There are many indications that GIMP 3.0 is almost here, provoking within me the giddiness of a schoolgirl and a hope for humanity that I haven’t felt since before COVID-19.

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NEW: GIMP 3.0 Tentative Schedule Announced

Looking Back at the Last 5 Years in GIMP

It’s been nearly 5 years since GIMP 2.10 was first released (April 27, 2018), which was at that time a major step forward for the GNU Image Manipulation Program and free software in general.

A lot of work has been done with the GIMP project since that fateful day.

For starters, GIMP has put out 16 minor 2.10 release versions from GIMP 2.10.2 to GIMP 2.10.36 (excluding 2.10.16 and 2.10.26, both of which were scrapped due to critical bug fixes). These new versions have come with countless new features, like on-canvas editing for various tools and filters, an assortment of new GEGL filters for adding new effects (like the “Long Shadow” filter), new tools (like the 3D Transform tool), tons of new support for various file formats, and many new translations to make GIMP available in more languages.

Additionally, the GIMP community has released 8 GIMP 3.0 preview versions (i.e. GIMP 2.99.x development release versions). These development releases have also seen lots of great improvements, like improved drawing tablet support (including gesture support), upgraded or reworked tools (like a “Stroke” option for the text tool), and plenty of UI upgrades (including new lock icons, layer sets, compact sliders, etc.).

All the work put into GIMP 2.10 has led to the creation of an incredible, albeit flawed or fallible, piece of free software that’s helped make creative software more accessible to countless users. And while it’s nice to stop and think about how far GIMP has come over these meaningful 5 years, all signs are finally pointing ahead for the GNU Image Manipulation Program.

GTK+3 Port Is Complete, Marking a Major Milestone for GIMP 3.0

The main goal of GIMP 3.0 has always been to “port,” or migrate, GIMP from GTK+ 2.x to GTK+ 3.24. This process aims to provide major upgrades to the underlying UI (user interface) toolkit, known as GTK or the “GIMP Toolkit,” and improve the performance, stability, and look and feel of GIMP. In essence, it will bring the GIMP photo editor into the “present” since GTK+2 hasn’t been supported or updated by GTK in some time, GTK+3 has been around since 2011 (though it is still supported), and GTK4 is now the up-to-date version.

In order to get to GTK4 and be ushered into the future, however, GIMP must first be ushered into the present. Hence why so much time has been spent getting GIMP upgraded to GTK+3.

With this GTK upgrade, GIMP’s development will finally be able to shift focus towards all the things its users have been clamoring for: non-destructive editing (i.e. adjustment layers), vector shape tools, smart objects, and new plugins.

The GIMP Roadmap officially lists the “Port to GTK3” process as “Done” – one of many major indicators pointing to GIMP 3.0 being nearly here.

All Signs Point To GIMP 3.0 Coming Soon

To get to this point, GIMP’s volunteer community of developers have had to trudge through the tedious work of fixing or removing old code, implementing new code, and performing bug fixes and compatibility checks across multiple operating systems. All while dealing with sagging developer support and funding. This has been no easy task and has been ongoing for the better part of 5 years.

Thankfully, the light appears to finally be at the end of the tunnel.

According to a Patreon post by GIMP’s biggest contributor & maintainer, Jehan of the ZeMarmot Project, GIMP 2.10.36 (which was just released on November 7, 2023) will “likely be the next to last release in the 2.10 series.”

GIMP 2.10.38 is therefore expected to be the last minor release before GIMP 3.0.

In the same Patreon post, Jehan adds: “We are getting close to GIMP 3. 😄”

Hallelujah.

But when exactly does this mean we should expect GIMP 3.0? Combining speculation, development schedules of previous GIMP versions, and recent comments from GIMP’s top contributors may yield an accurate estimation, a.k.a. an “educated guess.”

When to Expect GIMP 3.0 – My Prediction

GIMP minor release versions can typically take anywhere from 2 to 8 months to be released, with the typical timeline being around 4-5 months. This should put the release of GIMP 2.10.38, the next and last GIMP 2.10 stable release version, at somewhere around March-April 2024.

However, since there are few remaining bug fixes for this version and likely no new features, it is very possible we could see this next version sooner. For example, there were only 3 months between 2.8.20 and 2.8.22 before GIMP 2.10 was released. Perhaps, therefore, an aggressive timeline could see GIMP 2.10.38 released in mid-February. This is pure speculation, especially when you consider that February doesn’t tend to see lots of activity around software releases.

GIMP 2.99.18 (the next slated development release version), on the other hand, is potentially the last GIMP 3.0 preview release (development release) before the GIMP 3.0 release candidates start rolling out. This is according to the GIMP Wiki page, which states “2.99.18 with 35 issues [is] possibly [the] last preview to 3.0.”

GIMP 2.99.16, the most recent GIMP 3.0 preview version, was released in July of 2023, and development versions are released anywhere between 1 to 6 months apart. So, GIMP 2.99.18 should be released any time in the next two months (i.e. around mid-January – though I don’t think it’ll take that long. My guess is before Christmas 2023. My guess is also that 2.99.18 will be released before GIMP 2.10.38).

Following GIMP 2.99.18 and GIMP 2.10.38 will be GIMP 3.0-RC1 (Release Candidate 1). There may also be a GIMP 3.0-RC2, which would most likely be followed by the stable and full GIMP 3.0 release.

We can look at the release candidate schedule of the last major GIMP release – GIMP 2.10 – to get a better idea of the timeline for the GIMP 3.0 release.

GIMP 2.10 had two release candidates – GIMP 2.10.0-RC1, which was released on March 26, 2018, and GIMP 2.10.0-RC2, which was released on April 17, 2018. The final, stable version of GIMP 2.10 was released on April 27, 2018 – one month and one day after GIMP 2.10.0-RC1.

If GIMP 3.0 followed a similar schedule, GIMP 3.0-RC1 would be released somewhere around four months after the final development release version, and the stable GIMP 3.0 would be released around one month after that. So, if 2.99.18 is released in mid-December (which I think is very probable), that would mean we could expect GIMP 3.0 to arrive 5 months later – or in Spring 2024 (mid-May if I had to guess).

This timeline is loosely supported by recent comments made on X from @CmykStudent, a major GIMP contributor who jumped on board the project last year during a 2022 Google Summer of Code mentor program. In CmykStudent’s post, which outlines work on an “ahead-of-schedule” implementation of non-destructive editing for GIMP 3.0, CmykStudent says ” I’m focusing on completing the non-destructive editing project before the upcoming feature freeze for 3.0.”

An “upcoming feature freeze” implies that GIMP developers have nearly finished working on all the new features going into GIMP 3.0, and will begin focusing on getting the software ready for final testing and launch. Feature freezes are typically followed soon after by release candidates.

GIMP 3.0 Appears Ahead of Schedule with New Features

While it’s exciting that GIMP 3.0 is right around the corner, that excitement is compounded by recent announcements surrounding new features expected to land in 3.0 ahead of schedule.

As I mentioned earlier, CmykStudent has already begun work on an implementation of non-destructive editing (abbreviated as “NDE”) – something that wasn’t expected until GIMP 3.2 (a version we probably wouldn’t see until 2026). Even a rudimentary implementation of NDE would be a welcome addition, and would speed up the process of iterating and improving the feature for future releases.

There was also a post from @ZeMarmot on X back in late July demonstrating a new “snapping” feature for GIMP – which sounds pedestrian on its surface but is actually a much-anticipated smart guides implementation.

In the post, ZeMarmot (an account run by Jehan) says that the new feature, developed by someone who goes by the moniker “mr.fantastic,” is expected in GIMP 2.99.18 or GIMP 3.0.0-RC1. This tells me that, barring any major or critical bugs/issues with the feature, this feature will likely make it into GIMP 3.0. This is a major development and something I don’t believe many people were anticipating for this release.

GIMP 3.0 Will Need to Hit the Ground Running

Once GIMP 3.0 finally lands, the community will immediately need to begin work on getting it up to speed in the modern creative software world. After all, the creative software landscape has changed drastically since 2018 – with Adobe acquiring 9 different companies and releasing countless new versions of its industry-leading software with ground-breaking features, Affinity by Serif releasing version 2 of its software, and, most notably, AI totally changing the creative landscape.

In other words, user demands have drastically shifted and elevated, while the way we create has done the same. What hasn’t changed is the world’s need for free software that gives everyone access to high-level creative tools. This is especially true when looking at the high price tags and countless subscriptions that come with the modern creative workflow.

I am immensely excited for this next major chapter for GIMP and free software, and am equally excited for what will follow. Remember – GIMP is community supported. That means without volunteers who contribute to the development or testing for GIMP, the project wouldn’t move forward. Perhaps that next major supported is you!

Thanks for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, you can check out my other GIMP content, including GIMP video tutorials, GIMP help articles, and my GIMP Masterclass on Udemy.