Software, Technology, Webcomics

This GIMP don’t limp

October 14th, 2005 by Jeff | 4 Core Dumps

Anyone who’s paid serious attention to the behind the scenes stuff at GPF knows I’m a big Paint Shop Pro fan. I have been for years. I first tried PSP (back before Sony appropriated the acronym) back around version 3.x, and ended up using it 420+ days into my 30-day trial. By the time version 5.x came around, I sprung for the under $100 price tag to buy the full version. Compared to Photoshop’s $500+ price tag, it was a steal. The combination of power and features for the low price made it my primary recommendation to webcartoonists looking for a cheap image editing tool. I’ve used PSP for years now, and with the exception of a few tiny little things that it doesn’t do so well (like saving CMYK TIFFs for print), I’ve used it exclusively to produce 2000+ comics and five books. (Yes, Book #5 is finally on the way.)

However, times, they are a changin’. I’ve been using PSP 7.04 for a couple years now. I skipped version 8 at first because I was too cheap to spring for a new version, and then when I finally saw a copy of it at Plan Nine I wasn’t that impressed. They moved things around so much I had problems finding the tools I wanted. Combine that with the fact that I didn’t see any new features that seemed useful and I decided to sit back and wait. The next thing I know, version 9 zooms out and, seemingly the next day, Corel has bought out my beloved Jasc and PSP is now part of their line-up. The price has jumped steadily since the last copy I bought and now hovers around $130. While that’s still more reasonable than Photoshop’s $600 (that’s 4.5 times as much for virtually the same set of features), it’s still getting pricier.

Mind you, I haven’t tried the new Paint Shop Pro X. (Curse you, Steve Jobs. Now everyone thinks Roman numerals are the “it” thing for version numbers. At least it’s better than using the year….) I haven’t even seen it in a store yet, just on Corel’s website, so I can’t really speak intelligently about the product. But I’m starting feel the Technology Mudslide catching up with me. You know, that’s that sinking feeling that technology is advancing so quickly around you that you feel like you’re falling further and further behind, and no matter what you try, you’ll never catch up. I’ve encountered that a few times in my professional career when I’ve been stuck using version x of a product because of customer requirements, while the vendor is on version x + 2 and all the new job postings only want the latest and greatest. I never thought I’d hit that with PSP, but apparently I have.

So now, the quandary. Do I shell out $130 for the latest and greatest version of a product that has dramatically changed over three version numbers and a change of hands, unsure if I’ll still be able to do the simplest of tasks that I currently take for granted? Do I keep using the same rapidly aging version I’m accustomed to and hope when Windows eXPlotive2 (or whatever the next version of Microsoft taxation is called when it comes out) hits it will still work? Or do I jump ship and try something totally new? I’ve still got that coupon from Wacom to get Photoshop CS at half price… but if $130 is too expensive in my opinion, can I really justify $300…?

Of course, the obvious answer that any Open Source-minded computer/art geek will mention is… the GIMP. Lest you think I’ve been living under the proverbial cyber rock for too long, the GIMP’s been on my radar for quite some time. The first time I installed Linux on one of my boxes I made sure GIMP was there and I ran a few experiments with it. Unfortunately, that old machine (Pandora, for the curious) was rather underpowered and ineffectual at running X Windows, let alone something as hefty as the GIMP. When we upgraded machines and I had something more beefy to play with, I tried again, but had trouble finding the right tool do do the task I wanted to perform. I have a few GIMP books here and there, but other than skimming them, I haven’t done much else with them. After all, why should I spend valuable time learning a totally new tool when I’ve grown quite adept at the one I use all the time?

Wipe that smirk off your face. I recognize the irony.

On a whim, I swung by the GIMP site yesterday, just to see what version they were on. 2.2.8. The last version I had was 1.2.x (and that one had only been loaded up a couple times). Might as well give it a try. So I downloaded it and the latest GTK+ for Windows and installed it on Apollo, the ThinkPad that handles 99.9% of all GPF work now. (It’s already installed on Demeter, the current top of the Linux boxen, but I rarely use her for workstation type duties.)

I was pleasantly surprised. They’ve improved the interface a good bit and made finding options for some of the tools easier. The greatest of all surprises, though, is it recognizes my Intous3’s pressure sensitivity. PSP 7.x doesn’t. As a test, I opened up the raw scanned line art for the October 31, 2005 strip and started working on it. Although I was still unfamiliar with the toolset and I seriously missed some of my old PSP tricks, I was able to clean up the lines and completely color the first panel so it looked identical to the final version I recently did in PSP. It wasn’t a very thorough test, however, as that particular panel didn’t have any text or bizarre special effects in it, but it was still farther than I had gotten the last time I tried something like this. Maybe having the tablet helped a little (“drawing” selections right-handed with a mouse when you’re left handed isn’t easy), but maybe being more patient probably had a greater impact.

There’s been a nagging part of me that’s wanted for a long time to ditch Windows completely and go completely Open Source. I’m too realistic to go cold turkey, though, as there are far too many Windows-only apps that I rely on. PSP has been one of my primary anchors to Windows. But I’m impressed with how far the GIMP has come since I last worked with it. I think I’ll keep doing some experimentation and perhaps even try working some simple GPF strips exclusively in GIMP to see how they go. Who knows… maybe I won’t need PSP anymore after all….

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