GIMP’s team of volunteer developers have been hard at work creating the emphatically anticipated GIMP 3.0 major release. Working against a self-imposed deadline of early May of 2024, many signs point to the team making great progress since my last GIMP 3.0 update.

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Non-Destructive Editing Is Now Complete

The biggest piece of news is that core GIMP contributor Alx Sa has completed the first iteration of GIMP’s highly-anticipated non-destructive editing feature (sometimes abbreviated as NDE).

NDE has been available in comparable programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Affinity Photo, and Krita for many years now. However, it has been elusive for GIMP, and its absence remains a major pain-point for users.

What is Non-Destructive Editing?

Non-destructive editing allows GIMP users to make edits to their layers, including photos and text, without “destructively” affecting the layer. In other words, users would be able to go back at any time and remove or make adjustments to an effect applied to a layer, image, or text.

You can see an example of this in action in an X post by @CMYKStudent (this is the aforementioned Alx Sa’s X account). In the example, the “Long Shadow” effect is applied to text, and the text is then changed using the text tool with the effect still applied.

NDE Is Now Merged with GIMP 3.0’s Main Code

The news of NDE’s implementation was announced on the ZeMarmot Project’s X account (run by Jehan Pages, another core GIMP contributor and GIMP’s current maintainer).

In the announcement, Jehan shows a video of the code being merged into GIMP 3.0’s main development branch. This means the code made it in time for GIMP 3.0’s feature freeze, which is when the main code for GIMP no longer accepts new features until after GIMP 3.0 is released.

The Result of Years of Hard (Team) Work

In a retweet of the announcement, @CMYKStudent acknowledged that it wasn’t just their own work that made implementing this feature possible. It was the culmination of many years of volunteer coders’ and testers’ hard work, plus valuable user feedback, that resulted in this feature being ready for GIMP 3.0.

Other members of the GIMP/Free and Open Source Community weighed in on this huge milestone and what it took to get here. The Libre Arts X account, @lgworld, run by GIMP contributor/translator Alexandre Prokoudine, surmised that it took 18 years of volunteer contributions to lay the foundation for non-destructive editing and GIMP 3.0. Once the new framework was finally in place, it only took “a few months of one volunteer’s time” to finally tackle this elusive task.

Implementing an Acceptable Version of NDE Has Held Up GIMP 2.99.18’s Release

In my last GIMP 3.0 news update, I discussed GIMP’s tentative release schedule, including a general timeline for development release versions and release candidates. According to that tentative schedule, the next development release version, GIMP 2.99.18, was slated to be released around “mid-January.”

Well, here we are at the end of January, and there’s no GIMP 2.99.18.

NDE Is Ahead of Schedule

The good news, however, is that GIMP 2.99.18 was held up by the pleasant surprise of having non-destructive editing make huge progress in a short amount of time.

Originally, NDE wasn’t expected until the GIMP 3.2 release (which could have been another 1-2 years after GIMP 3.0’s release).

With NDE being ahead of schedule, Jehan decided to push back the release of GIMP 2.99.18 to allow the feature to be refined and then made available for user testing in this upcoming version.

Jehan expanded on his reasoning for delaying the GIMP 2.99.18 development release in a Patreon post:

“I was really hoping to merge our first version of non-destructive editing in GIMP [2.99.18] and this was taking way more time than I wished. Each time I’d review the code, I would find a blocker (a reason which was not acceptable, such as a crash, issues in XCF saving, major UX issues). But… good news! It’s now in [GIMP’s main development branch]! It’s not perfect, but I believe it is acceptable.”

Many would argue that having GIMP 2.99.18 late by a few weeks so that non-destructive editing can be early by a couple years is a worthy tradeoff.

Space Invasion Is Also Holding Things Up

While NDE is the main hold-up for GIMP 2.99.18, Jehan also noted that another significant development – a major color accuracy improvement project known as “space invasion” – is also to blame.

This project appears to be a few weeks away from completion, though the timeline is not clear.

Jehan wants space invasion available alongside non-destructive editing for testing in the next GIMP 3.0 preview version. He argues that while space invasion may not appear to have as obvious an impact to end-users, it is arguably still a significant breakthrough (much like non-destructive editing).

When Will GIMP 2.99.18 Be Released?

With all this being said, I would anticipate the release of GIMP 2.99.18 by the end of February 2024. Whether or not the rest of the original GIMP 3.0 timeline is pushed back by a proportionate amount (i.e. 45-60 days) remains to be seen.

If this indeed were the case, I would expect GIMP 3.0 to be released some time between the end of June to mid-July 2024 (instead of early May).

In the meantime, you can still sharpen your GIMP skills with these GIMP video tutorials and GIMP help articles from Davies Media Design. Or, you can take your learning to the next level with my GIMP Masterclass on Udemy!

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