Why I'm switching from GIMP to Krita

Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Feb 25, 2015 GMT
Bruce Byfield

I consider myself neither a technophile nor a technophobe. Yet every once or twice a year, I discover a piece of software so well-designed and useful that I spend whatever spare time I have learning it as thoroughly as possible. For the past couple of months, that software has been has been the paint program Krita. Now, with the  2.9 release coming out today, suddenly I have another long list of new tools to learn -- and I couldn't be happier about having new features to learn.

I haven't got far beyond the basics yet -- just enough to work on a couple of projects. However, already I can see that Krita is destined to replace GIMP for me in the near future. Not that I have anything against GIMP, you understand. Aside from the occasional foray into Inkscape, GIMP has exclusively handled my graphics needs for over a decade, and could continue to do so indefinitely.

However, Krita is to GIMP what a Tesla Sportster is to a Lada Riva. The basic functionality is much the same, but Krita almost always includes a few extras. These extras, I suspect, are due largely to Krita's policy of consulting closely with graphic artists during their development.

Krita vs. GIMP
I am hardly a demanding user, but I know enough to see the difference when it is in front of me. It is obvious when I start both applications. Even with the move in recent versions towards a single window, GIMP tends to hide features in drop-down lists and pop-up dialogue, to the extent that I seem to do a lot of clicking for what are often small results. This design philosophy has its charms, but it also means that some basic features, such as the text tool, are awkward to use and almost impossible to position accurately on the first try.

Admittedly, starting Krita for the first time felt like I was sitting down in the cockpit of a fighter jet, but, I quickly got over being overwhelmed and started appreciated that so many tools were visible and only a click away. Where I struggle with GIMP's text tool, I can reposition text with Krita's in a single effort, and format without having the document hidden by dialogue windows.

Moreover, despite its busy interface, Krita remains far more customizable. The editing window is themed, and the sidebar can be customized with any of two dozen dockers, or panes. The Krita interface also includes the pop-up palette, where your choice of brushes and colors is always a right-click away from the document.

In fact, the most noticeable difference between GIMP and Krita is in its treatment of brushes. GIMP has a large supply of brushes for emulating pencils, paint brushes, and airbrushes, but they are crammed into a popup window in the tools options, with nothing to identify them until you select them. By contrast, in Krita preset brushes are one of the default dockers. Even more importantly, each brush has a mouseover and a preview in its icon that includes a view of the type of brush involved.. And while GIMP's brushes frequently have such unhelpful names as "ripped hole" or "Oils 01" that discourage experimentation, Krita's brushes have names like "HP Pencil" and "Textured Fuzzy" that give you at least some idea beforehand what the brush will look like.

Probably more important differences exist, since I am several years off any claim to being an expert. But what I can confidently say so far is that Krita's acessibility of features makes me aware of possibilities, while GIMP's inaccessible features either make me ignore them or else send me scuttling away for half an hour of research online.

Fortunately, documentation is the most obvious area where GIMP has an advantage. In comparison, Krita's is incomplete, and has not caught up to the latest major release after several years, let alone the point release. Probably, it is a good thing that Krita is well-designed, because if any feature puzzled you, your chances of finding any detailed instructions would be hit and miss.

Enter the 2.9 release
So here I am, barely starting to be functional in Krita when a new version crammed with features is released.

Boudewijn Rempt, Krita's maintainer, tells me that 2.9 comes in the wake of a successful kickstarter campaign that had a target of 15,000 Euros, but received over 20,000. The campaign permitted the initial port of OSX, and helped raise the project's profile, attracting more contributors and a review and  and an Artist Choice Award from ImagineFX, one of the leading magazines for artists and graphic designers.

It's a measure of how absorbed I currently am by Krita that the list of new features leaves me anticpating trying them. The 2.9 release includes the option to organize multiple documents in tabs, much as KDE's Oxygen theme does on the desktop. Also included are tools to customize perspective and the pop-up palette -- none of which I expect any time soon in GIMP.

In addition, I will be looking closely at a feature that allows users to save brush settings without making permanent changes to the default settings. I've wished for that functionality constantly in just about every productivity tool I've used. As a result, I have high hopes that the tool will meet my expectations, and start to be imitated by other KDE tools, until it becomes a standard feature throughout free software.

For that matter, I wouldn't mind seeing the pop-up palette become standard as well, perhaps as an Activity switcher in the KDE desktop environment.

Whatever else I learn about 2.9, I'll be coming to it with high expectations. Already, Krita is making me more productive with less effort, partly by common sense and partly by innovation. So, when I settle down to try 2.9, I confidently expect more of the same.

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