One thing about GIMP which generates lots of virtual ink, but not much enlightenment is the lack of CMYK support in GIMP. Post a subject on slashdot with OSS + graphics and watch the flames begin… About 50% of the Scribus 1.0 story was GIMP vs PS flaming… Sad.
Many many people have moaned, complained and sworn off GIMP for its lack of CMYK and/or other perceived deficiencies, yet the number of people to step up and put the effort to make it a reality seems to me awfully small.
In hindsight, both working on Scribus for more than 5 years now and in pre-press longer has led me to the opinion that adding CMYK to GIMP prematurely would have been a disaster.
My observations:

  • In defense of the GIMP developers, I too would be really sick and tired of people coming on IRC, or various mailings and asking/demanding/complaining about this feature or that feature. So, if they are less than polite when you are person number 998 to ask/whine/demand/plead for the same thing that is entirely understandable. You are at fault for simply failing to google the question. The answers are there…
  • Unlike 99.95% of the people who have used, flamed or discussed GIMP, thanks to LGM, I have actually met a fair number of the GIMP developers face to face. They are nice people and they did a terrific job organizing LGM. We could not have been more welcome.
  • Trust me, they know CMYK support is a long standing request. They are neither blind, nor idiots and perfectly well understand why it is so sought by end users.
  • Those who have not worked on a project like Scribus or GIMP or Inkscape may not be aware how difficult it is to make CMYK work properly. We are rightfully proud of the CMYK and color management capabilities in Scribus. But it is not perfect and we still have more work to do there. Thanks Marti.
  • I think they are not only correct, but completely within their rights to say they do not wish to make a Photoshop clone. You know what? Photoshop, while it wonderful for some things it is far from perfect…
  • I use both, side by side and they both have their quirks and oddities, There are things GIMP just does better, more efficiently than PS. GIMP’s ability with retouching old photographs is extremely good and its handling of PNG is superior in my experience. The new screen grabber in 2.3.x rocks.
  • Users running GIMP on Windows complain about all the palettes and the lack of SDI (Single Document Interface.) While I don’t like MDI myself, the GIMP developers are correct: Windows has a sucky window manager. What is also interesting to note is that PS 6 and 7 run perfectly well on recent versions of Wine รขโ‚ฌโ€ thanks to Codeweavers. Guess what? All those PS palettes are not so nice under KDE or Blackbox on Linux ๐Ÿ˜‰ A perfect example of an application working in an environment where it was not really designed for. A note for all future or potential reviewers of GIMP, please test it on Linux or some Unix with a decent window manager, it does make a difference.
  • Those who complain how it runs on OSX or its lack of native port should: 1) Complain to Apple to make their X-11 work more seamlessly with Aqua. 2) Give or loan a pile of well equipped OSX boxes to the GIMP team and while you are it, start or pay a team of experienced developers to port GTK2 to OSX.
  • Both PS and GIMP are complex applications that take time to master. For longtime Photoshop users to try GIMP for a short time then reject it out of hand are just as ignorant of the GIMP fanboys who blindly recommend GIMP as a replacement for PS. Sorry, it is not. The GIMP developers have no shame in that being so… You have to “Think Differently”, to borrow a well known tagline ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • CMYK and spot colors by themselves are not patent encumberd. They are actually part of the open published standards for Postscript and PDF. Anyone saying anything different is clueless or spreading FUD and/or openly demonstrating their ignorance of the fact.

So it might be useful to ponder a moment, why Scribus was able to integrate CMYK and color management seemingly so easy? A good question and the answers are hopefully instructive. The most important? You need the correct development environment that can support adding and maintaining such a feature, the lack of which is not the fault of the GIMP developers:

  • Unlike GIMP, CMYK was from day one a necessity for Scribus. Scribus without CMYK and spot color support equals Scribus being a less than useful toy. Adding useful color management makes that so much easier. Having littlecms as a drop in library to handle all the CMS chores is truly a gift. GIMP and Inkscape are truly useful applications of their own, right now, for a huge audience without these features.
  • You need developers who have pre-press and print design know how รขโ‚ฌโ€ very different from RGB/Web/Video image editing. Jean on our team probably does have Video/Web imaging foo (he’s a pretty skilled imaging engineer, but I doubt the rest of us would be a good team to write an image editing app or something like GIMP GAP.)
  • You need end users who understand how to use these features properly, willing to dedicate time and effort to test and guide the developers where they are right and wrong. Thank you Louis, Christoph, Maciej, Johannes and ExScite among others for relentlessly thrashing CVS.
  • You need a testing environment which is capable of testing CMYK output in a realistic fashion. We were blessed early in Scribus’s life to have clients who allowed me in early days to run and test Scribus in a real world pre-press environment where you could compare Scribus’s and other application’s output side by side. Bring heaps of money to recreate that from scratch. ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • Think about spending tens of thousands in special pre-press software and special equipment. Then, a bunch more time to learn how to configure and calibrate these bits properly. It took the better part of year studying and testing before rolling out my first real color managed workflow. Even then it takes time to keep up with the latest CMS development and standards.
  • The current GIMP developers inherited a code base with 8 bit color. Implementing 16bit and larger color spaces on that code base is not trivial. For some parts of the GIMP, I would imagine there are parts where a complete rewrite is in order. The efforts they put into improving 2.0.x and 2.2.x were far more valuable for a very wide part of their user base. Stability and hundreds of other upgrades small and large benefit all users. I cannot remember the last GIMP crash in 2.2.x.

So, now before ranting about the lack of CMYK or spot color support in GIMP, maybe you might have a more realistic understanding of the undertaking. I’m perfectly content with GIMP now and I only expect it will be better in the future. The revitalization of GEGL is a big step. Maybe, GIMP 2.6 or 3.0 will have CMYK and spot colors. I expect when it is added it will work pretty well right out of the box. That’s worth waiting for…