Review: The Artist’s Guide to GIMP, 2nd edition

I was lucky enough to get to review the «early beta» PDF version of the soon-to-be-released GIMP book The Artist’s Guide to GIMP, 2nd edition by Michael J. Hammel (published by No Starch Press, 2012). The book covers the new 2.8 version of GIMP, which had its first release candidate just about a week ago and is expected out any day now.


This book is not a complete reference on GIMP, but rather a set of hands-on tutorials. The book starts with a fairly quick intro to basic GIMP usage, and then consists of tutorial chapters for

  • Photographic Effects
  • Web Design
  • Advertising/Special Effects
  • Type (Font) Effects
  • Creative Inspiration

The last one seems to be the «miscellaneous» category . I’ll focus on the photography parts since that’s where I feel I have the most to say.

Being familiar with basic GIMP usage, I initially skipped straight into the Photographic Effects chapter. However, if you’re not familiar with basic GIMP usage, you should definitely read the first chapter, since certain steps of the tutorials might seem a bit too concise (for example, the instruction «Using the Fuzzy Select tool and the Quick Mask in combination, make a selection around the rose» might be a bit off-putting if you’ve never done this kind of thing before.).

The good

Already in the first tutorial of Photographic Effects we move straight into how we can create a high pass filter using layers and blurring, a very useful effect for bringing out the subject in a picture (and kudos for mentioning that a script exists in the GIMP Plugin Registry which performs the same steps, albeit with less control to the user). The methods are explained in simple steps, with screenshots along the way. After a simple walkthrough, we also get tips for further fine tuning. The author seems quite knowledgeable about how to get the most out of the tools available, as well as about when the tools are insufficient (e.g. Inkscape is suggested as a more advanced alternative to Gfig for vector drawing).


Screenshots all the way

The author introduces various tricks into tutorials as they become useful, e.g.:»The white lines may need to be enhanced. Use the levels dialog and pull the White Point slider to the left.» I believe this kind of realistic, usage-based introduction to tools is much more pedagogical than technical explanations of how the tools work. Of course, if you’re looking for a reference to a specific tool, you may find other types of books more useful.

Apart from the high pass filter tutorial, the color swap is some times surprisingly useful to make a picture less «loud» and inconsistent. Also useful are the tutorials on changing Depth of Field and Colored Lighting (confusingly placed in Advertising instead of Photographic Effects); a handy technique even with just simple black/white gradients.

I really like the landscape format of the book. It’s a little thing perhaps, but compared to the typical portrait or square format, it’s a relief to be able to see one whole page on a wide-screen computers, and, I presume, for keeping a physical book flopped open on your desk while you work a tutorial.

The … not so good

I would also have preferred if the example images were available from one place, although this is a minor point.

Some of the tutorial screenshots seem to overdo the effects, but note that I’m reviewing a preprint, perhaps they look more subtle in the final print of the book.


I prefer the original and I hope you do too

I’ve seen much better tutorials on Minituarizing a Scene (e.g. the one by Rob Antonishen); if you’re just making a simple gradient anyway, I would rather just use the Toy plugin which does it all in one step. I’m not sure how useful the tutorials Lake Reflection and Reflections on Glass are, though I guess the methods might come in handy. And, perhaps it’s just me, but whenever I see tutorials on text effects (brushed metal, neon, etc.) I can’t help but think of bad WordArt. But then again, those effects are obviously very popular … and the Distressed Text effect actually looked rather classy.


Who knew text effects could look good

One thing that bugs me, that I often see in tutorial-type books, is the assumption that the user is a hobbyist, e.g. the advice on using JPEG over RAW/TIFF because of memory/processing constraints or cheap cameras. Those assumptions will definitely be off-putting to those who do invest a lot of time and resources in their graphics/photography work, no matter how useful the tricks in the rest of the book are.

So, should you buy it?

All in all, I would definitely recommend The Artist’s Guide to GIMP 2.8 to those who want an all-round, practical book on how to use GIMP.

For photography, the main alternative book would be GIMP 2.6 for Photographers by Klaus Goelker (see the review by Alexandre Prokoudine – as the title indicates, that one needs an update to 2.8, it’s also not in landscape format ;)). The Artist’s Guide … is perhaps a bit more fast-paced, a bit less in-depth, but also more varied in what it covers. Recommended.

Publisher’s info:

Artist’s Guide to GIMP, 2nd Edition
Creative Techniques for Photographers, Artists, and Designers
by Michael J. Hammel

July 2012, 320 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-59327-414-6
Available both as print and PDF e-book.