Gimp for writers
Gimp is a free image manipulation program. It is comparable to photoshop. In fact, the photoshop vs. Gimp debated is hotly contested in geek circles. Professional graphic artist insist that Gimp is clunky, not user friendly and doesn’t have the resources or power of photoshop. Linux users argue essentially the same things about photoshop.
The fact is that both programs will do almost all the same things, but in different ways. Neither is particularly user friendly. Gimp seems to rely a little bit more on dialogue boxes and photoshop more on clicking and dragging images.
For example to add a new image on top of an existing project, photoshop requires you to open the second image, select it and then copy. Then you go back to your project and paste. In Gimp you go to file–>open as layer and open the image directly into the project. This subtle difference perhaps explains why computer geeks like Gimp and artists tend to like Photoshop.
I have two really simple reasons why I like Gimp over photoshop.
Gimp is free
If you work as a graphic artist, you can write off the cost of photoshop. Like many commercial programs they are moving towards a monthly online subscription plan, ranging from 9.99 a month to as high as eighty dollars a month for professional plans.
If you are a writer who uses image manipulation software occasionally, that’s a pretty big cost to eat on an ongoing basis. Gimp is free to download and once you download it, you have it. No subscription fees to worry about ever.
Gimp is Gimp
My biggest frustration with Photoshop is how many different versions of it there are. The ongoing debate between the two program often hinges on this as well. Photoshop pros insist that photoshop has more features. Which may be true of the professional grades, like lightroom. But the most basic Photoshop that comes with many computers has a fraction of the functions that come standard with Gimp.
My complaint is simpler, learning photoshop is harder because there are too many different versions out there. I loathe getting halfway through some neat new tutorial and discovering some step I can’t do because my version of Photoshop is different from what the tutor is using. And it seems to happen a lot, to me at least.
Gimp is Gimp. There is one current version. If you download it you get all the basic and advanced functions. Even if you never use the advanced options, it’s nice to know they are there. As you grow in your knowledge you won’t ever reach a point where you can’t try something new due to the limits of the program.
How to get Gimp
Gimp is available as a download from their website: http://www.gimp.org/. Gimp has versions for Windows, Mac and Linux users. A mere 73 mb of data, Gimp is a small download and shouldn’t tax older computers.
Why do writers need a good graphics program anyway?
Changes in publishing have forced writers today to wear many hats, whether they are Indie or traditionally published. Some basic proficiency in graphics is required for all writers today. Here are just a few things you can do with a program like Gimp.
Can you make your own book covers? Should you? I started writing about that, but it quickly got out of hand. I ended up cutting and pasting the entire section into a new file for a future article. We might return to that later. For now the short answer is maybe, for some writers, once you learn enough about Gimp and cover design.
Even if you don’t make your cover yourself, once you have a final cover image there is no end to what you can do with it.
With Bear Naked I used the cover as is, using Gimp to add some layers of text over the top. The result, as you can see, was a stunning launch party poster with very little effort. I used Office Max’s online print store to print a couple of posters. It is easy to set up and account and upload images. You can have them printed at the nearest store and pick them up there. I gave one away as a door prize at my launch party.
Websites like vistaprint.com lets Indie writers create a some fun swag, from bookmarks to T shirts. The problem is the price. Who wouldn’t want a table full of coffee mugs, T shirts and merchandise with their book title and art work all over them? With Gimp you can make much of the artwork yourself and beat the retail prices.
Pictures for your website
A little practice with Gimp and you can create your own custom website headers and other visuals. A custom Twitter background, Facebook header, Pins for Pinterest are all fairly easy to make.
Visuals for blogs
Blogs with visuals get more views than those without. That’s a simple fact. We live in a digital age and we are competing with visual media for attention. Give yourself a leg up by adding visuals to blog posts.
Even if you don’t want to manipulate images, you might have to. My cover designer sent me a beautiful finished image for Bear Naked and Bear Naked 2. The problem is that they are sized for print, and too large of a file for many websites. Some websites automatically crop the image, or the amount of the image that they show. The result can cut off critical parts of your cover image. The answer in both cases is to resize the image using Gimp or Photoshop.
The point is that a basic understanding of is important to all authors, whether they have any plans to make their own covers or promotional material. It might mean the difference between making due with what some websites wants and what you want.
Some Gimp Basics
I can’t teach you to be a Gimp pro in one article, but I can give you some basic pointers to get started. Let’s pretend we are about to release a new book and we want to have book signing, launch party. We need a flyer. It’s a pretty basic task that most writers will face at some time.
Docking vs. single window mode
Gimp comes, by default, undocked and that throws a lot of people unfamiliar with Gimp right off the bat. By un-docked I mean the toolbar and the layers menu are separate windows, while the main project is in yet another window.
Some graphic artists love this because it allows them to work on large images in full screen and drag the toolbar around as they work. But most non-geeks prefer things in one place, so we can fix this easy. At the top menu bar, under windows is an option for single-window mode. This will attach the toolbar and layer menu so they look and act more like Photoshop.
To create a new project we can simply select “new” in the file menu. This will give us a dialogue box to choose a template or create our own custom one. For this we will choose US-Letter for a standard letter size.
An important note, this will create a base layer called the canvas in Gimp. If something is larger than the canvas or end off the edge of the canvas, you won’t see it. That’s okay, it’s still there and you can resize the image to fit or move it onto the canvas. For example your made-to-print cover will likely be too large. The picture below shows what I am talking about. Don’t worry we can move that cover art so it all shows.
Layers are important for all graphics programs. Each new element that you add to your canvas, be it a picture or a piece of text, is a separate layer. Learning to understand and work with layers is vital to learning to really use any graphics program.
For right now the important facet of layers is this, you have manipulate and change each layer separately. Layering is what allows you to drag around and resize your cover art without changing the text, or vice versus. It allows to manipulate one image without affecting the others.
Layers can also be a source of unending frustration for beginners. I can’t count the times I have tried to move something only to pick up the background layer by mistake, or wondered why something wasn’t working only to discover I hadn’t selected the layer I was attempting to work on. Save yourself hours of hair pulling by getting used to checking the layer menu occasionally to see what’s there and what’s selected.
You can see in the above picture we have three layers, a background layer, a text layer and our cover art. The picture is currently selected. If we want to add a text effect, we will have to make sure we select the text first.
Gimp has a pretty extensive and self explanatory toolbar on the left hand side of the window. The move tool will allow you to click and drag layers around the canvas. The resize tool will allow you to increase or decrease the size of an image or layer. You can do this by clicking and dragging or changing the number of pixels in the dialogue box. Notice the little chain in the dialogue box? You can link the height and width so that the proportions stay the same no matter what. Or you can unlink them and freely transform pictures.
The Gimp website has a pretty complete tutorial. You find more about tools here. For your first flyer, drag the cover art and resize it where you want it. Put in text stating when and where your signing will be. Add any other visual effects you want. That’s all there is to creating a simple flyer.
As I have said before, graphics are easy to do but hard to well. Here is one simple text effect to make your flyer pop. Add a drop shadow. A drop shadow creates a shadow like effect behind your text so it looks a little more 3-D.
In Gimp you can find drop shadow under Filters–>Light and Shadow–>drop shadow. Make sure you have the correct text layer selected and apply the drop shadow. Its a small difference to the eye but it makes a huge difference in how professional the finished product will look.
Layers are vital to how graphics programs work, but most other programs can’t handle them. Printers won’t read them correctly, nor will web browsers.
Therefor the last step in creating our flyer is to export it. Exporting takes the final image and flattens it (removing the layers and leaving only the visible elements). You can export into a variety of file types like .jpg .png or .pdf. Choose what best fits your project. You find the export dialogue under file–>export.
How I learned Gimp
I generally learn by doing. I love playing around with new programs and software. I have learned a ton about Word, Openoffice, Google docs, etc. from working with them, trying things and seeing what happens.
That only took me so far in Gimp. There are simply too many features and too many steps to creating complex graphics to do that. Reading the manual doesn’t help much. It will tell you where certain tools are, but not how to use them effectively.
Then I discovered Youtube. Experienced Gimp and Photoshop users regularly post tutorials, showing all sorts of super cool projects you can watch and then follow along.
I get into a Gimp mood every so often. I search tutorials online, watch them. Then I watch them over while following along step by step. This is how I finally cracked Gimp. It’s pretty awesome.
My favorite Gimp tutorials and projects:
So get your creative hat on and get out there and Gimp.