Over the past several months I’ve received many requests to make a comparison between GIMP and Affinity Photo – especially after I released my GIMP vs Photoshop: Complete Comparison video. Well, in today’s article, I’ll finally be giving the people what they want!
Here is my comparison between GIMP and Affinity Photo. You can either watch the video version of this subject below, or scroll past it for the full article version.
So let’s start with a quick introduction to the two programs, starting with GIMP.
As many of you know I have been using GIMP, a free and open source photo editor, for over a decade now, and have been creating tutorials for the software since 2011. In fact, May 17th of 2021 will be the 10-year anniversary of my YouTube channel!
The GIMP program itself has been around since 1996 when it was created as a free software alternative to Photoshop for Linux operating systems, and is currently available for Windows, MAC, and Linux machines. GIMP is primarily a raster-based photo editor, with all the tools you need to professionally edit and retouch photos from start to finish, and also includes plenty of tools for creating graphic design compositions or photo manipulations.
It’s a free and open source program, which means it’s developed and supported by a decentralized, worldwide community of developers and users like you or me. Though GIMP is a standalone software, it works well in conjunction with other free and open source software like Inkscape, Scribus, Darktable, and Blender, to name a few.
Affinity Photo Introduction
Affinity Photo, on the other hand, was first launched in 2015 by Serif, a private British software developer, essentially as a rebrand of an earlier software known as “Photo Plus,” which was originally released in 1999 and retired in 2017.
Today, the Affinity Photo software is available for Windows and MAC machines as well as for the iPad, but is not available for Linux machines at the time of this article. In my opinion, this software is really the first premium Photoshop alternative to go toe-to-toe with the dominant Adobe flagship product.
Like GIMP, Affinity Photo has all the photo editing tools you need to edit and manipulate photos, though Affinity has a few extra bells and whistles like a complete suite of non-destructive editing features and the built-in automation of more advanced editing tasks like focus stacking or RAW image editing.
Affinity Photo charges a one-time fee for a single license, and can also be integrated with additional apps like Affinity Designer or Affinity Publisher – which together, along with Affinity Photo, are known as the “Affinity Trinity.”
Now that you’ve been introduced to GIMP and Affinity Photo, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how these two programs compare, starting with their core photo editing features.
GIMP Raises the Bar by Providing tons of Great Features in a Free Photo Editor
If you’re used to premium software, opening GIMP for the first time might be slightly confusing. There’s no welcome screen that directs you where to go or what to do. However, once you figure out all you need to do is go to File>New or File>Open, everything else about GIMP should seem familiar to anyone who’s ever used image editing software.
GIMP operates in a single workspace, with an image window in the center and tools, menus, and dockable dialogues surrounding it.
If GIMP has proven anything, it’s that there are a base set of features that people expect in a solid photo editor. For any editor to be taken seriously, it should have transform tools, paint tools, text and shape tools, smart selection tools, a layers system with masking and blending abilities, various practical filters and effects that can be added to images or layers, and robust importing and exporting capabilities that support a wide variety of file formats. It should also have a customizable user interface that can be tweaked based on the user’s preferences, and the ability to import custom or third-party patterns, brushes, fonts, and palettes. GIMP has all these features, which means it sets the bar pretty high for premium software.
Premium Features in Affinity Photo
If Affinity Photo has proven anything, it’s that the “premium” features of a program start with the automation of advanced photo editing techniques, as well as having a comprehensive suite of non-destructive editing features – all in a turn-key solution that doesn’t require any additional software. This is where GIMP starts to lose pace with Affinity Photo, and where Affinity Photo shows it’s worth the money.
For example, Affinity Photo supports built-in panoramic stitching, focus stacking, batch image editing, RAW processing, macro recording, which is the equivalent to Photoshop actions, and an HDR merge feature. It also has non-destructive editing features made popular by Photoshop like adjustment layers, effects layers, and vector shape tools. Finally, it offers a panel with quick-access to free stock photo sites like Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay – much like how Adobe offers quick-access to Adobe Stock from within Photoshop – though Affinity Photo lets you search through photos on these sites from directly within the panel.
Affinity Photo also uses a dynamic “Personas” system – “personas” being the term Affinity uses for “workspaces” – that show or hide certain tools and toolbar shortcuts depending on the persona you’re in. There are 5 main personas in total, with each one serving a specific purpose, though the Photo Persona is likely where you’ll spend most of your time when inside the program. I have an entire tutorial dedicated to personas on my other website, Pro Photo Vector, if you want to learn more about this subject. But the Photo Persona is the main workspace where you edit, manipulate, or retouch your photos, as well as add text, shapes, and effects to your images or objects. This persona is most similar to what you’d find in the GIMP user interface.
Affinity Photo has some additional characteristics that are unique to this program, like the live previewing of effects and pixels inside your brush head, as well as the aforementioned “Toolbar” that contains icons for useful program shortcuts or common actions based on the Persona you’re in. It has a virtual “Assistant” that pops up every now and then when the program has automatically performed an action for you – such as creating a pixel layer when you’re trying to paint on a new document that doesn’t have any layers. Finally, Affinity Photo provides a live preview thumbnail of image adjustment presets inside the Adjustments panel so you can easily see how the adjustment will affect your image prior to applying those adjustments.
When you open Affinity Photo for the first time, you’re greeted with a welcome screen, not unlike the one you’d find in Photoshop, that contains quick links to useful resources like tutorials, premium assets, and project samples. You can also quickly create a new document using your own settings or any of the dozens of pre-installed templates.
I should note that GIMP also has built-in templates as well as tons of tutorials and assets (including those I offer through a DMD Premium Membership) for users to reference – but Affinity neatly integrates these resources into a welcome screen, which improves the overall ease-of-use of the program.
Using Premium Features in GIMP
So this leads me to my next point – GIMP can usually reproduce most of the premium features and effects found in Affinity Photo, but it often requires the use of third-party plugins or the installation of additional open source software. For example, the BIMP plugin allows for batch image editing directly within GIMP, while Darktable, an open source RAW processor, allows for RAW image editing and performing HDR merges for exposure bracketed images (I have a course on the Fundamentals of Photo Editing in Darktable if you want to learn more about this program). The free, third-party Hugin software can stitch panoramic photos. Inkscape can be used for vector shape drawing, and the G’MIC plugin has tons of additional features and effects that can further expand GIMP’s capabilities.
So, yes, GIMP does require a bootstrap mentality when you’re trying to perform more advanced editing techniques, and it can sometimes require patience when you’re waiting for certain new features to be released in an update. But, when it comes to basic and intermediate photo editing, which I think is the level most people are at anyway, GIMP has more than enough tools to get the job done, especially when you factor in all the other free software that it can be paired with.
Affinity Photo Weaknesses
So up to this point I’ve been singing the praises of Affinity Photo as a premium software, but I’d like to now cover the weaknesses of the program.
For one, its smart-selection tools aren’t as good as I’ve seen in other programs. Photoshop is still the industry leader when it comes to its Subject and Object selection tools, which provide decently accurate selections of complex areas with minimal clicks. And there are other lesser-known programs that have had breakthroughs with smart selection technology like Luminar 4’s AI-powered sky replacement feature.
Affinity Photo’s main smart selection feature is its Selection Brush Tool that pairs with its “Refine Selection” dialogue, but to me this feature is not that groundbreaking. This is especially true when you consider that GIMP has already announced it’s working on a similar selection brush feature, known as the Paint Select Tool, which has already been released in its 2.99.4 development version. GIMP also has the Foreground Select Tool, which is a pretty powerful tool or outlining subjects and erasing image backgrounds. In other words, while Affinity Photo is innovative in many areas, it lags behind in the crucial “smart selection” category.
Secondly, although the Affinity Photo assistant is a cool little feature unique to this program, it is necessary because Affinity Photo has many behaviors and rules that are counter-intuitive to new users. For example, when you create a new composition, by default the composition will contain no layers despite displaying a document or canvas. You either have to add a new pixel layer or import a photo into that document to basically be able to perform any action. To me, it makes more sense to start a new, blank composition off with a Background layer by default, rather than starting a newly created project with no layers and requiring users to manually add a new first layer.
Thirdly? Thirdly, the “Styles” panel, which allows you to quickly add styles to things like vector shapes or text, contains what I consider to be outdated styles. Though these styles can be adjusted after the fact by double-clicking on the “fx” logo that pops up on your text layer and navigating through the various effects that are added to your text, I just think Affinity needs to either revisit and tweak the default settings of these styles or get rid of them altogether.
Additionally, it’s not entirely obvious how to remove a style from your text or objects without hitting the undo button, undoing the action in the History panel, or deleting the text layer and starting over.
The final weakness I’ll point out in Affinity Photo is the way the program handles transformations. Unlike GIMP, which has various designated transformation tools that can be toggled between layer, selection, and path modes, Affinity Photo runs all its transformations through the move tool or the transform panel. This does simplify things in some cases, but it also unnecessarily complicates transformations in other cases.
For example, if I draw a selection area with the “Rectangle Marquee” tool in Affinity Photo, and then decide I want to change the boundary of the selection area, I have to grab the “move” tool from the toolbox, toggle on my Quick Mask, transform the selection area, then toggle the Quick Mask off. In my opinion, this is a lot of steps for a very simple process.
In GIMP, you simply hover your mouse over the edges of the selection area and click and drag to transform the area.
Photoshop has a similar problem with counter-intuitive selection area transformations as you have to go to Select>Transform Selection to perform this task.
Moving on to GIMP’s weaknesses, the most obvious one is that performing more advanced tasks in GIMP often requires the help of other free software, which requires figuring out what software you need for the task at hand as well as taking the time to learn how to use the software. The Davies Media Design YouTube channel has worked over the years to provide tutorials that make it easier to integrate additional free software and plugins into your GIMP workflow, which I do think helps connect some of those dots for premium features not directly integrated into GIMP, and there’s also other resources like Pixls.us that can point you in the right direction on the best free software for any given scenario. But Affinity Photo will save you tons of time as it has these features built directly into the program.
GIMP’s second weakness is that it currently lacks many non-destructive editing features like adjustment layers. This means you’ll have to apply your edits directly to your image layers in most cases, meaning you can’t go back and tweak adjustments you’ve made to your photos later on in your workflow like you can in Affinity Photo or Photoshop. Adjustment layers are expected in GIMP 3.2, though by my estimation this version won’t be out for another 3 years or so. Additionally, GIMP does not have a vector shape drawing tool, though you can always create vector shapes in Inkscape.
Finally, as I mentioned in my GIMP vs Photoshop video, GIMP does not support editing in CMYK. This means that all your projects in GIMP will be created in an RGB color space, which works fine for the web but may create some problems when trying to print your work. Affinity Photo, on the other hand, does allow you to edit projects in a CMYK color format, and also has a CMYK option for certain image adjustment tools like the Levels tool. GIMP does offer soft-proofing using a CMYK color profile, which means you can preview your image’s colors in a CMYK color mode prior to sending them to a printer. This gives you a pretty good idea of how your RGB colors will transfer over, but isn’t as accurate as actually editing the image in CMYK.
Paying for Affinity Software
Next up I want to talk about Affinity Photo’s payment structure. By now I think we all know about Adobe Creative Cloud’s infamous subscription model. Affinity Photo, on the other hand, has decided to implement the old Adobe model by charging a flat fee for its software, which keeps costs down for creatives who use the software while also providing a-la-carte options for people who need additional apps or resources.
For example, at the time of this video Affinity Photo for Desktop will cost you a one-time payment of $49.99 at its full price. They do sometimes run sales, so you can get it even cheaper than that if you buy it at the right time. They also offer their other two software, Affinity Designer and Affinity Publisher, for the same price. The main drawback to this is that purchasing the app only gives you access to the app on one device (although I’ve had some people tell me they are able to use the same license across multiple devices, provided that you’re using the same operating system). So, if you have a Windows and MAC computer, you’ll have to buy the program separately for each device.
They also offer an iPad version of Affinity Photo for $19.99.
So Affinity Photo can cost you as little as $49.99 or, if you buy all three apps, as much as $149.97 per device. If you intend to use multiple devices, you can multiply those totals by however many devices you intend to use. When you compare this to Adobe’s $9.99 per month photography plan, Affinity Photo will start saving you money at around the 5th month of ownership as a standalone product on a single device.
If you’re someone who also needs publishing and graphic design software, you’d have to purchase the full Creative Cloud plan from Adobe at $52.99 per month. This means Affinity’s “Trinity” of apps would start saving you money before the end of your third month of ownership, or even sooner if you buy the apps on sale, when compared to the full Creative Cloud plan.
Will Affinity Become Subscription Software?
Something to keep an eye out for in the future is whether Affinity will stick to this flat-fee model, or if they will move to a subscription model to keep their revenue more predictable.
The one advantage Affinity has over Adobe is that it isn’t currently a publicly traded company, so it doesn’t have to please shareholders or think in the short-term. Affinity Photo does offer other products and resources to fund its business, such as brush and texture packs, as well as workbooks, so this could help keep them from switching over to monthly or annual payments in order to generate more revenue.
However, Affinity could easily change its sales model at any time for a variety of reasons and consumers could end up back inside a subscription trap.
You Can’t Beat Free
GIMP’s main advantage is that it is totally free. Obviously that means it won’t cost you anything monetarily speaking, but it also means you don’t have to provide any personal information to use the program. No name and address, no banking information – nothing.
As a result, you don’t have to risk your information being sold to a third-party, nor do you have to worry about the company you purchased the software from getting hacked. And you also don’t have to worry about decision makers implementing a subscription fee for a product that your projects now depend on.
And unlike other free software downloads, GIMP’s website isn’t full of spammy ads, fake download buttons, or strange looking download packages. It’s pretty straightforward, consistent, and safe. Additionally, where Affinity Photo has graphic design and publishing software, GIMP has open source counterparts like Inkscape for vector design and Scribus for publishing.
Which Program Should You Use?
Who Should Use GIMP
If you are a total beginner to photography, photo editing, photo manipulation, and graphic design, I recommend you download GIMP to edit your photos, learn general photo editing principles, and create design compositions. GIMP is fully capable of creating professional-quality edits and compositions, and as I mentioned several times through this article can be integrated with additional programs and plugins to extend its capabilities.
It’s a great program for weekend warrior or hobbyist photographers, as well as any professional photographer or entrepreneur starting a business on a tight budget.
Photography and design takes many years to learn – even if you’re just learning the basics, so GIMP and other open source software will save you tons of money while you learn your camera and develop your photography and design style. It’s important to remember, as I’ve said in other videos and articles, that owning the best equipment and the best editing software won’t make you a great photographer or designer.
There are tons of free and affordable resources to help you master GIMP – including the hundreds of free tutorials on the Davies Media Design YouTube channel, affordable courses on DaviesMediaDesign.com, or even our GIMP Masterclass on Udemy.
Who Should Use Affinity Photo
If, after using GIMP for some time, you start to find yourself needing more functionality for higher-level editing tasks like focus stacking or creating an HDR merge for exposure bracketed images, then I recommend making the jump to Affinity Photo. It is a fully capable premium software and will save you tons of money over switching to the Adobe Creative Cloud system of products.
It has all the base features found in GIMP, as well as pretty much all the premium features found in Photoshop.
As you develop your understanding of photography and creative software, you’ll start to truly appreciate the automation of tasks in Affinity Photo that help you speed up your workflow and improve the look and feel of your compositions.
Additionally, like GIMP, Affinity Photo has tons of resources available to help you learn the software – including free tutorials from Pro Photo Vector, or premium resources, like the Affinity Photo Workbook, offered directly through the Affinity Photo website.
To sum this comparison up, I do think Affinity Photo is a great next step for GIMP users who simply need those extra premium features. It costs significantly less than Photoshop and has almost all the same features. It has more of a “Startup” feel than Adobe, which has more of a global conglomerate feel, and in that sense makes the software feel a bit more agile and responsive to consumer demands when it comes to feature innovation.
If you’re totally new to photography and digital editing, start with GIMP, and when it’s time to make the jump to premium software, go with Affinity Photo.