The Gimp is arguably the most popular free software for non-vector digital art and image editing. (Inkscape is the best free program for vector graphics in my opinion.) Some time ago, I analyzed Paint Tool SAI, comparing it with the Gimp, and the results are in. But SAI has an unrelated, nay, a mirror image in the FOSS world trying to do what SAI does in a better way: Krita. Krita is a cross-platform open-source free software tool for digital art. In fact, I’d argue that, in light of what Krita has to offer, Gimp may be considered the best for image editing and not for art creation. But here’s a run-down comparison of the two.
Learning Curve and Usability
Both the Gimp and Krita, being very feature-rich programs, have a bit of a learning curve. But the Gimp wins. Why? The Gimp features do exactly as you expect. Krita features, on the other hand, seem to be a little tricky to figure out. It’s not because they aren’t there. It’s mostly because everything in Krita is based around a “presets” mentality. Everything. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. You want to work with a brush? The Gimp makes you find a similar brush, then choose the dynamics, and color, etc. While I’ve rearranged my version of the Gimp to be single-window well-arranged, it can be a chore to change brush details. Krita, however, is like PaintToolSAI, giving you all kinds of presets for brushes. In fact, I’d say the choices are better than SAI, but more on that later. Then comes the time when you want to make a simple gradient. In Gimp, it’s easy: One button and a panel of settings. In Krita, it’s buried in menus.
Both the Gimp and Krita have an irritating starting interface. It’s almost as if both programs are trying to show you all that they can do at once. Particularly for the Gimp on Windows, it’s like some weirdo got the idea that having three windows (one for canvas, one for tools, and one for misc) was a good idea. I changed my Gimp to using a single window and fit everything nicely into one set of tabs in the same column. This customization optimizes my work flow. Krita started out as a single window (so that’s one plus over the Gimp), but stuff was crammed on the side menu. That said, I set up the tabs into one group as in the Gimp, though I was disappointed to find I couldn’t change the order.
What’s nice about both programs is the ability to move stuff into tab groups. The Gimp is easier as far as the learning curve since it has menus that tell you all of the possible menus and lets you easily recover menus if you ever accidentally remove one. Krita has a tabbing system, though the “select menus” is unintuitive – you have to know to right-click in the right place. Like Gimp, its tabs can become free-floating menus which can be moved around and placed elsewhere. There seems to be more liberty in the menu placement in Krita than in Gimp, but ordering tabs how you want isn’t allowed (as it is in Gimp). In fact, changing menus and tab sizes themselves can be a little messy in Krita.
But the most annoying part about Krita’s GUI was that its options always seem to be hidden in a sub-menu or bring up a pop-up window which, oddly enough, leads to other pop-up menus, as if one couldn’t get the job done.
When it comes to modifying an overall image, go with the Gimp. The Gimp requires two, maybe three clicks. You can add buttons for some important color-mod functions, and Gimp has tons and tons of plugins. Scripting can be done in scriptfu or Python. The Gimp has its own brush format, which is easy enough to create and share.
Krita plays the “presets” card here. It has tons of presets and better brushes and a way to easily create brushes. Krita brush dynamics alone beat the Gimp brushes hands-down. The Gimp has the option to do “spacing” for brush drawing (which I found nice when trying to make a randomized star field – hint: use a huge spacing), which Krita doesn’t have. Krita has a brush stroking smoothing, which Gimp didn’t have, though I didn’t find it terribly helpful. More importantly, Krita brushes have a wider range of dynamics, dynamics that range from sharp to smooth to special kinds of smudges and erasers. Some brushes only filled colored areas (and not transparent areas), which is a huge plus in my book (the Gimp requires the creation of a layer mask to get something similar, and that’s tedious). I also like that Krita does not hide the “rough edge” brush as a “pencil tool” as the Gimp does. It is considered a brush instead.
The Gimp brush spacing allows the Gimp brushes to move faster than Krita when making large, sweeping brush strokes. Krita’s strokes are dependent on the type of brush being used, so you have to create a custom brush based on an existing brush just to change the spacing, which is tedious. I haven’t found a quicker way to do this yet.
I was pleased to find some shortcuts were similar for both. Plus and minus keys zooms in and out of the image/canvas, and the middle mouse button allows for moving the canvas. The Gimp uses Shift+Left Mouse Button for creating perfectly straight lines and paths of straight lines, which is a feature Krita does not have and one I may greatly miss if I left the Gimp. Krita uses the Shift+Left Mouse Button to activate the brush-size changing feature. Just slide the mouse to the left or right to change the brush size. This feature tops the Gimp’s pathetic brush-size settings in the tool settings tab, though the Gimp uses square brackets ( “[” and “]” ) as shortcut keys for changing the brush size. It’s not as fast as in Krita, and this is certainly an area that needs adjustment in Gimp.
The Gimp gradient-settings top those of Krita… barely. While Krita is trying to make you use a bunch of presets or recently used, Gimp allows you to create custom gradients that use current foreground and/or background colors. Admittedly, Krita did allow you to use foreground and background in some gradients, but I couldn’t find a way to customize them (such as transition distance) without removing the ability to use user-selected colors. The only problem with Gimp gradients is that the color-value distribution is incorrect. It’s slightly off, making the overall gradient imperfect, which you can tell by looking at either a color distribution chart in Gimp or just comparing it to an Inkscape rendering of the same type of gradient. Krita gradients seem correct, though Krita, unlike Gimp, doesn’t have a color distribution tab for me to verify.
Points for Gimp on image analysis and curves. Gimp color-adjustment curves are easier to work with than those of Krita, primarily because they aren’t as sensitive when the amount on the canvas is large. Other than that, they are about the same in usability.
Both programs had the ability to create layers, but in Krita, you could also create vector graphics layers for simple vector graphics – I feature I found excellent. (In comparison with Inkscape, Krita falls on its face since there seems to be some bugs with editing arrows, it’s a pain to change the border colors of shapes, and the gradient options are crappy in Krita.) You could even merge the vector graphics layer with a paint layer (making both one paint layer) so you could paint over the graphics. There were some other options for Krita, including the options in the layers menu to create a transparency mask or a filter mask. Gimp only gives you a transparency mask option in its layers menu.
But here’s where Gimp beat Krita. Test image size: 1600×1200. Krita, with only four layers, was struggling to give me live previews without the GUI controls becoming a little sluggish or over-sensitive. Gimp had no problems.
Finally, Krita allows you to rotate the canvas with Shift+Middle Mouse Button. It’s an amazing feature that Paint Tool SAI also has and one that I really wish the Gimp had. It is, however, slow with a 1600×1200 pixel canvas, and here Paint Tool SAI probably beats it for speed, but I never tested an image that large in Paint Tool SAI. Also, I couldn’t find a way to set the canvas in Krita back to normal orientation.
~~ Oddities ~~
The default start up for Krita is a file screen that lets you immediately set up a new image or select from recently opened files. The Gimp opens the way other programs do, showing you the main interface right away.
Krita allows right-clicking to open up a menu for selecting brushes and color, etc. I guess they must have thought this would be nice for artists who want to immediately switch brushes, and maybe it serves that purpose well. The problem is that it isn’t labeled well. It shows partial images of the tools so it is difficult to tell what some of them are without testing them out.
Krita allows for changing the “theme” of the program, which does little more than change the colors of the GUI. ^_- I found it pointless that there were more than two options – dark and light – but I’m not complaining. Gimp has no such feature, but I’m not docking points for that.
CMYK is supported by Krita. Gimp has a plugin for CMYK, which, if you can figure out how to get it installed, does work (or at least I think I got it to work). If you’re trying to stay away from CMYK, the program XnConvert is an awesome tool for converting any kind of image to a more reasonable format.
~~ Krita Versus Paint Tool SAI ~~
Briefly, I mentioned I would talk about how Krita’s brush options are better than those of Paint Tool SAI. The latter program emphasizes not brush dynamics, but quick brush sizes. If you want to quickly select a brush size, Paint Tool SAI allows that at the cost of looking for it in the menu. The brush-size shortcut using Shift+Left Mouse Button+Moving the Mouse is much faster and more precise in my opinion, at least for most brush sizes (When the brush size gets to be really small, I would prefer selecting it from a menu as in SAI).
Paint Tool SAI has no way of creating brushes, whereas Krita does.
Notably, however, I recall the Paint Tool SAI interface being much more up-front with its features. It does not have many features and as such, its workspace is slightly less cluttered. In fact, I would say both my arrangement of the Gimp and SAI have a little more working area that Krita.
~~ Results ~~
Krita wins as far as digital art is concerned. It’s feature rich and is everything Paint Tool SAI is supposed to be. It has a learning curve that is slightly longer than the Gimp for common features, and there are some holes here and there that make some image processing tedious. But overall, it’s an amazing piece of software.
If, however, you are doing image editing on the full image or creating textures, use the Gimp. Period. The Gimp is loaded with filters that can do all sorts of complex things Krita’s limited (but useful) filters can’t. The image filters for Krita are limited to what artists usually need, not some specialty things like creating a super nova or causing your image to oilify or warp.
tl;dr – Krita is better for art than the Gimp.
Mind you, I’m using the Linux versions of both software. I found that the Linux version of the Gimp has a slightly different interface than for Windows (due to the differences in GTK on Windows and on Linux), and the same is probably true for Krita. Also, I found both Gimp and Krita easy to install on Ubuntu based Linux because it was in the repository. If you have to compile either yourself, you might run into some snags from dependencies.
Editor’s note: Please excuse any typos or incomplete sentences as this post was published late at night.