The Book of GIMP A “Labor Of Love” – ‘Book Mystique Review

I’ve reviewed what must now be somethng in excess of 100 computer books on what we used to call the Mac Web over the past 14 years. Given the ephemeral nature of the timeframe computer books inhabit, one frequently gets the impression that a volume has been written in relative haste and/or to a formula — not necessarily in a sloppy or careless manner, but without any evident passion.

That is definitely not the case with Olivier Lecarme and Karine Delvare’s new “The Book of GIMP” from No Starch Press, which merits the description “labor of love” more than any other computer book I’ve encountered. Certainly no quickie job, the project of writing it began way back in 2006, with an original publishing target date of 2010, a goal that was nearly achieved with the French language edition but it’s taken until 2013 for the English edition to finally roll off the presses.

Subtitled “A Complete Guide To Nearly Everything” about the oddly-named GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) Open Source high-end image editing and creation software alternative to Adobe’s paradigm-setting and pricy ($649.00 MSRP) Photoshop CS application, this book is packed with 679 pages of tutorial and reference information for GIMP users.

While some might question spending $50.00 on a user manual for a free software application, another way to look at it is that you’ve saved yourself hundreds of dollars by opting for the GIMP instead of Photoshop, so you can easily justify spending a much smaller amount on a book that will help you get the most out of what is a very powerful graphics program, but one that has a reputation for being challenging to master.

Happily no longer as challenging as it used to be for Mac users, as since GIMP 2.8.2, the program no longer requires support of Apple’s somewhat geeky X11 environment with its distinct GUI for running Linux and UNIX applications, but now requires only a simple drag and drop installation and you’re good to go, and with X11 finally out of the way it gets a standard menu bar Aqua interface UI.

The author say their aim for The Book of GIMP is two-fold, and consequently the book’s content is decided into two distinct parts.

In the first part there are eight independent chapters that will walk you through the main tasks you can perform using the GIMP application. Each chapter begins with a hands–on tutorial, and ends with exercises that recapitulate the concepts covered.

Part Two has 14 chapters comprising a thorough GIMP reference manual in which Lecarme and Delvare say they have tried to cover all aspects of GIMP usage in a logical order, using as many examples and illustrations as possible. They also say they endeavored to avoid explaining the same thing several times although topics do overlap between the two parts of the book. It’s a formidable volumes at 679 pages, including a thoroughgoing 22 page Index and Appendices:
A. Vision and Image Representation
B. Tips and Hints for Selected Exercises
C. Resources
D. Frequently Asked Questions
E. Installing GIMP
F. Batch Processing

The Book of GIMP’s profusion of screenshots included ARE superb quality, and attractively presented. The book, which is printed in China, is on excellent quality paper although the full four-color reproduction illustrations are not on glossy plates.

It’s a treat for the eyes, as well as quite readable, especially for a technical book that was originally written in another language.

The authors say that the book is designed to be read in any order rather than cover to cover, although they have endeavoured to arrange things in a logical progression. They also say they made sure to use a bleeding edge, developmental version of GIMP in order to ensure that everything was as up-to-date as possible at the time the book went to press, and to cover every aspect of GIMP usage as thoroughly as possible, with the exception of the tools in the second half of the Image: Create menu and those in the Image: Filters >Alpha to logo menu which they chose not to cover because they’re self-explanatory and have only a few parameters.

They also deliberated extensively on whether to include information on the many plug-ins and scripts that users have added to GIMP, many of which they say would have required long chapters of their own. Consequently, they decided to cover only one such addition, the plug-in set called GIMP animation package (GAP), because it adds powerful capability that GIMP alone lacks. In Chapter 21, they also mention a few additional plug-ins to give readers a taste of what’s possible.

The two-pronged approach makes the book suitable for readers and GIMP users of any skill level from green total newbies to veteran GIMP gurus, to newly- converted Photoshop refugees. The tutorials will help new users get started working, and the extensive reference materials will answer the questions that pop up even for the most seasoned GIMP users.

The tutorials and their full color, step–by-step instructions show readers how to:
• Improve the lighting and composition of images
Removed distortions and noise to make old and damaged photos look like new
• Create panoramas and digital collages using a series of photos.
• Make, edit, and export custom textures, logos, and animated gifts.
• Work with selections, channels, and masks to edit images like a professional
• Create colorful digital art, layer by layer.

I could now dedicate several hundred words to just listing the functions and operations described in this book, and still only scratch the surface. Suffice to say that you can be reasonably confident that whatever you need to do with the GIMP, you will find it explained on the pages of The Book of GIMP. I’m finding it so. I’ve been working with Mac graphics software for 20 years, but have little or no experience with either the professional versions of Photoshop or with The GIMP. Photoshop CS will likely remain terra incognita to me, since for my purposes I could never justify the price (I remain a big fan of Adobe’s $100.00 Photoshop Elements). The GIMP, on the other hand, has intrigued me for years, but I’ve been deterred by the erstwhile X11 install complication, and the program’s reputation for being a challenge to learn. However, the recent developments of much simplified drag-and-drop installation — X11 no longer required — and the release of The Book of GIMP have finally tipped the scales, and I’ve finally downloaded and installed the current stable release: GIMP 2.8.4. With Lecarme and Delvare‘s help, I’m hoping to at long last discover first-hand what the GIMP can do, with their book making it an exciting, pleasurable, and hopefully rewarding project.

This is a powerful book, elegantly complimenting the powerful program it’s designed to help readers master. One reviewer called it a “masterpiece,” and I wouldn’t dispute that assessment in the slightest. I really can’t think of much of anything to criticize negatively, other than the publishers tacking an extra $3.00 onto the MSRP (Can$52.95), which seems a bit gratuitous given that the Canadian loonie averaged slightly higher than par with the greenback for 2012, although it’s fallen back a bit. In the past couple of weeks.

Such nit-picks aside, I’m giving The Book of GIMP an enthusiastic five out of five rating.

Book of GIMP: A Complete Guide to Nearly Everything
by Olivier Lecarme and Karine Delvare
January 2013, 676 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-59327-383-5
$49.95 (Can$52.95) Print Book and FREE Ebook
$39.95 Ebook (PDF, Mobi, and ePub)j

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