Inkscape vs. GIMP – which one should you use? Both are great Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) options that can replace expensive premium or subscription programs. However, there appears to be a decent amount of confusion as to which program you should use based on what you need out of a program.
As a result, I have decided to put together this article to help shed a light on which program will work best for you based on the kind of work or personal projects your are doing. Let’s dive in!
The Inkscape program, by definition, is “an open source drawing tool for creating and editing SVG graphics.” In laments terms, Inkscape is a program used for drawing Scalable Vector Graphics (or SVG graphics as it was referred to in the definition). This means that graphics drawn within Inkscape are formula or code based, and thus can be infinitely scaled up or down without any loss of quality.
It should be mentioned that although Inkscape uses SVG graphics, it can also import raster or bitmap graphics for use within vector designs. In other words, you can bring photos into your Inkscape design projects – though the photos are typically already edited in another program such as GIMP prior to being brought in. To be clear, Inkscape is not a photo editor, even though it can support photos being opened in projects and can perform very basic photo editing functions.
Inkscape typically saves to vector-based filetypes, including .SVG and .EPS, though it can also export to common file types such as .PNG and .PDF. Plus, Inkscape can exported to code documents such as .HTML, as well as to animation files such as .SIF.
When Should Inkscape Be Used?
Vector graphics, another way of describing SVG graphics, are best used when drawing shapes, curves, and text, as they produce clean lines and can be resized or manipulated at any time without quality loss. Plus, the color of these objects can be changed much more easily (usually with one or two clicks), which makes it more efficient for creating multiple color versions of a design or for going back and changing a design’s color at a later date.
This is why designing a logo is typically best left to an SVG graphics program like Inkscape. Additionally, any shape- or text-based artwork should be done in Inkscape, especially when that artwork is going to be printed or will need to be made available in a variety of sizes.
Inkscape is most similar to Adobe Illustrator – which also uses Scalable Vector Graphics.
Who Should Use Inkscape?
Graphic designers, marketers, business professionals, and vector artists should all use Inkscape. Also, anyone who needs to print digital designs or send designs to a printer will prefer Inkscape over GIMP (unless you are printing photos). Finally, web designers who prefer to directly code their designs into their websites will find Inkscape useful.
GIMP, by definition, is a “multi-platform photo manipulation tool.” It uses raster graphics or a bitmap for display and editing purposes, meaning everything is displayed as pixels in a rectangular pixel grid. When you zoom in on a design or photo within GIMP, you will notice that every color in the image corresponds to a pixel. The number of pixels in a composition (image or design) will depend on the overall resolution of the composition.
For example, a composition with a resolution of 72ppi will contain 72 pixels per inch. On the other hand, a composition with a resolution of 300ppi will contain 300 pixels per inch. Typically, the more pixels that are contained within a defined area (within an inch in this case), the higher the quality of the final composition. However, the more pixels you have in a defined area, the larger the overall file size will be.
GIMP can open up and export to a variety of file types, but the most common file types used in GIMP include .XCF (GIMP’s native file format – which allows you to save and reopen works that contain layers), .JPEG, .PNG, .GIF, and even .PSD (Photoshop Document).
When Should GIMP Be Used?
Raster graphics are best used when editing or manipulating photos and when free-hand drawing. This is because each individual pixel can be manipulated or drawn, giving you much more flexibility and control. You can perform tasks such as adjusting image colors, adding brightness or contrast, sharpening, adjusting color temperature, increasing or decreasing color saturation, or adding a variety of effects that manipulate the image pixels in some form or another. As a result, GIMP is best used as a photo editor.
GIMP can also be used for digital painting and pixel art. It produces better freehand strokes than Inkscape (which needs to convert lines to vector shapes), and thus, when combined with a drawing tablet, feels more like natural painting or drawing. You can also use artistic brush heads to emulate textures or various paintbrushes or pens. When using something like the pencil tool within GIMP, combined with a pixel grid, you can draw individual pixels with extreme accuracy – hence why it is recommended for pixel art (which is used in game design and other applications).
However, the part that gets confusing for some people is that GIMP is also capable of performing certain graphic design tasks. It can draw shapes and curves, for example, though it still does this based on a bitmap (pixels) whereas Inkscape uses a formula or code. GIMP can also be used to draw text, though again the text is displayed using pixels rather than a formula. So, though GIMP is capable of creating graphic design elements, these elements are not scalable and often have “jagged” or “pixelated” edges when looked at closely.
GIMP is most similar to Photoshop – which is also a raster-based photo manipulation software.
Who Should Use GIMP?
Photographers, digital painters and artists, and game designers will all find GIMP extremely useful. Web designers with little to no coding experience and who are not concerned with scaling their designs may prefer to make their designs in GIMP and upload them to their website as compressed JPEG files.
Which Program is Better?
When directly comparing Inkscape and GIMP, it is not a matter of which program is better than the other overall, but rather which program is better than the other for the task at hand. Inkscape is going to perform better than GIMP when it comes to creating scalable and professional graphics for print or the web. GIMP is going to be better than Inkscape when it comes to editing or manipulating photos, or for creating pixel art.
On the subject of digital art, the program you use will depend on the look you are going for. Inkscape will be better for vector artwork, whereas GIMP will be better for artwork that looks like it was painted or hand drawn.
Should the Programs Be Used Together?
I definitely recommend using GIMP and Inkscape together as I think they both offer their own strengths, which can be even stronger when combined. For example, you can edit your photos in GIMP and then import the finished JPEG into Inkscape to use within a vector design. On the other hand, you can create a vector design and import it into GIMP to be used in a photo (such as a logo watermark to add to the bottom).
Another example is that you can create crisp, clean vector-based icons to use on a website in Inkscape, and then import that design file into GIMP to adjust the pixel resolution and compress as a JPEG for better performance on the web.
You can also create things like GIMP Palette files (.GPL) within Inkscape and import those palettes to use in your GIMP projects.
There are many more examples of what you can do by combining these two programs, but I think you get the point! GIMP and Inkscape are both great free options, especially if you are looking to replace Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator. That’s it for this article – you can checkout all of my other GIMP How-to Articles or my GIMP video tutorials on my website.