wears on), and . . . it's ok.

I guess for me, when it comes to applications, I'm one of those who just clicks where necessary in order to finish the task at hand.

If the applications offers one window or multiple windows, it matters little to me. I automatically adjust my workflow and then concentrate my vision on the task at hand.

I wish GIMP supported 16 bit tiffs because . . . well, just because.

I have yet to experience a situation where the lack of 16-bit support limited my results, and I could not offer a single example where, working in PS or Lightzone (another application that I think shows promise) gave me better results than GIMP as a direct consequence of 16-bit support.

I heartily echo previous comments that, especially considering that it is free (as in FREE!!!), GIMP is singular in its distinction as the best photo editing application for the money.

In head to head comparison with the "competition", based upon potential results that it can deliver (in real user benefit terms), I believe (and, in light of this user's experience can affirm) that it holds its own with any other editing application (open source or proprietary).

I think the debate over the UI is admirable and will, no doubt, result in positive development energy for GIMP.

On the other hand, I assert that the previous and the present UI were/are more than adequate for anyone focusing primarily on finishing a task.


Bob K.
almost 15 years ago

If RGB is the "Designers" workspace than why does every professional photgraphy magazine talk about CMYK support as "Essential". I want a "Photographers" workspace. Peter Skilling is very anti CMYK!. CMYK in Gimp has been avoided like the plague, for the past two Libre Graphics meetings he has talked about why CMYK is not important. Sorry Peter it IS important!. Now I can see why there is Cinepaint!. As for the UI, you solve the problem in one simple method. Create an option in Gimp to offer either single window or classic window. Why is this so hard to do!!.

kenquad member for about 15 years kenquad 2 comments
almost 15 years ago

Also, to add my voice to what is likely a common complaint, I have encountered utterly confounding window behavior on Windows, i.e. on occasion and for no apparent reason, the 2nd document to be opened "hides" stubbornly behind the first and cannot come to the foreground until the first is minimized - same problem with filters etc. hiding. Just thought I would add that. Thanks!

Gimpster member for over 15 years Gimpster 5 comments
almost 15 years ago

1) I keep the toolbox open on the left, dockable dialogs on the right. When working in Windows, I keep the Image Window filling the space in between. Then the multi window interface acts just like a single window interface. In Linux, I have my windows set to activate/raise when the mouse moves over them. That way, the image window can fill 95% of my screen, yet I can instantly get to the Toolbox or Dockables by just moving the mouse. I would like to see that function built-in so that when the mouse touches the left side of the image window, the Toolbox activates/raises, and same for the right edge of the image window and the Dockable Dialogs. Of course, when the mouse then touches the edge of the Toolbox or Dockable, the Image Window should activate/raise. 2) I would like to see the menus NOT be changed and moved around very much.Books and web publications about GIMP would then not become obsolete so quickly with every version change. 3) GIMP is a great program! I find it hard to believe how much people can whine about something that is already so good.

GM Butler
almost 15 years ago

Different ideas about what Gimp should look like will probably always be an issue. I for one understand fully that most people have fixed ideas about this, even if its just about what they got used to.

1. I use multiple monitors, so want the multiple windows to stay. Maybe an option to choose between the two? Would'n mind an extra 1Mb of download to have this as an option as opposed to the "word-war" going on in this regard.

2. Maybe some sort of "window manager"-area in the toolbar, not docked, but "in your face". Don't know how this would be implemented, but then the taskbar could be less cluttered.. just a thought.

3. The "...the old menu area on tool box which contains a partial picture of a fox is a waste of space...": No, I use this area a lot to drag-and-drop images to. Please keep.

4. I just miss the option to automatically scale the image window when zooming the image. Hopefully this will be fixed with 2.7.

I love testing out new stuff in new releases. Keep them coming.

Thanks guys for an excellent app!

J Duwal
almost 15 years ago

Just to start off on the right foot here, I've never used Photoshop - ever. The list of tools, both mainstream and obscure, that I've used to manipulate images is pretty long - from MS Paint and Picture-It (came on my computer) to Ulead Imagepals (came with an old scanner). Then I got the internet, and it wasn't long before discovering GIMP, which has to be the best free image manipulation tool out there - ever. And that's one key aspect of the discussion: it's free. Guess who can afford things that are free? Everybody, of course, including the little ones like me. When I hear people say that 'oh, the floaty window things are great for pros and their many monitors' my eyebrows shoot up and I think, 'people have more than one monitor?!' Now that's high living. But...then can't these people afford 'regular' software like that Photoshop thingy? I have to hit the 'show desktop' button every time I want to minimize the GIMP window, and while this is a laughable annoyance in comparison to the hardships of our ancestors, it really gets to me because I know it can be fixed - every other program I've ever used was free of this issue. All other issues are tiny personal peccadilloes (I'd like tabs in the main window for switching between open documents, and I'd like to see layer groups, and er, I'd like to see the old 'select by color' icon please!) and watching those features evolve is half the techie fun. But please, with all my hopes pinned on one use of the magic wishing well, make a single window interface!

Reasons why this request might be ignored or even derided:

1. You must not have used GIMP long enough yet to have gotten used to its, er, 'quirks.'

2. People who are so stupid (or worse, poor - yech) that they bought Windows don't deserve any consideration.

3. If it's too easy to use it can't be any good.


4. Don't bother me, kid, it's free ain't it?

Thanks for reading!

kenquad member for about 15 years kenquad 2 comments
almost 15 years ago

GIMP has been my image editor of choice, both on Windows and Linux, for 5 years. I never had a particular objection to the multiple-windows motif; like some others, I simply docked everything I needed in the main window and closed all the others.

However, I do not like the interface changes on Windows of the latest series. The fact that the main window cannot be minimized is an endless source of pain for which I cannot discern a useful purpose. Also, there are occasions when I *want* to hide the main window so that I can use the entire screen for editing - no longer possible, and another major pain.

From other comments I hold out some hope that this may be changed in the latest development snapshot.

Just my $.02 on the interface. Thanks for a great free program!

almost 15 years ago

When talking about GUI design, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence. For serious improvements in design, I believe that some sort of scientific study needs to be done. It would be interesting to see the most used GIMP commands, and the common problems people have while using GIMP.

Microsoft camptured and analyzed a lot of data and used it to create the Office 2007 UI. Yeah, people say it takes some getting used to, but other than the learning curve for already experience Office users, I haven't heard very many negative things about it.

Nemes Sorin
almost 15 years ago

GIMP has a good UI for a pro ( multiple monitors ).
( Still need contextual menu at right click and a contextual inspector [as a bar under the menubar ]).

Even in a single big monitor the problem is not with MDI but operating those windows - main window minimized keep up all the rest. Now I've compiled 2.7 from SVN and I see that problem is gone -> roll-up the main window - all adiacent windows are hidden, also minimising main window all GIMP windows are minimised too. Now from version 2.7 GIMP UI is almost perfect. We just miss contectual menus / single line inspector under menubar / ..maybe direct OR onscreen tools ( as in Inkscape for gradients, or in Corel Draw for few things, ..etc )

almost 15 years ago

The GIMP UI is on a good way towards a usable application - currently some things are very nice - like the modular design and the phantastic multi monitor support (you can get a clean feed of your image - fullscreen without any application controls) - it should be further developed to a non overlapping - non modal UI (take a look at the upcoming Blender 2.5 UI!!)

Irritating are things like plugin windows hiding behind the image window or missing screen redraw in the scale tool - you cnt't see the result during adjustment...

Wish GIMP the very best - but need non destructive image editing and higher than 8bit RGB colors...

All the UI changes since the old 2.0 releases are very welcome and hopefully we can use GIMP some day for TV & film production...


almost 15 years ago

Gimp is one of the most important tools for me. I have shown it to some friends but most of them said the toolbox is difficult to access. To improve the situation I created a little tool that adds an autohide-like feature to the toolbox and also removes it from the taskbar. This way they can have a single window, with a "dynamic" toolbox

richard member for about 15 years richard 2 comments
almost 15 years ago

I am on an enjoyable learning curve with gimp and think the system is logical , when Im doing any other sort of job ,be it in my workshop with bits of wood or on the table with pen crayons and paper ,I always get out the TOOLS first then the paper or wood Gimp logic it works for me Im gratful for ginp and will adapt to whatever it evolves to regards richard

almost 15 years ago

I have shown Gimp to friends and received the confused reactions - However putting a full sized empty window behind to block out their desktop and its icons seems to help tremendously.
Personally I love the flexibility :)

Sir_Alain member for about 15 years Sir_Alain 5 comments
almost 15 years ago

I'll go with something a bit different (and NOT because Photoshop does it). I would like to see an option to use mini icons in the toolbox in order to make the whole toolbox more streamlined. Also would like to be able to resize smaller than the present UI allows. I don't mind using scrollbars if necesary.

almost 15 years ago

Too many people follow the "it doesn't look like Windows" philosophy. If it doesn't look like Photoshop, it must be wrong.

Don't try and make The Gimp look like Photoshop or work "just like Windows". We don't need that and we certainly don't want it.

almost 15 years ago

Bring back old GIMP!! I hate this new interface! It's too much like Photoshop and it's annoying because you can't minimize everything! I love GIMP, but I don't like the new UI! Please bring it back!!! Also please please make the Brush Editor minimizable, it's just in the way of everything and annoyingly resets every time I open it!!

almost 15 years ago

"Many users (mostly new ones to GIMP) are confused by it so it is well worth to talk about this never ending discussion."

It's not just new users. GIMP has been my main image editor, and the UI has gotten worse on Windows at least over the years. It works fine on Linux, but not Windows (weird relationship between windows). It desperately needs a change.

TomF member for about 15 years TomF 2 comments
almost 15 years ago

Overall things are moving in the right direction. I dock all my tools in the toolbox. This leaves me with only two windows, the toolbox and image area. One annoyance is that the toolbox doesn't minimize with the image area. Also the old menu area on tool box which contains a partial picture of a fox is a waste of space. I keep the toolbox on the left of my screen with the tools and two areas for tabs. It works but gets a little cramped on some screens and the little space would make a difference.

almost 15 years ago

I'm coming from the Windows realm and Photoshop. At first I thought that floating windows were awkward, but now I rather prefer it that way. There's several advantages of having a clean main window instead of a "messy" one like in Photoshop. Whatever changes will be made to the Gimp UI it won't make all happy, hence I actually believe it's better to focus on real features to make the gap in some areas between Gimp and the "competition" even smaller. No one can talk for "everyone"; to many personalities and wishes.

Nevertheless Gimp is really good and is one of those projects that constantly improves. Well done!

almost 15 years ago

I agree with "lefty.crupps":
« Everyone wants the app to be contained in a single window, rather than a ton of floating windows. »

It really is a pain in the *** not to be able to maximize the working window, because then a part of it disappears behind the sidebars!
At least make the sidebars dockable!

All the best,

Robert Palmqvist
almost 15 years ago

I have always hated the GIMP UI, the new empty windows just add to the confusion. GIMP deserve a better UI since it's a great piece of software!

David Duggins
almost 15 years ago

For thoose arguing about the multi window interface vs. a single window GUI, you have obviously never used PS on a Mac. Photoshops interface is very similar to Gimps on the mac. This is mainly usefull for those who have multiple monitors. You can work on a large image on one screen while your tools are in another. This is really not so much a unix tradition as a professional designer tradition.

almost 15 years ago

There are users who want a good graphic editor and there are those who want a photoshop for free. The first talk about the strengths of the Gimp and how to improve on it. The later whine on the differences and how the Gimp isn't Photoshop.. ce la vie..
While there are definitely improvements possible on the Gimp UI, Most of them are in the realm of bigger preview windows and the like. Not in cloning a free Photoshop..

almost 15 years ago

Everyone wants the app to be contained in a single window, rather than a ton of floating windows. GIMP says they won't do that because "it's not the UNIX way". I am never sure what that means, but I thought the UNIX way was simplicity and a single purpose for each app; never was windowing considered a 'UNIX way' type of issue. Instead, its an easy scapegoat for why they won't implement the UI in this way.

almost 15 years ago

I can use the GUI, and overcome whatever limitations it might have. Doesn't bother me in the slightest. Nor does the lack of CMYK porting.

What I would like to see is the Undo History saved in the .xcf file. I've found so many times that that history would save me much time and recreations!

almost 15 years ago

Like with any other software, I would expect a learning curve when I'm just starting out. Instead of tweaking the UI, which may or may not make a difference, how about making a "getting started" tutorial readily available when the user starts using GIMP? Just a thought.

sinewave member for about 15 years sinewave 1 comment
almost 15 years ago

I'm afraid this is a sort of "non-comment". I find the UI acceptable, with a few "wishes", but not so important that I would mention them here. However, I am most interested in what other users have to say - so please keep me posted.